BPMN 4th Principle

The last article in the series “Supporting core BPM principles with BPMN 2.0” is dedicated to the last BPM principle, which states that ‘IT is an essential enabler for BPM’.

To understand this principle, the relationships between IT, business processes and business value should be explained. A common misunderstanding is that IT has a direct influence on business value. Instead, business processes have a direct impact on creating business value (see the first BPM principle), whereas IT just supports or automates those business processes (Figure 1).

figure1Figure 1: The role of IT and business processes in a company

The above figure can also be explained in the following way: If a company has appropriate and well managed processes, ‘good’ IT will additionally improve their flexibility, effectiveness and efficiency. On the other hand, if a company has inappropriate business processes, the role of IT will only be in support of ‘wrong’ processes. This logic is aligned with the following quote:

The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency. [Bill Gates]

Information technology is an essential enabler

IT support is critical for business processes because it enables automated acquisition, transformation, storage and delivery of information, which can then be managed within business process execution. Transferred into a Pizza restaurant scenario, this could be explained as follows:

As pizzas are delivered to customers’ locations, the time of delivery is a key indicator and has a key impact on maintaining and improving the service quality (Figure 2). So, it is prudent to monitor delivery times, which can be done manually (e.g. the delivery person records the delivery time) or automatically (e.g. a location-aware app stores the time automatically when the delivery person arrives at the customer’s location).

In the case of the second option, monitoring the related business process for this scenario will be more consistent, objective and less prone to intentional or unintentional mistakes. Furthermore, the delivery time information will be digital, meaning that it can be prepared for further (automatic) evaluations and decisions.

figure2Figure 2: Delivery time – a key performance indicator of pizza delivery

Besides automated monitoring of business process activities, IT can offer support for other business process management activities, such as:

  • Modeling – Creating business process diagrams (models) on a paper is impractical for several reasons. For example, paper-based diagrams are difficult to communicate, reuse, validate and manage. On the other hand, modeling tools offer predefined set of (BPMN) elements, automatic alignments of elements, validations of diagrams, simplified diagrams exchange and management.
  • Simulation – These types of IT tool enable simulation of business processes. For example the lead times and resources utilization can be investigated prior to actual process execution.
  • Automation – These types of IT tool offers automated support for business process activities. This increases process efficiency and consistency.

How does BPMN support the 4th BPM principle?

Compared to other process modeling notations, BPMN 2.0 offers two advantages: (1) it is the most complete one and (2) it offers support for automation.

The second advantage allows BPMN 2.0-based business process diagrams (a common executable level of process modeling elements should be used) to be stored in an XML file, which can be directly deployed in a BPMN 2.0-based business process engine (Figure 4). Simply put, a business process engine is an IT environment capable of automatically executing business process instances, based on a business process diagram.

Besides this, such process engines are usually a constituent part of more comprehensive business process management systems or suites that enable modeling, simulation, automation and monitoring of business processes.

The next two figures illustrate the differences between BPMN 2.0 and other non-executable process modeling notations (e.g. BPMN 1.2 or EPC). The first figure (Figure 3) represents the problem of non-executable process modeling notations, which have to be additionally transformed (mapped) into executable process languages, such as BPEL.

figure3Figure 3: A common problem with business process diagrams (www.camunda.org)

The next figure (Figure 4), resolves the above problem with the introduction of BPMN 2.0, which is capable to be executed.

figure4Figure 4: BPMN 2.0 enables direct IT support for business process diagrams (www.camunda.org)

At the first sight, the difference between the figures above is small, however these changes are critical for the role and usability of business process diagrams and overall business process management success.

Conclusion

Despite of the indirect impact of IT on business value, it has a critical impact on the overall business process management success.

Among business process modeling notations, BPMN 2.0 has the best preconditions for effective and efficient IT support, since it enables direct support for business process management activities (e.g. simulating, execution, monitoring).

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Gregor received his PhD in 2008 in the fields of software engineering and information systems and has nearly a decade of experience in BPMN, starting to investigate and actively use BPMN since its introduction in 2004. In addition, he has participated in the development of one of the first BPMN modeling utilities - a package of plugins for Visio, which were introduced early in 2005 and is the main author of the first BPMN poster (bpmn.itposter.net), which has been translated into several languages and already exceeded 50.000 downloads.