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The 13th Labour of Hercules: Business Process Management (BPM)

Alessandro Rontani,

Business Project Management | The 13 Labours of Hercules

One quick way to measure the scale of a company is to look at the number and complexity of business processes that it runs. In a company that only has one customer, one office and three employees, an Excel spreadsheet can be enough to manage everything. But then, it becomes less manageable when the number of customers, turnover employees and branches increase.

In these cases, the internal processes grow in number and complexity because of legal obligations for different problems. Aside from this, a company is also required to manage processes imposed on it by external forces such as government agencies or larger companies with whom they need to integrate their certification processes and operations.

Experience also tells us that these processes change often and with high frequency. This forces those who deal with these processes to struggle in trying to keep up all the time. To those who have to go through it, it's not unlike facing the Lernean Hydra whose vicious heads seem to multiply as you cut them.

Hercules, in his famous Twelve Labours, succeeded in defeating the great monster with the help of his nephew Iolaus who cauterized the Hydra's head stumps as soon as they're cut, thus preventing the Hydra to regrow and multiply its heads. Just like in the story, help is needed if you want to successfully manage business processes to help you tackle this thirteenth Herculean task, without being shredded up in pieces by its complexity.

Lucky for us, there's no need to call upon unwilling nephews! Science made great strides since Hercules's time. And instead of relying on distant relations, we can rely on technology. Out in the market today, there are many products that have been designed by giants such as IBM, Oracle or Red Hat with JBoss BPM Suite. Regardless of the technology or product used, a good tool for business process management should still address the following:

1. Dual Engine Speed

Business Project Management | Un mondo a due velocità

In Business Process Management, the generic process management "engine" consists of various methodologies (automated or "manual" tools) of process applications. These methodologies and tools must be defined along with the processes which can vary from one another. Quite often, the generic process management engine is defined only once and requires lots of energy and painstaking research of possible optimizations. Updating the engine is also only done at very long intervals.

If you'd like to know more about Business Process Management, download our System Integration Knowledge Pack which also includes an Introduction to BPM ebook.

On the other hand however, process definitions have a more rapid life cycle since they are subject to frequent changes as they occur.

Let's take as an example the process of sending documents to a government agency. The permissions, necessary documents, the format used are all things that can change every time you modify an article of a law. Therefore, it's necessary that the connected processes can be modified and put into production quickly and independently from the engine.

As you can see, this requires a clear separation between the two. In fact, what's usually sold to organizations is just the engine while the creation process is delegated to the business's experts while they are aided by the tools to provided by the engine kit itself. Now, this brings us to the second issue.

2. Experts need only apply!

Creating business processes is not something that can be trusted to anyone. To have effective processes that are well-structured, it's necessary that those who create them are experts in their specific domain on which the processes are being defined. For example, to create a verification process of quality standards, you need an analyst who has expertise in ISO standards and the laws in different countries.

The fact that most likely this person doesn't have software development skills excludes them from implementing automated processes using "lines of code". This is why business processes are modeled through graphical tools so they can be used by a wide range of people. Graphical patterns are more universally understood than words, even if people are coming from different backgrounds. The vast majority of tools for managing business processes provides graphical editors to create and visualize processes. Just take a look at JBoss BPM Suite's editor for example:

Redhat JBoss BPM Suite | Business Project Management

As you can see, Business Process Management is not as simple as getting a rule engine and switching it on. After all, a Herculean challenge demands nothing less than a well thought-out Herculean solution. 

If this article on managing business processes has intrigued you and you'd like to have a more in-depth explanation and applications in the real world, download our free System Integration Knowledge Pack!

System Integration Knowledge Pack

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