So you've spent 2 months defining your business process. You have spent numerous hours interviewing process participants, understanding what roles they play, and when tasks in the process are routed to them. And now, you've found out that the more you try to define routing logic in your process the more chaotic it becomes. As part of your discovery of the routing needs, you hear comments like:
- "Yes, the expense report usually is sent to John to approve. But sometimes I send it to Mary to review first."
- "I send my authorization reports to my supervisor most of the time. But if I am working on a special project for an outside division, then I want to get their sign-off first"
- "IT Service requests normally are sent to Mike to handle. But there are times when he is busy with special projects, then I just send the task to Mike's team members"
Imagine trying to define all of these special scenarios in your business process. Each of the cases above is defined as a specialized case of business process management
called, "Unstructured Processes" (and being recently discussed in places like the Gartner
2009 BPM Summit). In cases of unstructured processes, as opposed to defined processes where routing is the important part of the business process, the actual recording of who performed the work and when, is the most important detail. We would all like to think that our day to day structures are sound, but many times, there are holes. Despite the fact there are dynamic and unstructured aspects to our daily operations, what we actually do to get the job done still needs to be tracked and recorded.
Ultimus Adaptive BPM Suite provides the best of both worlds: a dynamic and unstructured process design and tracking capabilities as well as formal, default flow process routing. Take for example the following portion of a business process:
Here, IT service requests are usually sent to Mike where he'll either handle them himself or distribute them to his team. But, what if Mike is unavailable? In this case, rather than send new IT service requests to Mike, and have those requests sit in his inbox waiting for his review, the people filing the IT requests have configurable options to whom the new IT requests are to be assigned. Specifically, when the IT request is filed, the form will contain the below options:
By providing dynamic and flexible routing options to your form users, you simplify the need to ensure every exception path in your business process is defined (in terms of steps, rules, and routing logic). This cuts down on not only the complexity of the business process itself, but also the time you need to spend building the exception paths in the routing logic. From the Ultimus BPM Server perspective, no matter who the task is assigned to the correct service representative will be marked as the task recipient.
Examples of other types of unstructured processes are easily conceivable. In addition to the examples listed above, you can think of the unstructured processes in terms of a task list that is not structured. Meaning, you build your process by placing all possible steps in your process map, but do not include any routing logic in the process itself. For each task in the process, the form user has the capabilities to not only determine what the next task is to be performed, but also who is to perform it. This type of process is highly unstructured, but has relevance in some user case situations in today's workflow environment. No matter if your process is highly structured or highly unstructured, you can build your processes with Ultimus Adaptive BPM Suite and be assured that all tasks, down the correct recipient value, will be tracked for reporting and auditing purposes.
VP Product Marketing and Management
With the focus of every company on finances, especially corporate expenses, the end of a financial quarter can be interesting. All the way from personal finances to corporate finances, "belt tightening" tends to occur for some period of time. When a company has situational changes in their day-to-day business, these changes affect the underlying established business processes in place. When these decisions are made quickly changes to the underlying business processes can be both time consuming and laborious. Further, as the end of month comes and goes, time also has to be spent to reinstate the original process design (representing two distinct efforts of changing the business process design).
Consider a simplified portion of an Expense Reporting process. In this process, if the expense report is less than or equal to $1000, then it is to be reviewed by the Company Controller. If it is greater than $1000, then the expense is to be reviewed by the CFO.
Now consider that the end of the month is here, and the CFO wishes to review all expenses greater than $500. In the most rudimentary form of business process design, the business rules (routing business logic) are part of the integral business process design. In this case, if there is a change to be made to the routing logic, then the business process designer would have to eidt the core process, make changes, and republish the modified process to the live BPM Server. Moreover, without sophisticated change management features, live running instances of the business process cannot be affected.
A stronger business process architecture can be created if the business rules are extrapolated from the business process itself. Without disrupting the core business process design, the business process designer can make the necessary situational rules changes. For example, if the CFO wanted to see all expense reports greater than $500, the business process designer could change just the business process rule (and not have to necessarily edit the business process design itself).
But, consider the following possible two situations- business changes are needed once again when:
- further "belt tightening" is desired by the CFO, or
- the business process owner, (the person who can actually make the business process design changes), is not available
The ideal result in this case, is by providing a simple and straight-forward way for the CFO to make changes to the business process WITHOUT changing the core business process design or the business process rules. Ultimus iBAM provides the ability for the CFO to make changes through secure desktop "gauges" or "switches" (see the below picture) to customize how the business process routing logic is working. Take for example the following Ultimus iBAM gauges:
By utilizing the dial gauge on the right, the CFO can change the expense report threshold review level independent of the business process core design. With each new expense report filed, Ultimus BPM Server will check the gauge threshold setting, and utilize its setting when executing the business process rule on the "File Expense Report" complete event. The CFO now has the availability to restrict or loosen the control on the Expense Report Review process on demand. Moreover, the business process designer no longer has to be involved with every change, and once the end of the quarter comes and goes, the CFO can reinstate the original expense report threshold level.
As you can see in the various situations discussed, process optimization comes in different forms. Sometimes, process optimization needs are clear and distinct. But often enough, processes need to be optimized and changed temporarily and the life of those process optimization changes is finite. Rather than continually having a process designer on call to make temporary and situational business process changes, it makes sense to enable the key process champions to make those changes in response to the changing business needs.
So, I leave you with the question: Where is your current process struggling due to a recent structural change?
VP Product Marketing and Management
Having "control" over your data is always a top concern anytime you invest in a software application. The term "control" includes such concepts such as data security, data access, and visibility. These points are especially true in the finance industry, where data in finance applications is extremely sensitive and personal. Allowing unauthorized access to people's social security numbers, credit card numbers, or salaries can be disastrous not only for the company, but the people associated with the sensitive information itself.
The importance of data security in the finance industry is reflected in this year's "Top Technology Initiatives" survey conducted by The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). The top five initiatives in the 2009 survey are:
- Information Security Management
- Privacy Management
- Secure Data File Storage, Transmission and Exchange
- Business Process Improvement, Work Flow and Process Exception Alerts
- Mobile and Remote Computing
As you can see, #4 on the 2009 list is "Business Process Improvement, Work Flow and Process Exception Alerts". The AICPA describes this item as:
Business Process Improvement, Work Flow and Process Exception Alerts: Business Process Improvement initiatives assist with controlling and documenting processes across the organization, most commonly in accounting or content management (paperless) applications. Transaction processing and audit trails are being replaced with automated processes, workflow, exception alerts, and electronic authorizations.
Looking back on the last three years of the AICPA survey, one can see that Business Process Management (BPM) and Business Process Improvement (BPI) have risen in priority each year.
You can see that while data security remains extremely important to financial data, accessing and sharing the financial data in systematic and controlled ways is nearly as important. This makes sense, as financial data needs to be shared in business processes across multiple users who are involved in activities such as reviewing financial data for completeness, comparing collected data across multiple systems, and approving financial transactions. Examples of business processes in the finance sector can include Expense Reporting, Employee Performance Review, and Purchase Requests (just to name a few).
Last evening, I was invited to speak at the Raleigh chapter of the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA), where I spoke on BPM in the Finance industry. It was interesting to note that the questions raised by the members in the Q&A session aligned with the top initiatives as noted by the AICPA. The IMA members were very eager to understand how sensitive financial data can be securely shared across business process participants. Moreover, there were numerous questions about how business processes can help ensure the completeness of submitted data such as ensuring recipients were part of submitted expense reports and ensuring credit card applications were properly reviewed before being submitted. It is exactly these types of concerns where BPM systems make perfect sense in improving the efficiency and effectiveness of a company's day-to-day operations.
VP of Product Marketing and Management
Today's headlines scream for the need of case management inside corporations: security fraud, credit card transactions, lost and stolen account numbers , whistle-blowers inside companies coming forth to reveal criminal activities, biased treatment of employees - the list goes on. Company executives are under increasing pressure to ensure that policies and procedures are in place to handle these types of situations. With that, case management solutions have come to the market place to ensure company officials have the tools they need to properly track instances of impropriety inside the work place. Case Management systems on the market today are designed to make certain company regulatory standards are uniformly applied across the company's enterprise (for example, ensuring the same HR regulations are administered for all employees).
Case Management systems are usually marked with the following characteristics:
- Data Security: Because of the sensitive information being collected, the case management system must be highly secure.
- Integration with DMS systems: Case management incidents normally require the generation and collection of documents. The ability to integrate with common DMS system is vital.
- Highly Accessible: In terms of new incidents, case management systems should have a number of possible user interfaces to ensure initial information can easily and readily be recorded.
With all of the benefits case management solutions provide, there are two prevalent short-comings with enterprise case management installations today:
- Larger enterprises tend to have multiple case management tools (where each tool is utilized by a different corporate official). This may be the case as each corporate officer is concerned with sharing information outside of his department or corporate policies themselves prohibit the sharing of an application across departments due to the criticality of the information itself.
- Many of today's case management tools are ones which tend to be created for specialized use in specific company departments. For example, specific case management tools exist for HR, Legal, and Financial Services (just to name a few). Here, case management tools that attempt to span the needs and requirements across different business units end up falling short, as they lack the necessary security features to ensure the critical data in the cases is visible to the correct users.
This is where Business Process Management
can add value, much in the same light as BPM adding value to a company who has many existing large-scale ERP
and HCM applications (where data sharing, organization, and security is most painful). Consider the following situation with a large corporation ACME:
Here, ACME has three disparate case management systems, each with its own database and its own document management storage application. While each case management application can service the needs of that department well, there is no way to ensure consistency across these applications. Meaning, from an executive perspective, there is no way to ensure each of the applications is reporting information in a consistent manner. At the highest levels, senior executives need a full, cross-departmental profile of all of their risk situations. BPM systems are designed to leverage that challenge.
A BPM system unifying the disparate various case management applications provides the following benefits:
- Uniformity and awareness of the states and statuses of all case incidents in each of the applications
- Ability to have a common reporting interface across all case management systems
- Ability to assess the highest concentration of risks in a company without having to request individual reports to be generated from each system
As you can see, a Business Process Management
system has no limits in terms of its ability to unify applications and systems. BPM provides easier administration across systems, consistency of data, and visibility from the highest levels across all systems in a unified format. Large corporations who have invested in case management solutions should consider a flexible BPM Suite
VP Product Marketing and Management
A common thread in each of the finance companies reported as failing in 2000/2009 is lack of visibility and awareness of the day-to-day processes and operations. Without having a clear understanding of how efficient and effective your critical business processes are, at best, you can only hope the bottom line figures you are handed are both accurate and truthful. It is hard to believe anyone would run a business on "hoping" the summary reports are correct.
By using modeling, reporting, and optimization features in a business process management suite (BPMS), you will have full visibility into your business processes, be able to identify inefficiencies in those processes, understand the costs associated with those inefficiencies, and then make improvements to your business processes to resolve the inefficiencies. Moreover, by optimizing your processes, you will also control the implied costs of executing the processes in themselves.
To read the original article, click here.
VP Product Marketing and Management
Evolving your processes to an automated stage is both exciting and rewarding, not only for you but also for everyone involved in the process. Coupled with the excitement is also a large responsibility of ensuring everyone is prepared for the new automated process, in terms of training, understanding, and project commitments. As business processes usually span multiple departments, the responsibility of ensuring your process is successfully automated can be significant. Moreover, as your executive management is aware of this project, ensuring the project is successful has direct bearing on you and your BPM team.
So one question that you may be asking yourself is: Do I choose a simple and easy process to ensure quick process automation success? Or do I choose a larger process that has more criticality and results in a bigger reward (in terms of company savings and efficiencies)? Note that not every larger process necessarily takes more time to develop, but in general, one can expect a longer development time (process development, testing, and training) for that process, as shown below.
There is no right or wrong choice here, but each type of process has points to consider. Below are some positives and cautions for each:
The "simple" process or the process that some call a "low hanging fruit":
- Fast success: The process may be easy to automate because of a small number of steps.
- Executive Management awareness of fast completion: You will be able to report to executive management that you have quickly completed the first process automation effort.
- Controllable new technology "chaos": If there are only a few number of people who are involved in the newly automated process, if usage problems with the process participants surface, you can easily spend personal time with those people retraining them.
The larger process which may either be a more critical process or has more steps (users steps or integration steps):
- Process is not considered important: Announcing that you have automated your first process, and this process is not vital to your company's day-to-day operations, this non-critical process announcement might not be received as well as you had hoped.
- Small process ROI: If your automated process is not critical to your company, in terms of solving time or cost pains, then the ROI on your automated process may either be small or not provide the results you had hoped.
- Critical processes have executive team awareness: The more critical the process is to your company's day-to-day business, the more reward you will potentially receive by automating the process.
- Greater ROI: With processes that span multiple departments and automate the critical functions in your company, your ROI (return on investment) can be measured in greater factors.
- Long process automation time: If you have not properly estimated your process automation initiative, then the time needed to fully automate your process may be perceived as longer than usual.
- Retraining efforts may be large: The more people who are involved in your process, the greater probability that you will have requests for retraining from your process participants. It can be common with new technology rollouts that users realize they are not fully comfortable with the new technology until they are forced to use it in their day-to-day operations.
The question about which process to automate is one that many of Ultimus' customers have asked in the past. As a result of this, Ultimus has developed a tool that you can use to analyze this question deeper, and break the question down into a number of measurable metrics. The Ultimus Process Prioritizer can help you understand what your business process initiative means in term of the following metrics:
- Internal Business Sponsor Priorities
- Process Suitability
- Technical Suitability
- Other Human Factors that may affect your BPI
- Business Alignment with your BPI
Having scorecard results in these areas will allow you to determine the "risk factors" associated with deploying an automated process in your company environment. By utilizing a tool like the Ultimus ProcessPrioritizer, you can have full visibility into the process automation effort you are considering to undertake and avoid the potential pitfalls you might have faced. Additionally, by using a structured methodology like this, when you engage in your second, third, and fourth processes, you can use the collected Ultimus ProcessPrioritizer information from your previous business process initiatives as a foundation on how to be even more successful with your new business process initiatives.
VP Product Marketing and Management