Tuesday Jul 09, 2013

Vantage Point - 8 points of view for evaluating a BPM product

Today let me tell you a little story, A detective story with 8 witnesses, each with different points of view. This story is based on a Hollywood movie, "Vantage Point"

Wikipedia describes the movie as “a 2008 American political action thriller which focuses on an assassination attempt on the President of the United States as seen from a different set of vantage points through the eyes of eight strangers…Displayed with eight differing viewpoints, an assassination attempt on the president occurs, relayed in a time span of 23 minutes. Each time the events unfold from the beginning, a new vantage point is shown revealing additional details, which ultimately completes the story of what actually took place during the incident and who was involved in the conspiracy.”

Let me introduce the 8 witnesses in my story. Each has a different point of view. The basic idea borrowed from the movie is that we get closer to the answer when we have multiple vantage points. As we move from one vantage point to the next, you will get a piece of the puzzle. When you have seen all the eight vantage points, you will have all the pieces of the puzzle. You will get closer to the answer. 
  1. The Business Analyst: Our first witness is the "Business Analyst" . His job is to model an optimum process that can serve the business and have end-to-end automation. How will he do this? 
    • First he would have to collaborate with the business users working on the as-is process, evaluate the bottlenecks with the As-is process.
    • Next he would need to discover the IT assets that will support him in modeling an optimum process that is executable and meets his business user's expectations from the To-Be process.
    • Simulate this process for various business scenarios and provide a realistic view of costs, units and time.
    • He should then make sure that his process meets regulatory requirements, extracts the right KPIs for the management, make content seamlessly flow with the process.
  2. The Prudent Architect: Now, let us shift focus from our Business Analyst to our Prudent Architect. Imagine you are the old fashioned Prudent architect that each business process must be a function of Business, Applications, Data & Technology architectures in that order. 
    • How will you ensure that your architecture vision is implemented in the way you visualized
    • What are the key factors that will ensure that change in process model does not affect a change in user experience, governance, integration artifacts, data model etc.,
  3. The Smart developer: Now let us put ourselves in the shoes of the smart developer. What does the developer need when implementing a process. 
    • Clear sense of direction: Thankfully our business Analyst has done his job when modeling the process and has already modeled the optimum process that meets business expectations
    • Sound architecture: The smart process developer now enjoys a layer of safety which has been taken care by SCA, service mediation layer, adapters to connect to legacy applications & various underlying transports
    • Ease of implementation : Easy to use wizards when connecting participating applications, people, content. Ability to add rules, analytics etc.,
    • Ease of team development and deployment: The smart developer works in the ecosystem of several others who participate in implementing the process. Together they need a system of continuous integration. When they are closer to staging & production. Ease of deployment of team artifacts is paramount.
  4. The Business Owner: How would a business owner think about process automation. We know one thing about her, she would certainly think out of the box, unlike our Prudent Architect. If she can save money & time with stable processes, she will consider automating the processes end-to-end. 
    • How will she get visibility on how value is being made by process automation.
    • How will she ensure that people responsible for their tasks are turning around in time delivering maximum profitability & user satisfaction
  5. The process participant: You are the quintessential process participant, you participate in many processes quite frequently. Right from the time when you were on-boarded into your company, when you salary account got created, when you applied for that home loan, when you procured something, when sell something, when you file you tax returns etc. You cannot escape from participating in a processes. I am sure you you've had some expectations from the processes you've participated in. Couple of mine are
    • I'd like to know the current status of the process I am participating in
    • Could I be notified when things are going according the plan, but if there is something amiss, I want to be alerted.
  6. The IT Administrator: IT administrators fear a lot, they worry about micro events that occur in the infrastructure they own. Any uncertainty in the data & audit traces means that need to act fast. That is why
  7. The Value oriented Management: Imagine you are a value oriented manager who is responsible for business process automation at your company. How would you show value to the business owners. You could do many things, but let us talk about the 3 most important things
    • You could build a business case for BPM.
    • You would focus on automating processes which are low in complexity & high in value first
    • Show business owners how they would save money & time.
  8. The Enterprise: You see, things carry on, because they have carried on. The business has been around for so long and people have this status-quo bias, this inertia which prevents them from change. Moreover, there are people, who don't want this change. Plus, of course, the company depends on the contributions of these very people.I think we all agree that the real cost of automating a process is hardly in the BPM product you choose. The real cost comes in the form of status-quo. 

The choice really is up to you.You can put yourself in the shoes of any of the above 7 witnesses and rationalize your choice. I do know you get closer to the answer when you have multiple vantage points. Having just one vantage point in a detective story is not good enough. Having 8 is rather cool!!

Sunday Jun 09, 2013

Making a Case for Case Management

Enterprises need to achieve business results. In order to achieve the right business results, they often find themselves balancing their processes between being
  • Flexible yet Rigid
  • structured while unstructured
  • predictable yet cater to the unexpected
  • managed but free

It would be evident that this fine art of balancing requires trade-offs on both ends of the spectrum. 

In the recent years, several enterprises have implemented automated business processes to bring structure to multitude of activities during transaction processing. The business processes themselves have gone through multiple optimizations to suite business needs over the years. The optimizations follow the path of
  1. Straight thru Processing: These optimizations start with increasing straight-thru-processing and reducing the manual activities
  2. Increase visibility: Increasing visibility on both manual as well as automatic(system) activities. The visibility could range from reporting on monthly SLAs & KPIs of the processes to near Real-time reporting. 
  3. Process Control: ultimately leading to better process control
If we take the narrow view of a business processes, we could easily fall into the trap of making structure a prerequisite for implementing BPM. This is really not the case though, each business process can have varying degrees of 

  • Predictability: The sequence in which tasks & events are executed are known. In highly predictable processes there is little or no change in the sequence.
  • Flexibility: Flexibility allows the process to reach different results every time the process executes. The ability to reach different results is based on business dynamics and modeled as rules
  • Visibility: If we have low predictability & high flexibility, what will business owners do with the KPI metrics they collect? the process is unpredictable anyway.

Let me use a  simple metric called "score" to rank the degrees of predictability, flexibility and Visibility required on process execution & plot it on a radar chart

 Process Characteristics  Score (1..10), 10 Highest
 Predictability  3
 Flexibility  8
 Visibility  3

You can easily now see that the above scores show the process in question is high flexibility with low visibility & predictability. This process I believe would require a "Case". When you design(structure)a case, you are designing for unpredictability.

This looks good in theory, but in real tangible terms, what is the advantage to business to design a case rather than a business process? For that, let me use my favorite example, the Loan Origination Solution. If you closely look at the LOS example that is implemented, you'd see that we are following the path of structure, for example,
  • The decision making follows a more the structure approach of Branch --> Zone-->Region-->Central as would be followed by any bank in India
  • Business Rules decide the level of approval based on values such as loan amount, Net worth of loan seeker, customer credit scores etc.,
  • Canceling the loan means just terminating the loan process.
  • and several other sequential activities
Modeling the Loan Origination Solution as a Case would require some new thinking!!
  • The decision making should done by stakeholders of the case rather then structured management hierarchy
  • The activities could be modeled based on milestones instead of sequence of activities
  • each case would be handled by a case manager 
  • Canceling a loan is just one many case events that the solution allows for. It does not necessarily terminate the case
  • The case activities themselves could be either modeled as BPM processes or simple Human Tasks
  • Below is the brief story board design of the case, quite a departure from earlier storyboard

Monday Jun 03, 2013

The Curious Case of Morning Routine: A Simple Example of Case Management

Here is an example of Case Management I tried out over the weekend. It is a Case of a Person's Morning Routine. Every person performs certain tasks every morning, but, perhaps not in the same order. A Person may choose to not perform some of the tasks too.

Some of the morning activities of a person may include

  • Brush Teeth
  • Jog
  • Shower
  • Get Dressed
  • Eat Breakfast
  • Check Email

Every Person may handle the morning routine differently. A Person may even choose not to perform an activity as part of the routine. I've illustrated some sample routines

You will notice that the routines are different, but, certain patterns could emerge out of each case, for instance, activity "Get Dressed" always succeeds Shower. There can be other patterns based on time taken for each activity. If we wanted to add complexity the case of Morning Routine, we could parallelise tasks and model Eat Breakfast & Check Email together.

When the number of persons increase you could potentially detect patterns based on the persons age, sex, country and so on. There are many possibilities!!.

I have developed a bare bones case management application using Oracle BPM PS6. It includes

  • The case itself
  • Each case activity modeled as a BPMN process
  • Business rules to trigger case activities
  • Case UI (This one is from the sample Case Management UI)
  • etc.,

Sunday Apr 14, 2013

Cloud computing is the new normal. Process Excellence, Service Orientation is hygiene.

This weekend there was an interesting show titled "Cloud Computing, Beyond the Hype" on NDTV Profit

The show had Sunil Jose, vice president of applications at Oracle; Sanket Atal, CTO of Makemytrip.com; Sanjeev Prasad, CIO of Genpact, and Biswajeet Mahapatra, research director of Gartner as panelists. While the show was obviously focussed on Cloud computing. There are some snippets which I thought were highly relevant for BPM and SOA.

Highly Recommend that you view the entire show, Have embedded the video below.

Be sure, you hear:

Sanket Atal, CTO of MakeMyTrip.com @03:07 mins, "MakeMyTrip Architecture is Service Oriented"

Sanjeev Prasad, CIO of Genpact @4:51 mins : "Lead by Process, need technology to make it happen"

Sanjeev Prasad @5:31 mins, "Deep Insights into Processes & Data".

Sanjeev Prasad, @11:33 mins, talks about the customer workflows(read processes) hosted at Genpact.

You could also view the Video here

My previous article talked extensively about Oracle BPM for BPOs. I was quite excited to hear Sanket & Sanjeev share similar thoughts.

Monday Mar 25, 2013

Oracle BPM for BPOs: Lifecycle of an Outsourced Process

BPOs are Organizations that contract the operations and responsibilities of specific business processes from their customers. The nature of outsourcing of the process could be the complete process, a large segment process or even a specific function.

Largely their operations can be categorized into :

Front-office operations (contact centers): Contact centers rely extensively on telephony for both in-bound and out-bound contact with the client's customers. They mostly integrate with their client's CRM systems & Telephony systems. For front office operations, real-time visibility into the various communication threads, revenue per transaction, conversion rates, shrinkage, call handling rates, schedule adherence, etc. is the key for the outsourcing enterprise.

Back-office operations: For processes related HR, Accounting, Finance, Payroll, Legal, Invoice processing etc., large enterprises whose core business is not the above Lines of business  may choose to outsource an entire process or subsets of each process in an LOB to BPOs.

As is evident from the description above, the core business of BPOs is to deliver efficient business processes. In that context BPOs have long relied on Business Process Management technologies to deliver efficient processes to their customers.

Let us now look how BPOs can use BPM technologies in the life cycle of an outsourced process. For that, let me illustrate the life-cycle itself. 


  1. BPO's Pitch an offering to the Outsourcing Enterprise.
    • Discover & Identify the as-is Process Model: The customer running a complex process has documented their processes in tools such as Visio, or, can be disocvered during the study phase by the BPO.
    • Showcase the to-be Process Model: These processes need to be imported into Oracle BPM, refined and modeled in an optimum way using standards based technologies
    • Simulate the process model : BPO's can highlight the ROI aspect of running the outsourced&optimized process by using an exhaustive simulation of transaction volumes that the customer could experience.
    • Play the Process model to get the feel of execution by end users: The only way an outsourced process can be experienced before it is in production was through mock-ups until recently. Not anymore, you could pretty much play the entire process out even before the on-boarding has started
  2. On-board the process: On-boarding is the critical most phase in the process life-cylce for the BPO. It is this phase where the BPO is gaining negligible revenue from it's customer while incurring costs on-boarding the process. Typically it takes about a month or two to on-board a process. A BPO needs to reduce the on-boarding time as much as possible to impact revenue and increase customer delight. 
    • Model the end-to-end process exhaustively : Model the process to fit the systems, content and human interactions the process implements. 
    • Simulate to identify load related issues and optimize process before executing it. Identify the capacity of systems integrating with process and simulate the process with peak capacity metrics
    • Implement UI for human tasks:  This task was time intensive as developers spent most of their time developing UI artifacts meeting exact requirements . With Web Forms and ADF, time lines can be reduced radically
    • Integrate Apps: The Customer may require real-time integration with his enterprise applications such as ERP, CRM and other transaction critical systems. The BPM solution should be based on a strong SOA backbone and B2B capabilities
    • Integrate Communication components: It is imperitive to integrate to the customer's communication software such as email, SMS, voice etc. integration with communication software should be out of box for the BPM system
    • Integrate Content: Outsourced Processes related to Account payable & receivable, legal procesess, processes with signed application forms all require integration with Document Management Systems both on the customer's end as well as the BPO. Integration with multiple DMS or Content systems should be out-of the box
  3. Implement the Process
    • Provide complete visibility into the various stages of the process being executed: The process modeling solution should provide the ability to define KPIs and key metrics which can be surfaced onto a Real-time dashboard for process visibility & alerts. This requirement is relevant both of agents executing the process at the BPO and customers 
    • Manage Task Assignment: The  BPO agent team executing the process should be able to distribute workloads among the team members based on various algorithms based on skill, load, and productivity
    • Manage Process Instance queues: Working Shifts & multi-location execution is norm when executing processes. A set of instances being executed in the Gurgaon office could migrated to the Jakarta office as and when needed. The BPM system should support migration of process instances from one queue to another seamlessly 
  4. Execute the Process : Process execution involves human interaction from various channels(web, mobile, voice), integration with services(applications, communication, network), events, messaging, data sources, content etc., The BPM system should support all the integration scenarios. Customer team, Agent team, Management and process owners should all be able participate and execute the process and collaborate when executing the process.
  5. Monitor & QC the process 
    • Run self running QC Processes: BPO should be able to model & implement self running QC processes based on reducing sample sizes of the agent tasks being quality controlled. Business rules play an important role here to define which activities should be QC's and which need not be.
    • Analyze KPIs: The BPM solution should provide rich real-time analytics of process execution. This helps the agent team to take stock of where they are w.r.t the targets they intend to achieve, error rates, escalations and so on. Customers could be alerted with key execution metrics to provide visibility on process execution
    • Monitor the health of the Process on IT parameters: IT Admin teams should able monitor the health of the IT systems participating in the process, they should be able to throttle message inflow & outflow to various IT systems based on the capacity of the applications
    • Alerts
  6.  Audit the Processes : BPOs have to adhere to stringent audit requirements that their customers' have to adhere to in their respective geographies. This means that compliance & audit-ability is the key aspect of the outsourced process. Archival of executed processes, generating audit reports, complete transaction data visibility for audit teams should be inherent to the solution.
  7. Optimize the Process : An optimum process model today need not be the best fit for future needs as the nature of transaction and processes change. 
    • Round-trip Simulation: The BPM system should provide round-trip simulation capability to fetch execution KPIs from production systems and use them as an input to simulation models of the refined process
    • Version management: The same process can have different flavors with minor modifications to suite various geographies, market seasons etc., The BPM system should support the need for running multiple versions of the same process & also schedule version changes.
    • Process Migration : Migrating to a new optimized version of the process should be seamless and should involve running process instances too.

While the elements in the life-cycle are generic and apply to any outsourced process, the descriptions & screen images that you see are all delivered by Oracle BPM. This clearly highlights how Oracle BPM delivers value to BPOs. While there are many BPM solutions that can meet expectations on a particular stage of the process life-cycle. Oracle BPM can address all phases in the life-cylce of an outsourced process


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