The Vision for BPM: Engaging the Tech-Oriented Business User

Kevin Lindquist, COO, Decisions.com
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Kevin Lindquist, COO, Decisions.com

Business Process Management (BPM) as a category lives on the idea that your business has a unique set of problems and requirements that call for a flexible and change-oriented software solution. If your business requires the exact same implementation as every other business— down to the second person in an approval chain—then you can probably find an off the shelf solution for exactly what you want to do or your IT team can build it from scratch. Even then, however, you can count on business requirements changing over time—and that is where BPM should shine.

"BPM has the potential to save time and effort in other technology solutions throughout the enterprise by letting the business experts participate in the design and continued improvement of specific puzzle pieces for the enterprise stack"

BPM provides visual development environments that enable the business expert to make changes without diving into code, or having the IT team spend time managing repeated requests to make similar changes on a regular basis. As the workforce continues to mature with a larger percentage of technology-oriented business users with each generation, the capability of a business user to edit software is constrained only by the design environment/ method. Most business users will not be able to live at a code level in Visual Studio, but many can construct a workflow diagram or understand the logic in a business rule.

Engaging this class of user requires several core capabilities from any BPM solution. First, you need to be able to adjust permissions for a role or user around what you expect their primary design activity to be. For example, if you want a given user to be responsible for managing the lending rules for the state of Kentucky and nothing else, then their portal experience should reflect that and the BPM administrators should be able to set up that experience easily.

Second, in some cases you may want a role or user to be able to modify the business logic, but you may not trust the fit between that user’s capability and the complexity of the design environment. While a BPM implementation should provide for a clearly defined and restricted portal experience for that user - it should also add a level of workflow to the submission, review, testing and deployment of the business logic. Back to the lending rules in Kentucky example - you may want to have any edits made to a rule ran through a workflow driven approval task to a more experienced user who validates the new logic against unit tests before formal deployment into production.

As the technical capability of the workforce increases with new generations of workers, and as technology continues to improve and simplify the design of business logic in software you should consider focusing on what can be done now. Where is the sweet spot of BPM for your business today?

Ultimately, BPM could be considered in any of the following situations:
- Business logic is rapidly changing based upon regulation or other industry influence.
- The business has technology-oriented business users who know enough about IT systems to how data should flow through a business process.
- IT wants to expose only certain pieces of a software application for the business to manage in order to reduce code-level development cycles.

BPM generally supplies 4 primary design environments: Workflow, Business Rules, Forms, and Reporting. Some vendors will add other foundational application components such as an end user portal, user management, mobile design support, and other features that support general business app requirements. In fact, many BPM implementations are made available to support multiple types of projects - one that may only need the rule engine, while another project may require the full BPM suite. Some vendors provide licensing for certain pieces of the puzzle while others require the full suite to be purchased.

With these general capabilities understood—the underlying questions that should be asked to support the enablement of business users come from the IT side:

“How can I have another application consume what was designed in the BPM?”

“How can I restrict the business to only certain pieces of the full BPM suite?”

A good IT team understands the limits of its business users and a good BPM solution should allow the administrator to constrain the features exposed to a user to match that user’s capability. This may include doing things like locking down the design experience to edit a single rule - and in the background having a web service exposed by the BPM that lets IT call that rule from another application.

A common missed opportunity for those with a BPM implementation is a lack of communication and understand­ing around how BPM can play a role in the larger enterprise stack. Instead of be­ing silo-ed for a single use—BPM has the potential to save time and effort in other technology solutions throughout the enterprise by letting the business ex­perts participate in the design and con­tinued improvement of specific puzzle pieces for the enterprise stack.

The vision for BPM is simple—en­gage the business experts, where ap­propriate, to manage the business logic while IT focuses on innovating with the puzzle pieces the business uses to get work done. 

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