BPM will evolve along two dimensions

by Abhinna Shreshtha    Jun 16, 2010

Dr. M.A. Ketabchi was a full professor at the computer engineering department of Santa Clara University and the director of Object and Multimedia Technologies Research Laboratory when he developed the concept of business process management (BPM) nearly 15 years ago. In 1994, he founded Savvion and under his leadership Savvion launched the first BPM product in 1999.

Since the acquisition of Savvion by Progress Software in January 2010, Dr. Ketabchi has served as the VP (strategy) for Progress Software. In an exclusive interaction with CXOtoday, discusses the genesis of BPM, the long journey of more than a decade before BPM reached its present form, and the road ahead.  

Tell us the story behind the development of BPM?

When I was a university professor, I used to work on several research projects sponsored by the government and industries in the US. One of these projects included investigating various ways how IT can help a business. It had to do with defining business processes of the necessary technologies to make business processes executable, the ability to monitor those processes, and improve them. I, along with my students and faculty members, worked on this project for several years, the culmination of which was BPM.

When did you decide to come out with a BPM product?

At that time, we didn’t have the Internet or technologies like JAVA and XML so, in a sense, we had to foresee many of these as part of our research. But as these technologies became available, I, with the encouragement of some of the research sponsors, decided to protect rights of some of our ideas.

As a result I started a company to implement the research results in the form of a product; which we called BPM. It took us several years and a few tryouts with the first set of technologies, which got obsolete because new technologies were available by then. However towards the end of 1999; we managed to release the first version of the complete BPM product which has since evolved and expanded significantly. 

During the initial years, did you face any difficulties convincing people about the concept of BPM?

Yes absolutely; initially there was confusion about BPM and its relationship to workflow, integration, etc. So we not only had to explain the concept and benefits of BPM but also had to explain how it was different from other technologies available then - which people were aware of and were being promoted by large companies. Fortunately, we were able to convince some large companies early on, and in a relatively short period of time, to adopt BPM. A good example would be Cisco, they actually adopted BPM in the year 2000 and many companies followed suit. That evangelist stage continued for several years though.

Whenever a new technology comes in, over a period of time, you start realizing the short comings. Is this the case with BPM too?

Any new technology evolves rapidly in its early days, because customers quickly find short comings in the product and through their feedback improvisation is made to the product. So in the first few years the enhancing evolution of the product happens quickly, BPM is no exception.

Initially BPM was focused on automation of processes, which is in a sense a different undertaking normally referred to as BOA (business process analysis). Also, because the focus was intensely on automation and there was very little focus to business process improvement, the initial BPM products were really business automation process.

We integrated BPM & BPA to create a functionality that starts from business processes analysis, goes to automation and enables to business to improve their processes; this end-to-end functionality is today what people refer to as BPM.

Another very significant enhancement which we achieved was unification of presentation flow, business flow, and integration flow.

Tell us more about the evolution of BPM and the unification of business, integration and presentation flows?

Initially the focus was only business flow and integration flow for products and presentation flows were non-existent. But later releases of the product added functionality which enabled the company to define their presentation flow as well as their integration flow as part of their business process and achieve significant cost reduction and simplification in doing BPM and building the process applications that they wanted.

So over the years, BPM has evolved but nevertheless, the core ideas remain sound which basically is that businesses want to have visibility in to how their processes are being executed. With this visibility, they want to use the BPI functionality of BPM to eliminate bottlenecks in the processes.

Furthermore, all this i.e. visibility, identifying & eliminating bottlenecks, and improving the process are very business tasks and not IT tasks, so not only does this need to be possible but business people should be empowered with these things, not necessarily programmers and IT.

What do you think is the road ahead for BPM? What kind of effect do you expect concepts like cloud computing and the on-demand delivery model to have on it?

BPM products will evolve along two dimensions. One is the technology; which includes things like on-demand delivery and cloud computing. BPM, like any other software, needs to be delivered on demand, there is no reason why BPM functionality and a solution built on top of BPM cannot be delivered on-demand and in fact they should.

Several of our customers and partners are already delivering solutions on top of our on-demand product. In addition to business analysis, we have also made certain key functionalities of the product itself on demand such as BPA; which was a desktop product. So, business analysts can basically go on the Internet and research business processes; simulate and document them and eventually share and collaborate with each other on the Internet.

The second dimension is to improve the functionality, improve the ease of use of BPM products and ensure that BPM evolves to the newer requirement of enterprises because business conditions change. Recently, the velocity of business has accelerated tremendously. Things that were could have taken five days to complete, now need to be completed within five hours and sometimes in even less time. So BPM products need to evolve with these new business conditions and requirements.

Progress Software recently launched a response process management (RPM). What is it exactly?

One way to look at it is that it is actually the next stage for BPM products, which delivers all the business values that BPM products did, such as agility, visibility, ability to improve business processes, business empowerment, etc. Beyond that, RPM expands the visibility into not just processes but also business events that impact business processes and also the dependencies of business processes on other applications.

In addition to agility, RPM enables companies to respond immediately to situations as they occur. RPM, like BPM, enables companies to improve efficiency by simplifying line processing and reducing wastes. It also enables the company to take advantage for revenue opportunities. In the area of business empowerment, RPM enables them to control certain aspects of the business so that they will react to business situations immediately and not just monitor their business but also control their business.

So RPM is our way of evolving BPM beyond what it has been since 2000 and to meet newer business requirements and newer customer and enterprise challenges.

So can we say BPM is moving from a passive to a more proactive solution?

Definitely, that is actually a good way to look at it. In the first decade BPM was an enabling technology and now it provides dynamicity and pro-activity. Add to this the integration of business event processes and business process management, and we get a product that is intelligent and not only able to identify patterns in businesses that may have drastic and unexpected consequences but actually respond to these incidents immediately.

You have been coming to India regularly for the last 10 years, what is your view on the Indian scenario?

I have been bullish in the past about India and I will continue to remain bullish. I think you have a vibrant, growing country. Businesses are growing, new businesses are being created and of course these businesses want to take advantage of the latest technologies to be competitive globally. I predicted that India itself will become a market for a product like BPM several years ago and that is why we started in India initially with development and testing of our products.

We have strong, successful customers like Reliance Capital, Genpact, HDFC, etc. This is going to continue and in my opinion, it will expand at an accelerated rate. In terms of ambition and vision, Indian companies are on par with the best companies around the world.

Could you tell us some ways organizations can create a competitive advantage for themselves by innovating on the way they use processes and could you give some examples of organizations that have done that?

We have Motorola in the US, who run their supply chain on BPM. They have managed to reduce the cycle time of their global supply chain tenfold. This is a very significant competitive advantage for them because they produce mobile handsets; an industry that is changing and advancing very quickly. Time is of the essence in this sector - whoever produces the next best product, wins.

We have customers such as Level3 communications who are running their entire telecommunication order processing on BPM. For them it is critical to reduce the number of orders that they miss or the number of orders that don’t get potentially fulfilled or completed initially by monitoring their order processing. Through the visibility of BPM, they are able to identify the delays and potential errors very quickly and correct them without even the customer knowing about it.

We have customers who have achieved significant competitive advantage in financial services for e.g. Capital One in US runs their entire auto loans process on BPM. For them, it is very important to make sure that when a loan gets approved; it is approved without any mistake. For example; a loan applicant may lose his/her job while the loan is in process. If Capital One goes ahead and approves the loan then they will incur losses.

They also need to able to change the course of the process at any time since there is a possibility that the applicant may change the mailing address after the process has already been initiated. It is important for Capital One to ensure that the loan documents go to the right address, which means while in the process of execution it needs to be aware of these events and of course ensure that mistakes don’t happen again.

What would be your advice to CIOs for managing processes better and getting the best out of their business?

The key idea is that you can get started with BPM immediately and grow as you go. There is really no reason to take the big bang approach to BPM. It is better to get started and increase analysis incrementally.

BPM starts from BPA, continues to business process automation to business monitoring and improvement. If you are not ready for the whole spectrum of BPM functionality, start with BPA. It is not an all or nothing proposition. It is not something like ERP that will take two years for its deployment before you actually get any results. You can almost immediately start with BPA, which gives the ability to define the business processes and map them out, define metrics around them, simulate towards processes, measure the cost of executing the process, etc.

BPM does not take a huge amount of investment or training. Furthermore, through BPM, you will have defined your processes, which already means automation. You will then select the processes that are mission critical; this will enable you to achieve most performance improvements. And once you automate them you will achieve real time visibility in your business and continuous improvement of your processes.