Solving a business and tech dilemma

John Blackham says IT managers should get excited about business process management because of the effort it saves in mapping business systems and dramatically reduces the risk in developing any new one.

John Blackham says IT managers should get excited about business process management because of the effort it saves in mapping business systems and dramatically reduces the risk in developing any new one.

Blackham, a longtime IT industry figure, founded the four-year-old BPM software firm XSol, which employs 14 staff. Its key products, XSol ToOrder and XSol OnDemand, work by capturing business processes and mapping them to create an XML document. These documents can be anything from a procedure manual to a full systems specification.

Business processes are mapped to the task level and task workflow ensures their fastest throughput. A central manager accumulates and monitors information and one program addresses any business function.

Organisations face both a technology dilemma and a business dilemma, says Blackham. The rate of change of business is changing while software is becoming larger and more complex, so the 40-year architectural model is at a watershed. Business advantage comes from unique practices, yet packaged applications are based on “best practice” and such “one-size-fits-all” solutions inhibit innovation, he says.

Everything done in business is a process, Blackham says, such as selling, buying, making, shipping, hiring and leasing. BPM enables enterprise systems to be integrated and based on the unique business processes of each organisation.

“The processes a company uses to undertake its business makes it unique — delivering competitive advantage and ultimately shareholder value.”

BPM benefits business by allowing the simple control of business from “to-do” lists. It enables end-to-end process integration, can operate “inside” business partner operations and monitors everything in real time. It also allows management by exception — the automatic spotting of errors or discrepancies — and remote monitoring, says Blackham.

Blackham’s business partner, Greg Cross, formerly of the Advantage Group, says BPM grew out of enterprise application integration software. It is sometimes referred to as middleware as it glues one application to the other.

In the US, the idea is that BPM is a layer in the EAI space — “the brains behind EAI” — as it lets you map business processes and integrate things, says Cross. But XSol has a different view. When organisations start to integrate business processes that go right across the whole organisation, the resulting applications don’t sit on top of existing applications; they start to replace parts of existing applications, he says.

“This is how we draw BPM: we extend the value chain at both sides of an organisation to customers at one end, suppliers at the other,” he says. “Traditionally you change your business to suit the software, as software was one-size-fits-all. Best practice was a good way of establishing base line and functionality. But companies have had to modify best practice systems to fit the business or automate things about your business.

“BPM does not replace these best practice systems, but augments and captures unique and dynamic business processes. It focuses on what makes you unique: the extension of business strategy, the management of customer relationships,”says Cross.

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