BPM Gets Out of the Back Office

Wednesday Jan 11th 2012 by Ann All
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Business process management practitioners say their clients are beginning to use BPM not just to streamline their back-office processes, but also to improve their customer-facing processes.

EnterpriseAppsToday’s Ann All spoke with Stuart Chandler, vice president of the BPM Practice for Virtusa Corporation, an IT services company that provides consulting, technology and outsourcing services, about this shift.

All: You mentioned Virtusa is seeing shifts in how clients are using BPM. Why do you think this is happening?

Chandler: BPM has been around for a pretty long time. So you have more maturity around it. Whether you configure on a Pegasystems PRPC, or go into JBoss , or try to manage .NET to create process, I think you have more people willing to start managing their business around processes.  Many people think they’ve been doing that, but what they’ve been really doing is managing transactions. They haven’t been looking at the processes that are varied in nature.

Organizations are also able to better visualize and see how they can incorporate the BPM approach into different parts of the organization. Before with repetitive process steps, it was like an assembly line. It was so clear when you had to put a certain widget in at a certain spot. But unstructured processes are different. If you can’t structure all the work in absolute terms, there’s still a meta level where I can add structure and start learning from it.

Some BPM platforms now offer alerts. When you get those alerts, you can start understanding your processes much better. You might say, “We’re getting some pretty consistent transactions coming in. I better configure something simple at a meta level to get a handle on it.” If I don’t build something to capture the information, then I won’t actually know.

All: I’ve read and heard about companies using BPM  not only to streamline back-office processes but also to improve customer-facing processes. Is Virtusa seeing this?

Chandler: On the customer service side, there’s a need to move the back-end transactions to the front office. Do I have to have 50 people understand how to do a transaction that changes my plane ticket?  Maybe I just need to institutionalize the more common piece, make it more customer-facing and then wrap some people around the more unstructured parts.

Another example is hospitality comments and complaints. Organizations would a purser take down your problem – maybe a broken pipe in your cabin on a cruise ship – on a note card. But you know you are going to affect other people around that cabin who might be inconvenienced by the work needed to fix the pipe. So why don’t you contact them in a proactive manner and let them know what is going on, maybe offer to comp them something? When you incorporate predictive analytics and adaptive case management into BPM, it gives you the opportunity to be proactive instead of just reactive.

If you look at a reservations system and you see a spike in reservations for a particular flight, why wouldn’t I want to see what is going on. You might find there is a big conference in the destination city, and you can offer those travelers something special related to the conference. You almost get into cross-selling. Or you can provide concierge-type service, by offering car service to good customers, for example.

All: I assume companies are still using BPM to standardize their processes. But are they beginning to change the ways they look at standardization as well?

Chandler: Instead of point solutions, there’s more acceptance of BPM across the enterprise. I’m seeing folks start to say, “If I’m doing this in the U.S., why can’t I do it in other parts of the world?” How do you get different countries to adopt common processes and only customize the small pieces that are really different? That really involves organizational behavior and change management just as much as technology.

The cost pressures of the last three or four years have taken away the budget to create multiple systems. So organizations are more open to centralizing. You need to collect the sane client information: address, phone number, car information. I may have to differentiate between a “boot” and a “truck” as a component to an insurance claim, but I need to set up the claim and process it in a similar way regardless of where I am in the world.  I’m seeing more willingness from organizations to adopt common frameworks.

All: Are vendors updating their solutions to meet these needs?

Chandler: Pegasystems’ PRPC platform has always allowed you to make changes fairly easily. But their Chordiant acquisition allows them to put more of a predictive and CRM spin on it. And if you look at Progress Software when it bought Savvion, it’s got that whole RPM (responsive process management) suite and it’s going after responsive risk management. I think the message is right, and you find some of the tools and parts of the application back it up.

From a development standpoint, I think we need a better view into the application. When you build Java, you build Java. But when you build a PRPC application, you are configuring rules. You could take four different developers and put them in front of these BPM applications and you have different front ends to the development of that platform.

[Vendors] all profess they can help you get a system installed sooner rather than later, and it’s continuing to improve, but it needs to get better. If you look at the development lifecycles, how can organizations can better take concepts and convert them to configuration or code quicker without having to mess around with it too much after it is done?  I think there needs to be better collection at the front end, converting it down to configuration and then a working application. That’s the next piece of it; how to make it easier to do without learning special languages.

All: Sure. But BPM solutions seem to resist standardization, with vendors all putting their own proprietary spins on it. Is that a challenge?

Chandler: Customers definitely want more common frameworks. Global 360 came from a document-centric perspective, Pega came from a rules perspective, Progress is coming from a couple of different angles  like workflows and alerts. From a simpleton perspective, I think it all boils down to the same thing. But these companies all think they have the best approach. I do think there needs to be some better standardization.

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