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Making sense of business process tools: BPM, BPaaS, iBPM

As business process tools gain in popularity, enterprise architects need to evaluate what they know about BPM, BPaaS and iBPM.

Business process tools are getting more attention as enterprise architects ponder strategies for bringing greater...

agility to the enterprise. These tools allow business managers more direct control and communication around enterprise applications. To have informed discussions, enterprise architects and C-level executives should get clarity on the different nuances of business process management (BPM), business process as a service (BPaaS) and intelligent BPM (iBPM).

Without careful consideration, terms like BPaaS and BPM might be used interchangeably, leading to confusion in the long run. "But BPaaS and BPM play different roles in an enterprises' transformation and simplification journey," said Abid Ali Neemuchwala, VP and global head of BPO services and process excellence at Tata Consultancy Services. "BPaaS is a way to teleport directly to one's destination, while BPM is like GPS."

Executing BPM as a first step gives a greater sense of control than BPaaS, because it splits the planning and analysis from the execution, said Neemuchwala. Thereafter, organizations that are merely trying to complement or supplement their existing technology environment may choose to use iBPM.

Each business process technology is distinct. BPaaS is the delivery of business process outsourcing services from the cloud. BPM is a set of tools for modeling and sometimes executing business processes in a formal way. Cloud-enabled BPM, or BPM as a service, is the delivery of BPM via the cloud. IBPM or dynamic case management is a subset of BPM that leverages some form of analytics or artificial intelligence to dynamically tune running business processes. Business rules management (BRM) represents a set of business process tools for fine-tuning the rules used in enterprise applications. These tools are often implemented on top of BPM for better control of compliance and risk management.

BPaaS follows industry best practices

BPaaS involves delivery of business operations on a cloud-based technology application managed by the process services provider. It includes the best-in-class technology, with preconfigured industry best practices. BPM, on the other hand, typically includes process modeling, monitoring and simulation of changes that can result in improved efficiencies and effectiveness.

BPaaS is ideal for situations where the technology needs to be replaced immediately, said Neemuchwala. This could be driven by:

  • globalization initiatives, where the existing technology is commercially unviable, or unavailable for deployment in a new geography;
  • merger and acquisitions creating disparate systems needing immediate integration;
  • divestitures leading to a spin-off having no access to technology; or
  • organization priorities resulting in lack of capital investments for upgrading or replacing obsolete technology.

The common use case involves taking action in relatively short order to correct a problem. Deploying BPaaS provides a robust, scalable solution. Although it might be possible to use iBPM, this may require ongoing efforts to grow with the enterprise.

BPaaS has grown because of the accessibility it provides to customers. It is easy to consume as a service, minimizing operational overhead. It's easy to access from the Internet, and it enables organizations to improve their current state. "BPaaS helps capture and improve business process, but the limitations of today's services will restrict customers into similar processes," said Ken Schwarz, director of BPM and case management product marketing at Pegasystems, a BPM provider.

This limitation hinders a company's ability to leverage industry expertise or create the dynamic intelligence needed to build a foundational advantage. Commoditized business process tools have less value for organizations when the processes are a core part of their intellectual property.

Cloud versus in-house BPM

Enterprises need to consider the tradeoffs between cloud and in-house BPM regarding relative data protection and exit flexibility offered by the two models. Leading cloud BPM offerings include:

In-house technology increases dependence on the provider. The provider needs to keep the technology updated not only for business environment and regulatory changes, but also for integrating evolving best practices. The provider also needs to create an exit strategy should an organization need to change providers. However, an in-house technology may be perceived to be more secure with the data locked down.

A cloud-based service allows for relatively easier deployment and upgrades. These might be a good choice when the enterprise is already leveraging software-as-a-service applications for customer relationship management, enterprise resource planning or human resources. A cloud BPM could also offer flexibility for changing providers. However, adequate effort must be made to secure the enterprise architecture, said Neemuchwala.

A need for intelligent processes led to iBPM

Intelligent BPM technology usually includes a rules engine, a workflow engine, reporting and analytics. Depending on the level of sophistication, the technology can be used to manually or automatically create add-on applications or application wrappers that can be deployed with limited change management.

The term iBPM came about because processes had to have intelligence to sense patterns, assist in decisions and take intelligent actions. "Before intelligent processes came along, processes needed to be preprogrammed and have happy paths of execution," explained Jim Sinur, CEO at Flueresque, a BPM consultancy, who coined the term iBPM while at Gartner. "BPM became more tedious in a world that was complex."

The value of data and analytics provides rich contextual intelligence through integrations and automation. But enterprise architects need to determine if there is a penalty for the number of API calls with these services or a need to replicate data sources to access them said Pegasystems' Schwarz.

Choosing for sustainability

As organizations look at products, they should consider not only accessibility but factor in extensibility and sustainability, said Schwarz. Extensibility allows for key integrations into existing data sources, systems of records, APIs and real-time connections. Sustainability allows business to make quick adjustments while also looking at their short- and long-term goals.

"You can always leverage existing processes to create others, but then how do you manage the library of processes?" Schwarz asked. Enterprise architects need to think about what is involved in making a change to all of them when a key step is altered. It can be difficult and challenging to oversee the proliferation and management of larger and more complex processes because the tool itself becomes the limitation.

Enterprise architects need to focus first on what is needed for the business. This should be followed by analyzing details of specific business process tools, like BPaaS and BPM. This includes weighing the initial ease of access and consumption costs in conjunction with how process change, growth in data needs and business requirements affect the equation.

"When business processes become key components of a company's ability to achieve an industry advantage, they won't choose between BPaaS or iBPM, but will look at what solution fits the needs for where they are in the evolution of their business," said Schwarz.

Next Steps

Business process management tools

Top 10 iBPM use cases

Use cases for iBPM increase

This was last published in March 2015

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What have been your biggest obstacles to understanding the differences between BPM, BPaaS and iBPM?
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We had no obstacles with understanding difference between BPM, BPaaS and iBPM thanks to consulting services. Meanwhile it was a real challenge to realize where we were in the evolution of our business and outguess difference of these tools for our specific business. After all, we dove into choosing between BPaaS and BPM. The key obstacle to using BPaaS was a restriction into pre-defined processes, when we need maximum possible flexibility. BPM suggested more control together with high maintenance costs. At the end of the day we stayed with a cloud-based workflow system that delivers a full set of business process modelling and automation tools.
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