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Issue of September 2005 
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Next generation workflow

Business process management practices can make an organisation speedy and efficient. by Diwakar Nigam.

Today, enterprises are racing against each other at a breakneck speed, thriving in a competitive environment. At this critical juncture, business growth functions as a strong driving force.

Corporate executives are under pressure to ensure that they co-ordinate their resources, different applications & business activities, managed processes (with full accountability and auditing within those processes), improved performance metrics, and reporting. This leaves us with an important question—what are the key driversess growth in this highly-charged climate?

The answer lies in volumes, speed and quality, which can be safely defined as important drivers for business growth. However, it is not so simple. The aforementioned drivers share an inverse relationship, and achieving all of them simultaneously is difficult and nearly impossible. Therefore, the need of the hour is strategic intervention.

Business process automation and management is one such strategic intervention that helps strike an equilibrium and can play ann invaluable role in driving up volumes and speed without affecting the quality of output. Gartner’s top 10 predictions in 2003 indicate that enterprise process management will emerge as the highest layer in the business application stack providig the most value to users.

PROCESSES FIRST

The message that echoes today is ‘put processes first’ as they exist to deliver value. How? Lower prices, better quality, faster speed and better service to customers make enterprise process management the ideal strategic intervention to dominate the decade. It possesses the power to incrementally affect the way we do business as it can reduce cost and create value in the digital economy, thereby moving to the top of the business and IT agenda.

Earlier, workflow was often used as part of a business process re-engineering exercise to automate ‘re-engineered’ business processes. The emphasis was on technology, i.e. applications and systems, with less thought towards human interaction within the process, due to whworkflow developed a poor reputation. However, with the ability for business processes to be modelled and monitored in real time, and for those processes to be more easily changed in response to volatile market trends and technology, interest is again growing in business process management (BPM).

Collaborative BPM is the convergence of workflow, enterprise application integration (EAI), and unstructured or ad-hoc processes. BPM is currently revolutionising businesses by providing enterprise infrastructte that manages and automates processes which have both human- and system-related tasks.

OBJECTIVE OF BPM

BPM aims to integrate systems by leveraging existing IT investments through connecting databases, legacy systems and best-of-breed package solutions into flexible end-to-end business processes. It also helps in the discovery, design, deployment, operation and analysis of business processes within an integrated business environment. It supports the needs of managers, process engineers, functional departments, employees and IT implementers.

It functions as a core backbone allowing processes to be designed online by business users and process engineers together; these can then be deployed on a reliable, scaleable IT infrastructure and operated by the business.

BPM practices involve the flow of material, information and business commitments responding to demands from customers and to changing market conditions. It is perfect for today’s businesses as they are constantly seeking new levels of efficiency and need technologies for the management of business processes that are genuinely usable, flexible and capable of integrating systems across all kinds of business and technology barriers.

MANY TECHNIQUES

BPM techniques include integrating technologies (such as middleware and EAI), automating processes, deploying advanced human workflow solutions, deploying new business process managers, and accelerating application development. It enhances all integration strategies with a process management platform. This is useful to all industries and large businesses wherein factors such as internal processes, best practices and industry standards have to be managed.

The benefit to business is that this working relationship offers an opportunity for a new approach to process management and application integration, with a move to enable business users (rather than a team of programmers) to integrate and manage various enterprise applications within their business processes.

Consider the case of the Indian banking industry which is currently in a transition phase. Most of the private sector banks have already performed BPM and are reaping its rewards in terms of quick turnaround times, higher productivity, transparency, greater control of operations, better credit control, and fraud management.

Moreover, it has been instrumental in the centralisation of trade finance operations, retail loans processing, and credit approval processing. What has become apparent is that the role of BPM is instrumental in streamlining and integrating all processes, making the overall performance seamless and smooth.

BYPASSING THE ROADBLOCKS

BPM as a strategic intervention is also capable of smoothening problems in customer care divisions by reducing paper requirements (documents scanned and maintained online). It saves space and brings about faster customer query resolution resulting in better customer satisfaction and increase in productivity. It also creates an easily integratable environment, easily gels with the business workflow, and aids in day-to-day decisions.

Users can look forward to immediate availability of statements and an undisturbed environment of automated service. This means less chaos and more order, which is a boon for most industries. BPM is one of the few technologies seeing growth because it can show real value and ROI in this highly-competitive environment.

E-GOVERNANCE

The Indian government is also moving to an e-government phase that will involve the transformation of government service delivery through the appropriate use of technologies such as BPM. These technologies, together with the transformation of business processes within and across government departments and agencies, have the potential to deliver better customer focus, greater availability of information, and improved business processes and efficiencies by delivering better services to citizens and businesses.

Workflow management of government processes could have an impact on the community at large. The ability to include NGOs within workflow processes would greatly reduce administrative overheads and improve the quality of service provided by NGOs. Managing the activities of processes would release qualified service providers from routine clerical responsibilities to concentrate on what they do best—assisting people within the community.

NEW SYSTEMS

As the above examples indicate, BPM brings forth a new generation of systems whose primary purpose is to co-ordinate the work of others, be they systems or people. At times referred to as the fourth layer of IT architecture, it is also considered as the next generation of workflow and the new platform for applications or smarter middleware.

Industry watchers believe that it is the process virtual machine that aims to integrate systems, automate routine activities, manage all phases of processes, deploy processes seamlessly and provide end-to-end visibility and control. So, would BPM be useful across all industries and in any business? The answer is undeniably ‘yes’ as it creates a single unified modelling and execution environment that can be applied to the support of any business processes.

The author is Managing Director at Newgen Software Technologies.

 
     
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