Culture, metrics, and architecture: Today's BPM goes way beyond automation
A Q&A with Phil Gilbert, Vice President of Business Process and Decision Management at IBM
Published July 15, 2012
Managing business processes has always been about doing things faster, often through eliminating the human element and automating required steps; but that is all changing, and leading the charge is IBM. Bringing in mobile, social, and collaboration technology, IBM’s next wave of BPM solutions is forcing companies to re-examine their business processes, the metrics around them, and how to leverage the value they bring to their organizations.
WebSphere Insights sat down with Phil Gilbert, Vice President of Business Process and Decision Management at IBM, to delve into this paradigm shift, sift through the industry buzzwords, and learn what companies need to know about this next chapter of BPM.
WebSphere Insights: The buzzword “agility” is often brought up when talking about IBM BPM solutions. What does agility mean to you, and how can customers assess and improve their own organizations’ agility?
Phil Gilbert: Agility has become a bit of a buzzword, but to me it’s pretty simple. It basically comes down to how you answer the question, “How quickly can I change?” Changing how we operate as a business is arguably one of the hardest things, but we change in other ways, too. We add new products. We might enter new markets. We might change a marketing campaign. All of this change happens all the time. The companies that have an ability to make these changes quickly, with minimum fuss, tend to win. The question really is, what is required to change easily and quickly?
I think it kind of comes down to three things, and these are the three things that we [at IBM] focus on in our BPM portfolio… First of all, and frankly, foremost, is the culture. We have to have a culture that accepts change as normal; that rewards curiosity. The second thing is that we have to have a fact-based mechanism that guides change. We have to focus on the metrics and the reporting, as opposed to the automation, in order to make smart change. And that also feeds back into that cultural thing because, without a fact-based mechanism to guide change, cultures resist. The third thing is, you need technology architecture that doesn’t require complex dependencies to adapt to change. For example, if you have a process architecture that requires data to be in certain places, or in certain formats, or in itself, if it is also the system of record for data, that’s a problem, because now all of a sudden we have inserted a dependency that we have to get our product information, or whatever it is, in a certain format in order to be made part of our enterprise process system. There is a technology underpinning to this, and I think that having a loosely coupled architecture for your process system and having very targeted and focused separate systems of record for the business data is critical to achieving the ability to change quickly and effectively.
In our products, we focus on all three of those things. Our BPM methodology really addresses the cultural aspects of this, as well as an understanding of the metrics and recording requirements that are needed. And then, of course, our product itself is very much built to be an enterprise system of process; it adopts those principles of architecture that I talked about. Agility is a buzzword, and it’s often overused, but it really just comes down to how quickly and effectively I can make change in my organization. That is something that everybody has to do.
WI: At IBM Impact this past April you talked about “process innovation” in regards to the new version 8 releases of IBM Business Process Manager (IBM BPM) and IBM Operational Decision Management (IBM ODM). How do these releases address process innovation?
Gilbert: The language of scale for business really always comes down to process. If I’m really going to introduce the ability to change, I call this process innovation, I call it being very innovative around processes, and to do that I have got to feed into those three drivers: Culture, metrics, and architecture. I think that the things that we have done with v8 across the board…both in the IBM BPM product, as well as IBM ODM, is we have really gone a long way to dealing with culture. The new business engagement that those products enable is far and away the best in the industry when you combine the easier-to-use interface, and consistent interfacing across the portfolio, with the new socially aware and collaboration capabilities that are delivered out of the box, as well as a whole new approach to using the process information to drive social analytics and understanding of the organization. Then, finally, with all the work that we’ve done to integrate those products with technologies, not only across the IBM portfolio, but also using standards across the industry of systems of record, for both unstructured information, as well as integration with application systems, like SAP.
WI: Now that v8 is out, what are your goals for the BPM suite of products for the rest of 2012 and into 2013?
Gilbert: Let me just run through the four core products. IBM Blueworks Live is our hosted, cloud-based offering for discovery and design of processes and decisions, as well as relating those processes and decisions into policies. We’re doing quite bit around globalization, and by the end of this year we intend for Blueworks Live to be available in over 15 languages, which I think is really going to spread the ability to use that around the world. And we’re also making a focused effort to start expanding on the decision support that is in Blueworks Live for the capture and understanding and gaining alignment around the top-down decisioning around our companies.
In our IBM BPM product, we’re continuing the push in terms of business user enablement in a couple of areas, and foremost is the ability for end users to design processes on their own. You can think of these as fairly generic processes around the enterprise, of which there are hundreds or even thousands of them, and for the ability once IBM BPM is installed, we would love it if the process participants could actually configure their own processes and essentially put them in production. So we’re doing quite of bit of work around generic processes and hopefully, over the next year or eighteen months, you are going to see that come out.
Then on the architectural approach, IBM BPM is moving much more into a very data-centric world, so we are doing a lot of work in the Process Designer to surface the information that’s flowing through the process in very unique ways. We are excited to get that out and that will be coming, as well.
On the IBM ODM side, we have quite a bit more work to do on the new Business Console, which is part of the Decision Center, and we’re actually going to be moving more into the actual government of change, so that the business-led change that happens to business rules can actually be completely supported out of the box by the product.
Finally, our IBM Business Monitor product is going to take on a lot higher role and increase its own stature, if you will, within the portfolio as we move many of the concepts of business monitoring directly into our BPM strategy, so that you will be able to model processes for monitoring or listening…in identical ways to how you would model processes for execution.
A lot is happening. It’s a very exciting road map for the next two or three years.
WI: What are some easy ways for customers to start building mobility, collaboration, and social into their processes?
Gilbert: The advances that were made in v8 around business user enablement, around the architecture, and around these business-led notions, these are the foundational advances that were required for the things like mobility, collaboration, and social. Our view is that these concepts are not vertical silos, but things that should affect every single product. So with mobility, for example, on the BPM side, v8 includes a complete new set of RESTful API interfaces. In fact, we built the new socially aware portal directly on top of these interfaces, so we know that all of the elements of the process system can easily be accessed by programmers that want to extend that console.
We also released the IBM BPM Mobile application and it’s available on the Apple App Store. That application is cool, and is very useful in and of itself to respond to tasks and to deal with the processes that I’m launching or working with, but that application itself was also built on these APIs, so people can now consume the parts of the process system that are required for their mobile applications. What we are finding is that companies are building dozens, if not hundreds, of mobile applications today, and these applications are not one hundred percent of anything. What’s happening with these mobile applications is they’re actually targeted toward people and roles and personas that span multiple systems, and so the ability to access the process system is very important for custom mobile applications, and so we have made it drop-dead easy to do that. We have the right APIs. We have a test framework built into the product where people building mobile applications using these APIs and, of course, we also have our own mobile applications.
Collaboration is an area where we have really set the bar for the industry. If we move way beyond the notion of ad-hoc processes and into real-time collaboration to finish tasks, so with our new Coach Designer and our new coaches—which is what we call forms across our BPM portfolio—you can collaborate in real time. Two people can be actually looking at the same form at the same time and both of them are kept up to date with exactly what the other person has input at any given moment in time. This really accelerated the notion of collaboration from way beyond getting a stream of information and looking at what people have done.
Finally, you asked about social. We’ve done all the social stuff, so there are streams and there are all kinds of typical social kind of things, but we’ve taken it a step further and started thinking about the amount of information that a process and a decisioning system spins off as it does its work. [Regarding] all of the artifacts of using a BPMS or using a rules system, up until now, we have been looking at that as useful in understanding the performance of the process or the performance and outcome of the decisions. We are now starting to understand there is a lot of socially interesting information there. We also know who has completed tasks, for example, that look a lot like the task that individual might be working on right now. Because of the KPIs and SLAs that we have built into the platform (not very many vendors really focus on that, but because we’ve been so focused on the metrics), we also have an understanding of what outcome is good, so now we can correlate all those things and we can present to a user in real time which other people in their organization have worked on similar tasks, and where those tasks have had very successful outcomes.
Social is a very interesting thing to us, and it goes way beyond where I think other vendors have taken it, which is just spit up a whole bunch of data in a stream. We are actually using analytics to drive understanding so we can connect people in the enterprise to help them solve a problem that they’re working on right now.
WI: Every business has processes, but not every business has a BPM strategy in place. Is a BPM strategy best suited for a certain type of organization, and what are some easy ways to get started?
Gilbert: Earlier, we talked about business agility and how [a business] can change quickly and effectively. To me, not only does it get down to agility, it gets down to the essence of BPM. At the end of the day, companies in every industry, of any size, need to develop the ability to change quickly and effectively. That is the essence, to me, of what BPM does, and there is a component of business, and there is a component of technology and, as I said before, culture is the biggest component, I don’t think that you have to move into high-end automation in order to do BPM, but at the same time, the language that we use to talk about scaling business operations always comes back to process. I think every company of almost any size has got to have the ability, for everybody in the organization, to understand what the company needs to do. That is its mission. What are the core processes that we’re really going to focus on and what are the metrics around those processes that we are really going to focus on in order to achieve the mission? Then communicate, essentially to each individual in the organization, or each role in the organization, what role they’re playing in that mission. And that language of process is, up until now, the most effective way to do that. I think every business needs to have this capability of defining their mission clearly, defining the metrics that they’re going to focus on to achieve the mission, and then communicating to each of their people how they are contributing to each of those metrics. That’s all BPM is.
WI: What do you think will be the future of BPM? What will the next year or two bring?
Gilbert: First of all, talking about mobile, we have a small, but growing ecosystem of partners that are starting to leverage IBM BPM for some of their mobile computing needs, and these partners are doing some very interesting things in marrying the geo-positioning capabilities with mobile process. So being location-aware and assuming that you have location awareness in context of operational process, I’m seeing some very innovative things, and I think we have just scratched the surface of how much process, and our notions of process and operations, can leverage location awareness.
One single example that I have seen is a first responder application for medical people and other first responders. You can imagine the impact on any logistics provider of being always location-aware in the context of tracking the completion, or tracking the status, of an in-flight process instance. And this is just the first kind of mobile-specific concept that I’ve seen being brought into the BPM world...I think the dynamism of processes is going to grow exponentially over the next couple of years, driven by incorporating mobile devices as a participant in our processes, in addition to the human being carrying them around. So I think that’s one that is going to be exciting, it’s going to be very different, and it’s going to be fun to watch and be a part of.
The second one I will talk about is collaboration. I talked about the our v8 product, which I think has really redefined what collaboration is, and…we have moved collaboration from a notion of generating ad-hoc processes and doing ad-hoc routing of processes and information into completing a task right now. I want to be connected with somebody who can help me wherever they are and I want to finish this [process] now. I don’t want to just route it to somebody and have them finish it later.
This incorporation of real-time collaboration in the completion of tasks, I think, has the ability to really change our notion of processes, of processes orchestrations, and of task completion. It brings into account social analytics and data, and by the way, the data that we are tapping into is unique to IBM BPM. Nobody else has been collecting this data, and nobody else has the ability to collect this data, because they are not focused on BPM as a reporting and visibility platform; they’re focused on BPM simply as another way to automate a process or automate an application.
So, those would be the two things that I’ll say I am kind of most excited about: Mobility and having another device participate in the process, and collaboration as a real time way to actually help people complete their work, and using the process system and the decision system to connect to people in real time.
Listen to an excerpt of this interview with Phil Gilbert in a podcast on Global WebSphere Community.