Monday Sep 30, 2013

Oracle Open World Redux: A Manifesto for Adaptable yet Out-Of-the-Box BPM Business Solutions

I had conversations with 0.3% of the 60,000 Oracle Open World in-person attendees. Clearly in-person communication is not that scalable, yet it remains the best way to have conversations that enlighten all parties involved (I’ll be happy to be proven wrong by the threads started by this blog).

Oracle is not only delivering a complete BPM suite to build solutions, but also Process Accelerators, or BPM solutions for high-value industry and horizontal business processes. We demoed at OOW working examples of PAs such as Loan Origination, Employee Onboarding, eForms management, Insurance Claims Management, Incident Reporting, and many others. Judging from the reaction we received, there’s nothing like seeing a working solution to understand what’s possible.

BPM’s potential is best expressed when “adaptable business solutions” need to be quickly built and evolved to support business processes for which packaged (COTS) apps are not available, not a good fit, or otherwise not convenient. The best BPM opportunities hide behind processes with a lot of manual activities, supported via emails, paper, or Excel: an indication that COTS apps can’t be customized to cover them.

BPM is applicable to many business processes that are no “one-offs”, only useful in a specific context for a specific organization. At any given time there are many enterprises and organizations that are experiencing similar issues and would be willing to start the BPM journey to address them; that is, if only they knew BPM could help them deliver a solution that supports them!

If we identify the right classes of BPM “sweet spot” business processes we can maximize the value of BPM solutions “working out-of-the-box”. “Working” means including all components that are necessary to support the business process: centered on a business model and including user interfaces for the different users to perform tasks, business rules, dashboards. When properly designed, these solutions maintain the intrinsic agility of BPM and can be modified and extended based on the specific customer process requirements. Evolving working high-quality solutions – rather than building something from scratch – has cost, risk, and time advantages; that’s why we call them process accelerators. Yet arguably the biggest advantage of all is their role in helping visualize to-be processes, and understand how BPM can help. Can this make BPM more pervasive in enterprises?

BPM is one of those disciplines with strong believers that “have seen the light”, yet it has not become a “bandwagon” where everybody wants to jump on board and enjoy the ride. Rather, it’s more of a taxi which you’re going to take if you know your destination. With process accelerators we want to show destinations and how to reach other similar destinations, with the intent of replicating or even generating new BPM success.

In order to do that, it’s important to identify classes of “BPM sweet spot” processes, and target them appropriately. I will attempt here a simple classification based on a key element: the “white space” that BPM-supported processes fill:

  • Transactional: these are process extensions on the fringe of processes like quote-to-cash, opportunity-to-order, mostly supported by COTS apps like ERP, CRM, etc., where the end-to-end process is mostly automated, but where portions remain manual. Think about the workflow to cleanse invoices or orders received from trading partners. A substantial number of BPM customers actually use BPM to deliver value with process extensions. While the validation logic changes from enterprise to enterprise, these might be great candidates for Cloud BPM, especially since the Cloud facilitates moving the responsibility for validating transactions where errors are introduced.
  • Cross-department/cross-app “end-to-end” processes: here the white space is in the process integration (system, but more importantly human integration) to bring together in a cohesive whole the sub-processes served by different departments and/or COTS apps, yet that need BPM to make the end-to-end process truly efficient by enabling end-to-end visibility and management.
  • Strategic excellence processes: these are customer-specific processes that embody the unique characteristics and value-add of leading organizations. Only BPM allows adhering to the value generation processes that are most differentiating for an enterprise. This is a case where generic process accelerators may not cover the process, yet provide patterns, services, and inspiration that enables higher levels of excellence and increase speed and agility of these strategic processes.
For some BPM believers process accelerators may take away the sense of adventure of taking a path towards the unknown, of starting with a white sheet of paper and ultimately invent a unique solution. However we also have the responsibility of delivering more value for more organizations, of evolving and expanding the BPM industry, and most of all of helping customers maximize BPM’s value. Understanding how to endow BPM with a more repeatable model is a mission we can’t ignore: one-off successes are personally rewarding, but firefighting is not the best way to expand a sustainable business.
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