Process On The Fly #2 – Process Is The New App

The next-generation of Business Process Management and Business Rules Management Tools is so powerful that it actually can be seen as the successor to custom-built applications. Being able to define detailed process flows and decision trees enables both business and IT to create powerful, differentiating solutions that would have required extensive custom coding in the past. Now, much of the definition can be done on the fly, using visual models and (semi) natural language in the nearest proximity to the business.

Over the years, ERP systems have been extensively customized to address organization-specific requirements. This arguably leads to tailored support for the business, but at the same time involves mounting costs for maintenance, high dependency on the personnel involved in this customization, long timelines to deliver change and increased risks in upgrading the ERP system. And the situation is certainly not better with bespoke software, often based on complex or aged programming languages, which makes it all the more difficult to maintain or extend the code.

Here’s the good news: the best of both worlds can be created by bringing back the functionality to out-of-the-box usage of the ERP system (or simply leave the custom code alone, in the case of bespoke software) and at the same time introducing a high level of agility by means of externalized ‘process apps’. All without customization or coding.

The ERP system is used as originally intended and designed, resulting in more predictable behavior
 of the system related to usage and performance, and clearly can be maintained in a more standardized and cost-effective way. The process app externalizes the needed functionality into highly customizable solutions outside the core applications. They are supported by rules engines and task inboxes and can be delivered to different channels, including notably mobile devices.

Let’s look at an example that brings it all together: the hiring process for
 a new employee at a university. Oracle PeopleSoft HCM is used
 as the HR system to store employee details. In the hiring process, an authorization scheme is involved for getting the approval to create a contract for the employee-to-be. In the university world, this authorization scheme is complex and may involve several faculties (with different organizational structures) and even cross-faculty organizational units.

Including such an authorization scheme into PeopleSoft would require a lot of customization. By adding a handle inside PeopleSoft towards an externalized authorization process app, the execution of the authorization of the employee is done outside the ERP. It uses a process management tool (for example Oracle’s Business Process Management Suite or Pega) that delivers approval schemes via a ‘work list’.

The process app here works as an add-on to the PeopleSoft system, but can also be extended to support the full lifecycle of the end-to-end hiring process with the possibility to involve multiple applications. The actual core functionality is kept in the supporting ERP system, while the process app acts as an ‘umbrella’ to control the end-to-end flow and give insight into the efficiency of the overall process.

How to get there? Bringing the flexibility outside the core application into a process app can be brought into the landscape from two extremes:

First of all the most basic one: age. At some point in time a technical upgrade is needed for the ERP; the product version is out of support or the version is not working anymore on a new version of the operating system. Technical upgrades are a good time to consider more radical rationalization scenarios, particularly getting rid of excess customization. Aim for a plain vanilla upgrade – right from the catalog – and investigate the potential for flexibility outside the ERP system, implemented via process apps.

The second reason aligns with our Silo Busters concept: an ‘umbrella function’ is needed across silos.  Process apps contain the process logic, rules and information to deliver the business outcome, supported by the functionality contained in the core systems underneath.

Applications are good, but processes can be better. Particularly when they bring new levels of agility and responsiveness without ever needing a single line of code.

Your expert: Leon Smiers  

Part of Capgemini’s TechnoVision 2015 update series. See the overview here.