What is Business Activity Monitoring?
Business activity monitoring (BAM) is the capability that allows organizations to continuously monitor Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) [e.g. time taken to complete a particular task, cost, number of requests processed by an individual etc.] of a business process. KPI’s are derived from the Key Business Objectives (KBO’s) of the organization.
Purpose of BAM
As understood from the definition, the general objective of BAM is to continuously monitor and optimize process productivity and overall operational efficiency. The goal of BAM is to notify employees about situations needing attention and provide insight into the problem areas. Effective BAM should provide enough information to facilitate employees to take corrective actions. BAM also allows operations managers to continuously monitor process performance and employee productivity. Managers, having access to real-time information on processes, can keep control of the work effectively and allocate work amongst team members efficiently.
Popularity of BAM
Most of the pure play BPM vendors have introduced advanced BAM products in their suites over a decade ago. But, when the Human Centric and Integration Centric BPMS vendors started associating BAM as part of their BPMS capability, purchase of the same has become main-stream.
According to a research carried out by Forrester, there is a significant interest in adopting BAM technologies across industries. Another similar research also suggests that only around 30-35% of customers implement BAM as full part of their full deployment (Forrester Research).
The question here is, if there is so much interest around BAM, why is there considerably less deployment of BAM capabilities?
The Human Factor
Amongst various issues experienced in deploying or maintaining BAM, this article focuses on the cultural barriers often faced with by organizations in their BAM initiatives.
As discussed earlier, BAM provides operational Business Intelligence (BI) in process performance providing insight into different key indicators such as “time taken to complete a piece of work”, “how many items have met goals/deadlines” etc. what it means is, BAM provides near real-time insight into performance where earlier it was sometimes difficult to obtain.
The above suggests that BAM projects include a significant Human Dimension giving rise to political and cultural issues. While implementing BAM, companies have to consider this human resistance as an unknown risk; this is particularly important in manufacturing, Heavy Engineering industries where worker mindset is collectively driven by Trade Unions, Worker Guilds etc.
In my experience of having been involved in several BPMS based automation projects of various scale in different industries across the globe, my personal take is that organizations put less emphasis on leveraging the true capabilities of BAM in monitoring various aspects of process (and process participants’) performance than they could have. [This is absolutely from personal experience and I am eager to hear from others on this point].
The other aspect is that the prevailing labour laws across countries restrict organizations to measure workers’ performance to a certain degree. The governing laws and practices in this regard vary from country to country.
One of my recent experiences with a large Global customer had actually triggered writing this article on the subject.
Our client had taken up an initiative to standardize and automate their business processes in the area of “Order Management” [I cannot be specific here]. The objective is to optimize and automate the largely manual existing processes in this functional area. The current landscape is characterized by very disparate system architecture for taking care of various sub-processes and functions with numerous systems of varied technology with hardly any efficient mechanism for interaction and orchestration between these systems. What adds to the challenge is that in order to complete the end-to-end “Order Management” process, there are multiple parties involved – both within the Client organization and outside vendor partners. What more? There are Vendor systems involved, having no connectivity with my Client’s environment. This leads to repeated data entry creating a lot of redundancy and confusion in the process. What we also learnt from our Client is that this situation has also contributed to employee dissatisfaction to a significant extent.
Also, since there are multiple parties involved in the process and the fact that there is almost non-existent process visibility, it has been difficult to meet Service Levels leading to customer dissatisfaction and churn. For each case of SLA breach, it is difficult to identify the root cause and people spend a lot of time deliberating upon the problem situation and one party pointing fingers at the other.
The chosen solution to address this situation has been a market leading Business Process Management Suite (BPMS) with the primary objective of process efficiency and visibility. Our team engaged with the customer in, first of all, designing optimized business processes and then automating those with the help of the chosen BPMS. Further, this was one unique BPMS project in the sense that there was a significantly more emphasis on leveraging the platform’s BAM capabilities to address the “lack of process SLA” situation at the customer. A lot of time was spent with process owners and higher management to devise process performance reports which need to be implemented. There was a clear direction from the Program sponsors to go ahead and implement monitoring capabilities in the new solution that would effectively measure people’s performance – this would include both the internal teams and external vendor partners who take part in various parts of the end to end “order fulfillment” service.
The crux of this story lies here when we started working on elaborating the BAM reports with the larger team at the Client Organization. It occurred to us very clearly that there is a strong resistance in implementing these reports in that level of details. People came up with reasons like “overcomplicating the Architecture”, “longer time to market” etc., since we were looking at integrating with other upstream applications to consume relevant data.
After a period of dilly-dallying with the decision of whether to go ahead with that level of details as to monitoring individual level performance, management finally proposed to go ahead with a lighter version of BAM reports in the first phase.
As I mentioned earlier, another key aspect is compliance issues – prevailing labor laws of a country. And this becomes more complicated if you are dealing with Europe based entities, since different European countries have difference in their Labor Laws. One need to work with the Compliance department of the Client organization to ensure reporting is within legal guidelines. More often than not, Business wouldn’t know all legal nuances.
How to Overcome the Social Barriers
It has been observed that there is a tendency to involve only the senior management to drive BAM initiatives. This does not go down well with the middle management and the operational staff. They tend to think that BAM will only work as an enabler for the senior executives to monitor workers’ performance. Involving operational staff early in BAM projects will help them understand the key benefits BAM would bring in their work by providing insight into their own processes.
The process owners should take the responsibility to train operational staff and evangelize the capabilities of BAM. After an initial period of reluctance, operational users would discover the power of BAM and the control it provides them over complex systems.
It is a good thing to increase operational efficiency but it also tends to generate more stress – particularly if the system fails to provide an immediate solution to the problem it identifies. Organizations need to ensure that operational users are not alerted through BAM on problems without also providing the means to resolve them.
Once operational users start using BAM and realize the benefits it brings in, it would be easier for organizations to develop the culture of BAM, therefore, overcome the social barriers.