Process Management by the Light of the Dashboard

The Big Idea


  • Companies like the idea of BPM suites, and technology-services teams are willing to work with vendors so modules meet their process development needs.
  • Integration of BPM with SOA is on everyone's mind. Enterprises should start with a solid architecture foundation and pay attention to common development pitfalls in multi-layer environments.
  • Vendors are starting to offer BPM tools that support graphical modeling of business logic--and rules environments with spreadsheet paradigms--but BPM projects remain IT intensive.

Financial services company Wachovia began implementing a business process management system in the late ’90s. Today, BPM is spread across its lines of business, from retail banking and loan origination to insurance processing and securities transactions. Wachovia has since standardized on IBM’s WebSphere Business Integration platform, which provides numerous products that work together, although they are not bundled together. “We saw the whole loop being closed by WBI,” says Rohn Griggs, VP of the workflow, images and integration technologies team within technology services at Wachovia.

What appealed to Wachovia’s tech-services team was the promise of designing a process model, deploying the process to an engine and having the engine manage the process. The engine collects data and extracts the “actuals” out of the monitor, then pulls them back to the modeler to help business users streamline and optimize their processes. “You can say to the business sponsor, ‘Here is what we anticipated; here is what we are getting,’ what the delta is and why that’s the case,” Griggs explains.

Wachovia’s desire for a suite of integrated BPM tools is not unique. Forrester Research expects vendors’ BPM suite license, service and maintenance revenue to double in the next 4 years, growing from $1.2 billion worldwide in 2005 to more than $2.7 billion by 2009.

Not so crazy, today
Traditional BPM tools used during the re-engineering craze of the mid ’90s supported process modeling or workflow automation. Today, a suite of tools provides broad functionality including process modeling and simulation, a process engine, a business rules engine, process monitoring and analytics, and reporting tools—all from the same vendor or through thirdparty partnerships. Some of these suites are tied to app servers or databases or hook into SOA solutions; others are free-standing and designed to work in heterogeneous environments.

Which tools offer the best solution depends on an organization’s requirements and its business processes, whether they include claims processing, order fulfillment, mortgage loan origination, compliance or something else. Forrester categorizes business processes into four types: system and app integration, people-intensive, decision-making and document-oriented.

Automating the audit trail

In February 2005, Advanced Management Technology prepared to meet Sarbanes-Oxley requirements by implementing an automated change management process, using Metastorm BPM tools. Most of AMTI’s processes were defined but lacked automated support.

In about 2 weeks, the IT team developed a process that consisted of reviews/approvals, ability to attach docs, and stages for tracking development and design. “That process was sufficient, so that when Ernst and Young did their support for use, they signed off on it right away,” says David Holliday, CTO. Since its implementation, IT has updated the change management process twice.

"We don’t spend 40 percent of our time upfront trying to conceptualize, layout, validate, verify, get approval, engineer and re-engineer the process,” Holliday says. “We spend our time building the processes for our users and putting those processes into production, and then what we do is we continually work to change those processes to improve them and meet our users’ requirements over time."

Ten years ago, Holliday recalls, his development concerns centered on requirements definitions and catching problems early because costs could go up substantially. “Now I’m much front of my users so that they can use it. They can see it, and I’ve got BPM tools that will allow me to make changes.” Toolsets define the way his team approaches problems.

Compliance requires documenting and auditing processes and is a core capability of a BPM suite. "You have a simulation environment, you can document the process there," says Jeff Kristick, director of product marketing at TIBCO Software. "You can produce HTML and PDF versions of documents and use those to store all the version history. Everything you do when you execute a process is stored, and you can audit that and provide visibility."

Compliance improves over time

BPM suites and other apps, some marketed as SOX products, offer functionality that can help companies develop and improve internal IT controls for managing financial reporting and compliance regulations.

The spotlight on financial compliance is also giving rise to a new category of software called financial compliance process management. These products are designed to automate the workflow and report specifically on the financial controls, says Tom Eid, a VP at Gartner. FCPM vendors include 80-20 Software, Achiever Business Solutions, IBM, Movaris, OnProject and several others.

BPM is also an area in which orgs will start to work on compliance, based on the robustness of their implementations. “There are multiple entry points,” Eid says, “but the idea is to take the capabilities of your organization, make this an overall project, an ongoing capability that is improved over time.” Gartner estimates that 75 percent of Fortune 500 companies will have adopted governance or compliance frameworks this year.

Kathleen Richards

SUITE DEALS: What to look for inside the box

Integration-intensive processes People-intensive processes Decision-intensive processes Document-intensive processes
Required BPMS features
  • Integration tools
  • Transaction mgmt
  • Process modeling
  • Trading partner mgmt
  • Monitoring and reporting
  • Embedded portal capability
  • App dev environment
  • Life-cycle mgmt
  • Comprehensive SOA capability
  • Task list/workflow portal
  • Strong UI dev
  • Org mgmt
  • Native forms
  • Integration with packaged apps,particularly CRM and ERP
  • Business rules (internal or integration with third parties) or native analytics for business information (more than process analytics)
  • Robust, native support for document
    imaging, document mgmt and
    records mgmt
  • Task list/workflow portal
  • BPM sold separately from
    ECM application
Required BPMS features
  • Simulation
  • Rules engine support
  • Integration with third-party portals
  • Native integration capabilities or
    integration with third-party integration
  • Integration with third-party e-forms
  • Integration with BI tools for analyzing business data (not just process data)
  • Event mgmt for changes
    to documents
  • Integration with third-party
    ECM products
  • Integration with desktop apps
Representative vendors
  • Axway, BEA, GXS, IBM, Oracle, SAP, Sterling Commerce, Sun, TIBCO, webMethods, Vitria
  • Appian, Fuego, Global 360, Lombardi, HandySoft,Metastorm, Savvion, TIBCO, Ultimus
  • Pegasystems, to a lesser extent Clear Technologies, and potentially BI vendors
  • DST Systems, EMC, FileNet, Global 360, IBM, Open Text
SOURCE: Forrester Research

Analysts’ research indicates that vendors’ development toolkits generally fall into one of two segments: BPM tools for integration and tools for human-centric processes. Partnerships and acquisitions allow vendors to broaden their portfolios; however, enterprises implementing different types of business processes may need more than one BPM suite.

Metastorm and TIBCO Software offer BPM suites—key functionality was obtained through acquisitions—which span both segments, according to Forrester.

“The real value comes when you start to execute the process, track your performance over time and give the power to the business users to change it,” says Jeff Kristick, director of product marketing at TIBCO. “And you need a suite for that.”

Webified BPM
Although the tools are evolving, BPM projects still require intensive IT and business planning before companies realize big payoffs. When BPM is implemented within an SOA, process design is critical. Last April, Accelior Consulting began to implement a Web-enabled leasing automation project for financial services provider ING Lease Belgium. Like many companies implementing BPM, ING needed to increase the volume of orders without hiring additional staff. The goal was to automate the order management process—quote to contract—and increase distribution channels.

Accelior decided to keep the existing 18 back-end systems in place, re-engineer the Web services layer, build a standardized process layer based on a BPEL engine and create a uniform front-end for sales representatives.

After a high-level view from the CIO and 50 one-to-one interviews with business users, Accelior documented the initial processes in Visio, then modeled in Oracle’s BPEL Business Process Manager, based on XML schemas. After working on several BPM/SOA implementations, the team at Accelior knew the pitfalls to avoid and was able to complete the ING project in 6 months, as planned.

Pay now or pay later
Rushing into process design is a big mistake, cautions Jean-Michel Van Lippevelde, business architect at Accelior. “You’ll get quick results but lose on scalability later.”

Change management is also a key consideration. “Usually it’s a false assumption to think that you can design a large process end-to-end in a single BPEL file,” he says. In real-life implementations, those processes are split among various sub-processes that perform specific tasks.”

Without the ability to scale and manage change, developers must maintain code that defines the same business objects in all the layers of the application—the front-end, BPM and the service layer, Van Lippevelde warns.

For the ING project, Accelior deployed its own Work Process Manager SOAframework. “This framework allows us to quickly deploy and manage change of a BPM project on all the different layers of the architecture from a central XMLdefinition that represents the business data that is reused on different levels of the architecture,” Van Lippevelde explains. The team also used Oracle’s SOAtechnology suite—the Fusion Middleware Application Server, Grid Control and a RAC-based XML database—to construct the ING architecture.

How business processes talk to underlying systems is critical in BPM projects. Developers typically write pointto- point code or follow Accelior’s common services approach for ING, breaking common apps into discrete modules that can be reused across other business processes.

More vendors are working on offering better integration between their BPM and SOA products. Last month, TIBCO announced convergence between its BPM platform, Staffware Process Manager, and its SOA technology, which includes BusinessWorks, among other components. The latest Staffware release also features an AJAXbased client so developers can build richer, more-interactive browser interfaces for business users.

Managing through a dashboard
Private IT services firm Advanced Management Technology, whose biggest BPM client is the Homeland Security arm of the federal government, started to look at BPM internally in 2000. At the time, AMTI was trying to figure out how to support continuous growth without having to add administrative staff.

AMTI has since automated multiple business processes such as equipment requisition, education requests, travel advances, employment requisitions, team approval agreements and IT support requests.

“One of the major benefits that you get out of using tools like these is the ability to monitor and manage, because most of the time, that capability isn’t something that I have to build,” says David Holliday, CTO. AMTI uses the Windows version of the Metastorm BPM suite.

Real-time monitoring across platforms is a key differentiator in tools. TIBCO Staffware Process Monitor and TIBCO’s SOA technology support this type of functionality through event publication, which is enabled by Business Activity Monitoring, according to Kristick. A dashboard displays in real time, for example, when a case is created, a work item is open and a work item is overdue. “Like most application development projects, you think about reporting at the end,” Wachovia’s Griggs says. “But in these kinds of projects, you really need to focus on them early, because from a dashboard perspective, and being able to show that the system is delivering the return that you promised, you have to be able to expose that data.”

Early on, the Wachovia tech-services team had to write performance reports. People from the technology team retrieved the business process data and created the data stores that allowed them to look at the process information, as well as any historical processes that may have started or ended, then they exposed that data to the business leaders.

After a few false starts with the WBI monitoring tool, the team at Wachovia is working with IBM on version 6. “What we’re trying to do is use monitoring tools, like Business Activity Monitoring, associated with the monitor to be able to see the work before it actually gets into BPM to give our customers an end-to-end view of their work,” Griggs says. In businesses such as insurance, considerable amounts of document indexing and image scanning is done before users even get into the BPM environment.

BPM suite selection criteria

What’s the rationale for choosing between standalone modeling tools and suites? "The criteria really has to focus in on what your business objectives are," says Janelle Hill, VP at Gartner. "If you are looking to create common understanding about what your processes are and how they relate to each other to begin to analyze where you might make some improvements, that’s really when the standalone modeling tools shine," she says.

Automating human workflow, routing documents and images, allowing employees to make process changes, or helping IT keep up with demand for new systems or enhancements typically require functionality that is now only available in suites. Cost, service, support and a vendor’s ability to execute are also key considerations for evaluation of these products. Gartner says the 10 major criteria for BPM suites are:

  1. Human task support
  2. Business process/policy modeling and simulation environment
  3. Pre-built frameworks, models, flows, rules and services
  4. Human interface support and content management
  5. Collaboration-anywhere support
  6. System task and integration support
  7. Business activity monitoring
  8. Runtime simulation, optimization and predictive modeling
  9. Business policy/rule management support
  10. Real-time agility infrastructure supports

Kathleen Richards

Federation within the enterprise
As vendors continue to improve monitoring capabilities, sharing business processes across different BPM engines, or even corporate lines, is something many companies are starting to think about. BPM technology and standards need to mature, however, to make this a reality.

“In my mind, that is where standards will start to play,” AMTI’s Holliday says. “I think right now everyone is outwardly focused in a portal or Internet site that multiple people can come in and share, so it is not really platform-to-platform communications; it is all within the same system.”

Not having federated BPM is a problem that Wachovia’s technology-services team wants to solve. Although the financial services company has standardized on IBM’s WBI, its uses other BPM engines throughout the organization, which has gone through several mergers. “An integrated work list for the user that makes it seamless between the various BPM systems is probably an area that we deal with on a quarterly basis,” Griggs says.

Dueling standards
Wachovia is concentrating hard on human interaction, a key component of the company’s BPM strategy.

“A lot of times SOAimplementations are all about talking to systems and getting a widget through, but human interaction is a big piece of what we do here, and that’s where we are really spending a lot of our focus right now,” Griggs says.

This is one reason that Wachovia is waiting for IBM’s release of its Web- Sphere Process Server tool, he says. “It can process J2EE, orchestrate Web services, and IBM has extended it to allow us to interact with humans.” The process server is a BPEL engine running on top of the WebSphere app server J2EE platform. Traditionally, BPEL has offered little support for human interaction, according to Griggs.

TIBCO’s Kristick has a different vantage point: “There are other standards…we think are more relevant to BPM…like XPDLand BPMN for modeling notation and process definition,” he says. “I think BPEL will mature over time, and those standards will be the foundation for sharing processes across BPM engines.”