While business process management has traditionally focused on improving productivity and efficiency to help reduce costs, the trend today is geared more toward using BPM to drive digital transformation.
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BPM is a systematic approach to improving a company's workflow in the face of constant changes, and those projects have usually been complex, resource-intensive and laborious. However, new BPM trends center on automating workflow software to facilitate the flow of business tasks and activities. These BPM trends include the addition of low-code application platforms, the use of artificial intelligence, and voice and conversational inputs.
"We actually use the term digital process automation rather than BPM because of the shifting technology trends that directly support digital transformation," said Rob Koplowitz, an analyst with Forrester Research.
The primary driver for BPM is moving from cost reduction to focus on customer experience and digital transformation. In the process, enterprises will need to make back-office systems and processes accessible for digitization.
Low-code is the way to go
Rob Koplowitzanalyst, Forrester Research
"The first change we see is a shift to low-code development to support the greater number of processes required to achieve digital transformation," Koplowitz said. "Low-code is faster and moves many development activities closer to business owners. The second [change] is a focus on user experience, including low-code mobile development. The third is rapid innovation, which shows up in many areas, but perhaps most interesting in new interfaces like voice and chat, machine learning, to extend more traditional analytics and integration of external cognitive services as new sources of expertise."
Ed Fox, vice president of network services at telecommunications provider MetTel in New York, said he encourages a low-code development environment for business analysts and power users as a way to get apps built quickly as part of a BPM environment. He likes the idea of empowering "citizen developers." But rather than employing a baked-in BPM platform with low-code development, MetTel uses its own homegrown BPM system. The company is working with Telestax, which provides a platform for web developers through its rapid service creation environment.
"It's early, but we have recently begun working with Telestax to create open source-based real-time communications apps to hang on our BPM platform for ourselves and our customers," Fox added.
MetTel first built its BPM platform for network management. Over the years, their customers wanted a better, more transparent way to run their networks, control telecommunications costs, and procure and manage inventory, among other things. So the MetTel Labs teams began to develop a unique customer portal and communications platform -- code-named "Bruin" -- to provide these capabilities and let customers see everything related to their network operations through a dashboard. This became the control mechanism for MetTel's own network as well.
"Beyond lowering our costs by 30% through automation, streamlining and business intelligence," Fox explained, "this platform helped us do things we simply couldn't do before that led to better decision-making, greater capacity and reducing our network operating costs by one-third, all of which is pretty significant. Not to mention, many of our leading customers use it." Most recently, the federal government, which calls the platform the "EIS Portal," awarded MetTel as a winner of the 15-year, $50 billion Enterprise Infrastructure Services contract.
AI and the BPM makeover
Meanwhile, Forrester's Koplowitz said BPM is in the throes of an "extreme makeover," in which artificial intelligence (AI) is being brought into the fold to enhance automation and help better serve customers. He argued that AI is being used in BPM in three key areas: Process optimization through machine learning, augmenting humans with new sources of cognitive expertise and deploying new user interfaces. He further argued that BPM systems have been good at automating structured processes, but AI technologies such as natural language processing and sentiment analysis can help to interpret intent from unstructured data sources.
Telecommunications and IT network management is all about automation and intelligence -- insights derived from analytics and AI to make the network more adaptable with greater capacity, lower costs and flexibility to support more advanced services -- Fox said. Essentially, the network is the foundation for digital transformation, he noted. And BPM will continue to improve the network to enable the support of expanding digital operations throughout the enterprise. "Our MetTel Labs teams are experimenting further ways of enhancing our BPM platform with artificial intelligence through the expanding use of bots and deeper applications such as IBM Watson," Fox said.
Amit Rajaramdirector of Pega solutions, Telerx
Meanwhile, Paul Daugherty, chief technology and innovation officer at Accenture, said, "We believe that AI is the most transformative technology since the dawn of the information age. Artificial intelligence and new forms of automation are giving us new ways to create agility inside business processes."
Amit Rajaram, director of Pega solutions at Telerx, said BPM trends have taken the technology far from where he was when he started 10 years ago with the title of director of BPM and workflow. "In the past few years," he observed, "BPM has evolved to take on many more nuances and facets, including things like advanced analytics, decisioning, AI, machine learning, natural language processing and enhanced styles of reporting. There are so many more things you can do with what was traditionally nothing more than a workflow optimization engine with bells and whistles. It's not just about automating tasks and reducing costs."
In addition, BPM vendors and end users are beginning to enable voice and chat interactions with business processes and the systems that manage them. Because of digital technologies, such as the internet of things, AI, machine learning, virtual assistants and conversational platforms, there is so much more information to tap into in real time, said Samantha Searle, a Gartner analyst specializing in BPM.
"Therefore, there are huge opportunities to design more intelligent processes that can take advantage of all this real-time information and analytics and have more automated decision-making," Searle explained. "So, there's an opportunity to design more important processes."
Taking the pulse of BPM
Prepping for the low-code craze
Setting sights on robotic process automation