Process On The Fly #1 – Shades of Process

There are many ways to define, run and manage processes. The state of the art in Business Process Management tooling makes it possible to improve processes in many different ways. Forget carving these process definitions in stone. Nowadays, depending on the specific improvement needs, Business Process Management can provide various flavors of agility, ranging from classic, pre-defined, workflow-style process integration via document-based interaction to dynamic, rules- and policy-based process choreography. It makes process the powerful ‘twin sister’ of data.

What if we were to look at the processes within our organization the way we look at Google Maps? Could we identify the different Shades of Process immediately?

We all know the benefits of a good navigation system, using up-to-date roadmaps and real-time traffic information (including your own position on that map). The way we travel by car nowadays is so much more advanced than the state of transport was, say – two centuries ago. But how well do you know the traffic that goes on in your own organization?

Just think what it would mean to have the ‘satnav’ level of insight in your business processes as well.

Let’s stay with our analogies for now and have another look at our Trains & Scooters ‘Design for Digital’ building block: It differentiates the applications landscape in terms of agility and associated application lifecycles. The Train applications are the most stable and predictable, followed by Bus, Car and finally Scooter applications. But who is planning and optimizing this complex ‘transportation network’? And how do you design a network with a mix of different lifecycle modes?

It immediately becomes clear that the analogy works very well for our Shades of Process as well. A train network and schedule is based on standardized routes where the time between stations is known down to the minute. The processes served by the Train applications are therefore more straight-through processes with few exceptions. Nevertheless, many people still prefer to take the Car and have the freedom to stop where they want, or take a diversion where they feel they need it.

The bus network obviously has many more stops and potential delays and detours, requiring a different kind of optimization, and cars use even more routes (and carry individual passengers) at different speeds. As mentioned above, this mode of transport has been impacted the most by our ability to use real-time maps and traffic information to optimize our route planning. And scooters may take shortcuts that were not foreseen in the street design (the so-called ‘elephant paths’).

The analogy between a transportation network and ‘the data super highway’ becomes even more relevant when we consider that many of the current data packages used to be physical documents transported between trading partners (like letters and officially sealed documents), and that many of the current products are becoming more digital (like music and movies, but also due to the 3D printing revolution). So it is realistic to expect that one day you may see your processes just as clearly as if you are looking at Google Maps (including the associated mash-ups to project data onto these maps).

This is where Process Mining comes in: a set of algorithms that analyzes process event data and constructs the network of possible routes and traffic densities on these routes from the event data. This way, you discover how data actually travels through the processes within your organization (rather then how you thought you designed it). And one of the typical discoveries is that there are many more Scooters moving around than you expected, some using smart short cuts, but others using not-so-smart, risky non-compliant short cuts. Once you know this, you can either try to get people back into the Bus, or you can try to give better optimization information to individual drivers so they can safely get to their end destination in the shortest time possible.

So start building your process network more interactively using Process Mining and discover all the different Shades of Process and the associated optimal applications lifecycles within your organization. Then use this information – and the right portfolio of BPM and business rules management tools – to improve your processes, over and over again.

This contribution by Ard Jan Vethman  

Part of Capgemini’s TechnoVision 2014 update series. See the overview here