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Posts Tagged ‘process modeling’

Successful Process Automation: A Summary

Monday, July 26th, 2010

InformationWeek Analytics (http://analytics.informationweek.com/index) invited me to write about the subject of process automation.  The article, part of their series covering application architectures, was released in July of this year.  It provided an opportunity for me to articulate the key components that are required to succeed in the automation of business processes.

Both the business and IT are positioned to make-or-break the use of process automation tools and techniques. The business must redefine its processes and operational rules so that work may be automated.  IT must provide the infrastructure and expertise to leverage the tools of the process automation trade.

Starting with the business there must be clearly defined processes by which work gets done.  Each process must be documented, including the points where decisions are made.  The rules for those decisions must then be documented.  Repetitive, low-value and low-risk decisions are immediate candidates for automation.

A key value point that must be reached in order to extract sustainable and meaningful value from process automation is measured in Straight Through Processing (STP).  STP requires that work arrive from a third-party and be automatically processed; returning a final decision and necessary output (letter, claim payment, etc.) without a person being involved in handling the work.

Most businesses begin using process automation tools without achieving any significant STP rate.  This is fine as a starting point so long as the business reviews the manual work, identifies groupings of work, focuses on the largest groupings (large may be based on manual effort, cost or simple volume) and looks to automate the decisions surrounding that group of work.  As STP is achieved for some work, the review process continues as more and more types of work are targeted for automation.

The end goal of process automation is to have people involved in truly exceptional, high-value, high-risk, business decisions.  The business benefits by having people attend to items that truly matter rather than dealing with a large amount background noise that lowers productivity, morale and client satisfaction.

All of this is great in theory but requires an information technology infrastructure that can meet these business objectives.


Business Rules Forum: Full Fledged Kickoff!

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

Today the Business Rules Forum (BRF) kicked off for its 12th year.  Gladys Lam welcomed us and set the stage for an enlightening and engaging three days.  Jim Sinur (Gartner) gave the keynote address.  His expertise surrounding the entire field of Business Process Management (BPM), Business Rules Management (BRM) and Complex Event Processing (CEP) gives him significant insight into the industry and trends.

Jim’s talk was a call to action for product vendors and practitioners that the world has changed fundamentally and being able to leverage what he called “weak signals” and myriad events from many sources was becoming a requirement for successful business operations.  As always his talk was accompanied with a little humor and a lot of excellent supporting material.

During the day I attended three sessions and two of the vendor “Fun Labs”.  For me, the most interesting session of the ones I attended was given by Graham Witt (Ajlion).  He discussed his success with creating an approach of allowing business users to document rules using a structured natural language.  His basis was SBVR, but he reduced the complexity to create a practical solution.

Graham did a great job of walking us through a set of definitions for fact model, term, fact types and so forth. Using our understanding of the basic components of a structured rule he explored how one can take ambiguous statements, leverage the structure inherent in the fact model, and create an unambiguous statement that was still completely understandable to the business user.

His approach of creating templates for each type of rule made sense as a very effective method to give the business user the flexibility of expressing different types of rules while staying within a structured syntax.  This certainly seems like an approach to be explored for getting us closer to a DRY (Don’t Repeat Yourself) process that moves rules from the requirements into the design and implementation phases of a rules-based project.

The vendor labs were also interesting.  I attended one run by Innovations Software Technology and another by RuleArts. (more…)

Business Rules Forum Tutorial: Smart Use of Rules in Process

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

I was fortunate to be able to attend Kathy Long’s (Innovative Process Consulting, Inc) presentation centered on the importance of working with business rules in the context of process.  This was a preconference tutorial for the 12th Annual International Business Rules Forum.  She did an excellent job of walking us through her experiences and thinking concerning process modeling and business rules.  The three hour session flew by!

Kathy spent a fair amount of time discussing four ways we typically model processes.  The four were Process Decomposition, Swim lanes (e.g. BPMN light), Full BPMN and IGOE (both and a high-level and as full flow models).  The IGOE (Inputs, Output, Guides and Enablers) was new to me and I think she anticipated that the majority of the attendees would not be familiar with their use.

We took some time using the IGOE approach with a couple of exercises.  This allowed us to understand the way these diagrams are used.  She pointed out some interesting strengths of using IGOEs versus swim lane-based flow diagrams.  I would recommend that people who document processes take a look at IGOEs.  They would seem to be a useful tool in the analyst’s arsenal.

Beyond the exploration of process documentation, Kathy discussed the need to consider business rules within the context of process.  She pointed out that we often embed decisions within our process flows as if they are separate from the processes themselves.  Of course this is wrong, the decisions occur as part of the process.

She showed us how the simplification of the flows, through the removal of the decision, makes the diagram clearer and more useful as documentation.  Rather than being tied to low level business rules, the process stands on its own.

I cannot do justice in describing everything Kathy walked us through in the course of the three hour session.  You should check out her articles, published in the Business Rules Journal (http://www.brcommunity.com/).

I am looking forward to more preconference tutorial sessions tomorrow!