If you analyse common business practices, you will find that they are generally a series of relatively simple activities that interact with each other to accomplish a larger, more complex result. While these smaller processes are the core of day-to-day business activities, many businesses only consider the large and complex aspects of their operations to be “processes”. In truth, any chain of business activities that are carried out in order to achieve a specific goal should be considered a business process, regardless of how simple or small. Often costs are reduced, quality is increased and efficiency improved by simplifying and refining even the small processes. Keep in mind that a business process is not restricted to human interaction – it often includes interaction between various software applications as well.
Business Process Management (BPM) is the way in which you plan, implement, and ultimately improve the processes that run your business. BPM tools such as SAP NetWeaver BPM, help to model and enable the automation of business processes – these tools offer a clear view into processes through graphical representations, in-depth analysis and testing, process tracking, and continual process improvement. The beauty and power behind BPM is the capability to deliver the right work to the right people at the right time – everything can be automated and monitored. Key Process Indicators (KPI’s) can be measured and Service Level Agreements (SLA’s) can be enforced with automatic escalation rules – all of this independent of the underlying applications. In other words, a good BPM tool can work seamlessly across all other enterprise applications – including on premise, web, cloud and mobile.
While BPM focuses more on the human interaction of business processes, there are application integration tools such as SAP Process Integration (PI) that bring together various enterprise applications through a unified integration approach. These tools focus specifically on the automated communication between software applications. As an example, you could use SAP PI to facilitate the integration between Oracle Business Suite running Financials and SAP ERP running Human Resources. A well thought out integration product should never be technology or application dependent.
A huge problem with most enterprise software is that very often the logical conditions for business logic (business rules) are “hard-coded”. What this means is that if the rules ever change, software developers are required to update all of the effected software components. Often complex rules are difficult to comprehend and implement – it can take days or even weeks for the business and developers to finally understand and correctly code the rules. Typically the developers understand the rules differently to what the business has tried to communicate and the change process takes a lot longer than it should. A risky but very common practice is that many business rules are only mapped out in the minds of specific business owners and very badly documented, if at all. If a key business owner leaves the company for any reason, the understanding of those rules go with him/her.
A solution to this is what we call Business Rules Management (BRM). Essentially, all business rules are stored in the business rules engine and enterprise software simply taps into these rules when required. The rules are managed centrally so that when they change, none of your software components need to be recoded. Once again it is very important that a BRM tool (such as SAP BRM) is not application dependent and that all of your software applications can tap into the rules engine and leverage its power.
A good example of a business rule is the calculation of a customer’s credit limit at banks. It may sound like a simple rule, but there are many aspects taken into consideration – credit ratings, transaction history, age, level of education, current financial commitments, current income, assets and more.
The orchestration of business processes can be a complex task – one has to consider human interaction, application integration, rules management, KPI measurement, SLA monitoring, continuous improvement, user experience, business involvement, exception handling, and much more.
The SAP Process Orchestration bundle includes SAP BPM, SAP PI and SAP BRM. These are enabling tools that pass process ownership on to the business and allow IT to support the technology. All of these tools are completely independent and work across any other applications – this bundle is something that even non-SAP customers should be considering.
SAP has built their BPM and BRM tools in a way that the business can design the processes and rules with graphic modelling. Once a BPM model has been designed, it is simply passed on to the developer who quickly ties up application functionality to the process. The processes and rules that the business designs are the processes and rules that are ultimately executed. No more miscommunications or misunderstandings – simple.