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Cloud Computing: BPM Solutions

Best Practices for Implementing Cloud BPM

Business Process Management solutions enable business people to quickly and easily capture their business goals as models that can be instantly turned into intelligent, automated processes. No or minimal software development, and no wait for IT resources.

The Business Process Management solution is a complete set of tools for creating, executing, and optimizing business processes. This enables unparalleled collaboration between business and IT managers. As a result, business processes are automated and optimized to improve efficiency and agility while costs are lowered.

The following are the salient features of BPM implementations in enterprises.

  • BPM solutions manage long running business processes across enterprise
  • BPM solutions manage interaction within the enterprise and outside the enterprise
  • BPM solutions support human interaction at various points within the business process flow
  • BPM solutions facilitate the adoption of SOA(Service0Oriented Architecture) to bridge the gaps between the IT process and business processes

BPM Components
A comprehensive BPM suite consists of many components, the following are the typical components of the suite.

BPM Studio / Modeler: Business Process Management studio enables collaboration between business and IT. It is generally a design tool built for the business analyst to design and simulate any type of process simply by dragging and dropping process elements based on the Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN) standard onto role-based swim lanes.

BPM Process Server: The BPM Process Servers provides a run-time environment for running business processes. It provides native support for various industry standard BPM Process notation methodologies. Irrespective of the licensing needs for packaging, typically process server involves these sub components also.

  • The human workflow service provides features such as, Task routing to users, groups or application roles. Deadlines, escalations, notifications, and other features required for ensuring the timely performance of a task.
  • Business Rules sub component, where by process analysts can change business rules without stopping business processes. Also, externalizing business rules enables process analysts to manage business rules directly, without involving process developers.
  • SOA suite which provides the back bone to expose the legacy components as coarse grained services, so that the business processes can be realized.

Adapters and Connectors: A typical Business Process implementation within an enterprise involves multiple legacy applications which will be realizing the sections of the business process and hence a BPM suite framework should include a rich set of adapters and connectors to various legacy applications and packaged ERP applications.

Cloud-Based BPM: The implementation of BPM solutions for enterprises has changed much of its nature due to the rapid adoption of SaaS (Software As A Service) delivery mechanism where by much of the portions of a long running business process are delivered by different vendors from different platforms. The following diagram provides a high level view of BPM involving SaaS.

On Premise Business Analyst: This will be a human actor who actually models the business process that will be automated through the Solution.

Cloud Based BPM Modeler / Studio: BPM Studio or modeler enables the business analyst to diagrammatically model the Business Process, this is offered as a Cloud Based Service to facilitate rapid provisioning across the enterprise users. One of the implementations of cloud based BPM modeler is IBM Blueworks Live. IBM Blueworks Live is Cloud Based business process modeler, belonging under the set of IBM SmartCloud applications. This application is designated to help organizations capture and then automate their business processes, and help them collaborate in the task of doing so.

BPM Process Server on Cloud: Once the Business Processes are modeled they needs to be deployed on to a highly scalable Process Server that also connects with multiple back end processes. Cloud BPM Process Servers are becoming more of enterprise standard. http://www.cordys.com/platform-as-a-service, Cordys is one such implementation of BPM Process on Cloud. Cordys can be consumed in a Platform-as-a-Service model and provides all of the facilities required to support the complete life cycle of building and delivering Cloud applications and services.

SaaS Based Business Services: In the recent times enterprises either adopted complete Business Process As A Service (BpaaS) or a part of their business process which is a business service (popularly termed as SaaS) from Cloud. This brings interesting possibilities about demarcation of responsibilities between Cloud Based BPM Service (i.e the Platform) and to the Business Services (i.e the SaaS based Services).

Cloud-Based BPM and SaaS Best Practices
While the SaaS Business Services can be part of a Cloud based BPM, where do we implement the Business Rules and other technical processing within the flow of a business process ?

As highlighted in my diagram it is best to implement the,

  • High-level macro processes of the business process flow , including the business rules related to the selection and usage of individual business services (SaaS based), inside the Cloud Based BPM Server
  • Low-level micro processes and associated human work flow within the SaaS based business services, i.e., utilize the out of the box work flow features of the respective SaaS solutions. Most of the SaaS/BpaaS solutions provide their own business process work flows which needs to be leveraged to the fullest potential. For example :
  • o For example in Workday (www.workday.com), Workday Business Process Framework gives you the ability to configure and reconfigure processes whenever and wherever you need-without the involvement of IT.
  • o In SalesForce, The Visual Process Manager helps companies easily automate specific business process like call center scripting, sales quotes, and new employee on boarding.

This kind of demarcation will provide the best results due to the following.

  • The high-level Business Process Flow and associated routing rules are best implemented in the cloud-based BPM Modeler and subsequently moved to a BPM Process Server.
  • This makes enterprises highly agile with respect to implementing the business processes
  • The low level micro processes are shifted to the respective SaaS offering, which ensures that the Business Process itself not tightly coupled to the SaaS solution and the SaaS solution can easily be replaced with another one addressing the much needed interoperability needs
  • Also the SaaS solution will have the advantage of best implementing the low level micro processes in their own turf.

Summary
Cloud BPM forms part of Gartner's future vision on Cloud Computing and emerging technologies and it's benefits are obvious to the business (The Cloud BPM (bpmPaaS) market is slated to grow 25% year over year, and 40% of companies doing BPM are already using BPM in the cloud). However there are some challenges to be taken care.

  • Adapters and connectors to various on premise business services
  • Seamless integration between cloud-based BPM modeling service and cloud-based BPM process service across vendors
  • How the low level business services / micro level processes implemented on SaaS solutions able to communicate back and work with the high level business processes implemented on the Cloud BPM Process Server ?

However, with the innovations happening from various vendors these will be addressed soon.

The above notion of a best practice is more of a thought process, there needs to be reference implementations for the same to prove the value of it, especially in a SaaS interoperability scenario. Please write to me if you have come across any platforms and / or architectures implementing best practices in cloud-based BPM.

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