Tuesday, June 30, 2009

BI and BPM is more than slicing and dicing your workers

What does Business Intelligence (BI) get a business? Incredible insight into the performance of the business, its operations and the impact these things have on the bottom line. Which is great, until it shows that certain parts of your business are really messed up or just extremely unpredictable (which when you are trying to achieve consistent results can be a problem).

So what do you do now? Find a way to improve the performance and repeatability of business operations and find a way to get visibility into the opaque areas that are causing you so much unpredicatability. Both of these are targets for Business Process Management (BPM) tools, since improving and automating processes can provide huge benefits in the way operations run. Great story. The end... But not quite.

Its okay. I don't have a marketing team watching over my every word, so I don't have to claim that BPM solves everything, since it doesn't. Vendors and consultants forget that BPM needs to truly be part of the BI landscape. And not the vague attempts some BPM vendors have made by trying to force fit analytics tools onto process engines to provide in depth slice and dice information on the performance of individual workers. In my opinion, this is missing the point.

What do I mean? I'll answer a question with a question. What value is there in pumping basic activity timing information from your BPM engine into a multi-dimensional cube so you can analyze the crap out of an individual step in a process, when you can do much of the same with standard BPM database tables, and an Excel pivot table? Unless the process represents millions of items a day, the level of scrutiny that analytics can provide at such a granular level is potentially misplaced. BI is not just having a cube and putting some pretty visualization in front of it.

Here is what the true intersection of BI and BPM is in my opinion. It is the ability for BI to help you identify where in the business you can see problems, then using BPM to rapidly:

  • Design, implement and run improved processes to help fix the problem
  • Provide visibility into the work inside the process at a point in time with real business metrics such as the value, risk and profitability of that work
  • Enable individual work items to be profiled and prioritized (against these business metrics) to drive the process towards greater profitability or revenue
  • Track information that can rapidly feed back up to your core BI, to show how performance and business metrics are trending

Using all this great BPM value, make sure that BI shows meaningful information from it. Down in the business operations, a KPI is maybe that the average time to process a specific three steps in the process has trended above 15 minutes 53 seconds. The manager there can work with that to fine tune the process. But I don't suppose the guy with a corner office 12 floors above really gives a crap. His question is whether the same operations are going to hit a profitability of 18.5%, a growth in revenue of 6% and reduction in costs of 2.5%. And what the hell can be done about it if it appears that's not the case, because that's one thing that will impact his bonus.

BI and BPM are complementary at many levels and should feed each other in many directions, and it takes more than a software vendor to make this a reality. Implementing both technologies to best effect in their disparate business environments, while ensuring that the sum is greater than its parts is a challenge. So maybe it is time for a few more consultants that understand both BI and BPM to help companies really see the potential.

A post from the Improving It blog

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