Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Value of BPM for BPO Operations

BPM tools have helped businesses in various fields, and while a number of key players in the BPO industry have already jumped on the BPM bandwagon, a large number of BPO’s continue to remain under tremendous timelines related pressures. With the need for innovative products that can help increase productivity while cutting costs being the foremost criteria of almost every BPO, BPM providers continue to make continual upgrades and use state of the art technology to better their existing offerings.

If you are wondering why a BPO would need BPM solutions, do consider the following data released by IBM last year. Most businesses end up wasting more than 5 hours per employee; more than two thirds of all employees end up making decisions despite having incorrect information around once every week; two thirds feel that while there are people who can help them perform better, they just don’t know how to find them; and lastly, in excess of 90% of all the business heads who were interviewed opined that their business’ operating style needed a makeover.

Within a BPO, processes like sales, marketing, operations, insurance, banking, online services, human resources, and even administration can benefit through BPM tools. This is simply because any process which has room to be partially or completely automated, improved, and monitored, can benefit from BPM technology. Some BPOs have also used BPM tools as the key differentiator in customer acquisition situations. Through BPM, a BPO can also display its understanding of processes at the core level to any of its existing or probable client/s.

BPM can also help in the event where a business is looking to outsource work to a BPO. BPM would help the business in question have better control on the outsourced process while also being able to impart its SLAs in a more effective manner and provide complete transparency. Moreover, end customers do tend to face the challenge of basing a great amount of dependency on the BPO of critical processes. Besides, they might not necessarily feel comfortable to outsource critical tasks such as exiting or moving a process function to another BPO, and converting it into an internal process could also seem like a risky proposition. BPM can circumvent this risk by standardizing such processes and this could very well simplify a potential handover.

In looking at BPM solutions, these are aspects that a BPO should look into:

a) The offered solution should be quickly developed.

b) The solution should be low cost at the onset, and sustainable in the long run.

c) The solution should be able to integrate with the BPO’s existing technology.

Since the BPO spectrum is quite varied, the pertinent BPM solutions also follow suit. For example, the solution that a financial sector BPO requires would vary from the one that is needed by a service oriented BPO. The good thing is that BPM can deliver solutions, irrespective of the core area of expertise.

For instance, when it comes to codifying or guiding workflow, BPM would simply automate your otherwise manual tasks of taking notes. BPM could also help in creating subordinate processes which can then be handed over to third-parties in scenarios such as application support, loan processing, data verification, etc.

So yes, a BPO can surely benefit through the use of BPM solutions, as not only does this present an opportunity of garnering increased control, but also of increased and higher standards of output. And with the doldrums still not quite out of the picture, cost effective BPM solutions for BPOs do seem to be the order of the day.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Composite Applications in Today’s BPM World

The demand for enterprise applications is definitely on the rise, and a business, in this day and age, can easily find a software package to address almost any aspect of the business. Solutions for facets like CRM, ERP, SCM, MRP, etc. are quite easy to come by, with a plethora of vendors trying to fill the existent marketplace. However, just as businesses strive to create their place under the sun, the same also applies to vendors of business solutions, and this has given rise to the integration of these solutions under a single umbrella.

The idea behind running composite applications is to move the focus from individual application development, to integrating them into a single unit instead. These applications also work in addressing the gaps between existing applications and creating solutions specific to specific tasks, allowing the business process to follow the steps laid by the solution as opposed to having users work as mediators in between different processes.

The Changing Facade

Solutions created using Business Process Management platforms differ from the solutions developed not so long ago, as BPM solutions deliver ‘process’ models and metadata mapping instead of delivering database instantiations and database models, as in the case of conventional solutions. Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) components now run completely independently, and human interaction/decision making is now a part of the entire automation process as well. This gives the end user the ability to configure/assemble components as required while also streamlining them with one’s existing web based services. Besides, by uniting the human workflow aspect with automation process, the overall workflow can be managed in a more effective manner.

One very important aspect of composite applications is that they generally do not aim at 100% functionality. This is simply because they come with a range of executable components which can then be sequenced as per the end user’s preferences. Instead of complete functionality, such solutions aim at dynamic assembly, flexibility, integration, and extensibility.

What to Expect

With more and more businesses making the required infrastructural changes, one can expect the ability of a BPM solution to enable composite applications to be one of the key components in a BPM implementation. You should also know that composite applications go beyond the realm of SOA, and various large businesses have already gone ahead and deployed various service enabled applications aimed at leveraging SOA in different forms. This also makes it important for such solutions to look at incorporating the various services/components that are being clubbed together.

The benefits are manifold; BPM enabled solutions can help streamline the business process, it can help bridge the business/IT gap, the integration capabilities help leverage on existing IT investments, it can help reduce operational costs, it can diminish business risks, it would be easy to implement; it would be a hastened process, and it would also allow both vertical and horizontal scalability. As a customer, before any BPM implementation, I would definitely ask the question… Does this BPM platform help me create applications rapidly and integrate easily with existing systems?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

What Can You Expect from Embeddable BPM Solutions?

The very core of embeddable BPM solutions relies on the basis that this brings to the fore various advanced capabilities when it comes to addressing existent process management applications and systems. A good embeddable BPM solution would be built from scratch, taking into account the specific integration of a business’ existing applications and workflow solutions.

Amongst the basic things that you should expect from a good embeddable BPM solution include scalable and reliable architecture, and the ability of quick integration (this could be across different platforms such as MOSS 2007, Microsoft SharePoint, BizTalk Server, etc). Also, your embeddable BPM solution should incorporate as many BPM functions as required, while also leaving room for high levels of flexibility though the use of a standard based approach.

Human Resource Workflow Solutions:
No BPM strategy would be fully effective if the business does not take into account the ‘human’ factor, especially if the business in question allocates work in a team based manner. Therefore, the embeddable BPM solution that you chose should be able to use integrated queues for the same, and should ideally support the ‘push pull’ pattern. This solution should be able to assign rights to users as required, and task allocation should be possible through random, systematic, or round robin systems, as chosen by the business. Also, even though the solution aims to automate the process, manual allocation should still remain a possibility.

Integration with Applications:
As mentioned before, the ability of quick integration is very important when it comes to embeddable BPM solutions. For example, if your business already uses SAP, then the solution should run on architecture that can seamlessly integrate with the same. It should allow connectivity with multiple databases such as MS SQL, My Directory, and Oracle; and should also allow the end user to make modifications to the embedded workflow patterns as well as the user interface.

The User Interface:
There is no denying the fact that the user interface plays an important role in the successful implementation of most embeddable BPM solutions. The use of extremely intuitive user interfaces can be found quite easily, and so can the use of an assortment of built-in templates. This aspect of the BPM solution should also be easy to modify, and should also take into account factors like the geographical location of the end user.

Further, the use of an XML variable interface can help simplify the input of XML data into the workflow, and the same also holds true for creating new XML schemas or simply importing ones that already exist.

A good embeddable BPM solution should allow interface access through various channels, and should be able to define various media types when it comes to the delivery of tasks (these would include web, email, voice, SMS, IM, etc).

Overall, your embeddable solution should aim at increasing your visibility through the use of a simple to use set of features which are run on the latest technology, while also being able to seamlessly integrate with your business’ existing infrastructure; and at all times, paying due attention to 3rd party software usage restrictions.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

And Just What is Business Process Management?

The financial slowdown notwithstanding, the BPM arena continues to grow. Various businesses are constantly looking for new ways that can help raise their performance levels as well as means to effectively address the ever changing market demands.

If you do intend to incorporate a BPM strategy in your business, it becomes important that you have your basics in place. This is essentially because businesses generally have various processes that need to be addressed while implementing an overall BPM strategy, and while your primary focus should always remain on delivering your products/services to your customers, it is also important that you remain in the know how when it comes to your business’ BPM strategy.

The History:

Do know that workflow automation is, by no means, a recent phenomenon. Office automation ideas were seen in the late 1970’s, and this led to the introduction of various workflow systems that helped automate different processes, requiring minimal human interference. Also, while the ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) applications of the 1990’s did simplify matters further still, there still remained the problem of operating these across different workflow platforms. This was addressed through the use of EAI (Enterprise Application Integration) systems in the early part of this century. It is this very integration of EAI systems with ERP applications that gave rise to the modern day BPM solutions.

BPM is:

BPM is essentially a process of streamlining the functioning of your business using a set discipline through the use of one or more technology while also incorporating a framework of rapidly developed applications. In simple terms, you use technology to automate aspects of your business. By using an effective BPM strategy a business can quickly move from the idea stage to the implementation stage; and this is through the use of productivity tools which help develop, test, and implement process models, thereby helping increase productivity.

Can BPM Help Every Business?

The way I (and scores of other people from this field) see it, any business would benefit by understanding its primary business process, looking for areas that can be bettered, and then bettering them. There is no dearth of businesses which have used BPM strategies to help address complicated business related problems, and these include both big and small businesses.

While BPM solutions would work best with businesses that already have a technological mindset, looking at technology to simplify and streamline a business is always a good idea. Also remember that incorporating BPM solutions into your business sphere could call for some radical changes, and this makes it important for the management to be open to change.

The best part about looking at BPM solutions is that you would get solutions that would take your exact requirements into consideration. Therefore, as opposed to looking at ‘stock’ options for automation, businesses now have access to tailor made or configurable BPM Suites, which are agile, flexible and powerful.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Business Process Management: Why Here, Why Now?

The Business Process Management (BPM) realm continues to evolve at a rapid pace. This is not just in relation to the technology/software that various businesses offer and employ but also with the approach to the process in itself. With these periodical changes taking place in this field, a good source of up-to-date information is often sought.

After all, BPM does play a significant role in the shrinking of most spheres of businesses. Not only does BPM help with an assortment of automation options, but also offers a continual improvement process coupled with various communication platforms. Evolved BPM components now allow businesses to customize their processes, policies, etc. in accordance to the target audience needs, geographical locations notwithstanding.

A good BPM strategy in today’s world would have you focus on integrating aspects like processes, systems, and data, along with your workforce spread across multiple locations. Your BPM strategy would also allow you to associate metrics with the life cycle of your business process, and this would take into account aspects like improving, redesigning, implementing, and managing your business process.

In looking to incorporate a BPM strategy, some basics that need to be addressed include:
  • Globalization: Even if you run a single unit today, you should ensure that your strategy takes into account that you might soon operate from one or more remote locations, thereby requiring one common platform.
  • Innovation: Ours is a constantly evolving world, and irrespective of the strategy that you follow, you should always look to embrace new technology.
  • Productivity: Your BPM efforts should not come at a cost of reduced productivity, and if that is the case, then you are obviously doing something wrong.
  • Streamlining the flow of information: Since automating various business aspects is the key to Business Process Management, you can easily collate data from various sources and use it as valuable information.
  • Customer Satisfaction: Since this forms the crux of every successful business, it is very important that you know just how you can use your BPM efforts to focus on the needs of your customers. The fact is that through your BPM efforts you can manage to retain your existing customers with a considerably higher rate of success.
Therefore, in these trying times, while most prominent economists are at loggerheads about whether the economy is rising only to fall again, having your core business strategies in place becomes very important. So while you might wish to implement a BPM strategy to simplify your workflow and/or expand your business, it is very important that you go about doing so in the right manner. With the sea of information about BPM that you have access to through the internet, it is quite easy to get lost.

While I do end up referring to a plethora of sources in my quest for BPM knowledge, I understand that not everybody can be as patient (or resourceful). This, therefore, is my endeavor to keep you posted about all the developments in the world of Business Process Management and Workflow solutions.

Also, if there’s anything that I miss, or if there’s anything that you would like to share, please feel free to contribute.