We live in so-called ‘exponential times’, where companies and their businesses are evolving at an ever-increasing speed. A method for these companies to stay competitive is the continuous investigation of new approaches, technologies, and materials that enable the introduction of new products or services.
However, these new products and services usually tend to be complex in themselves, as well as in regard to their particular functions. Thus, mastering processes for new products or service developments and understanding how they can be successfully managed and adapted for end-users have become keys elements of achieving competitiveness in a modern enterprise.
The above statements cover just some of the many reasons why business process management (commonly abbreviated as ‘BPM’) is becoming so important. BPM represents a disciplined approach to ‘working’ with automated and non-automated business processes in order to achieve consistent and targeted results that are aligned with an organization’s strategic goals.
Working with processes means ‘taking care’ of processes, which commonly consists of the following activities: identifying, designing, executing, automating, documenting, monitoring, controlling, and measuring business processes. This is commonly known as a ‘Plan-Do-Check-Act’ process improvement cycle. By utilizing these activities, the BPM approach allows organizations to become more efficient, more effective, and more capable of change when compared to companies following traditional functionally-focused and hierarchical management approaches.
Unified Modeling Language (UML) and Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN)
BPM’s success depends on having transparent, constantly improving business processes, which mostly results from business process modeling. Business process modeling is abbreviated by some as ‘BPM’, though this clashes with the abbreviation for ‘business process management’.
In order to avoid this confusion, it is better to abbreviate business process modeling as ‘BPMo’. BPMo is concerned with the representation of organizational processes so that current processes may be analyzed and improved in the future. BPMo is not just a requirement for many ISO 9000 quality programs, but also plays an important role in the implementation of work-flow management and enterprise resource planning systems.
In order to be understood by teams and become interoperable between IT tools, BPMo must be based on standardized notations (or languages) that are usually symbol-based or graphical. Stepping away from vendor-based and non-standardized notations, two standardized graphical notations for business process modeling exist: Unified Modeling Language (UML) and Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN 2.0).
The main difference between the two is that UML is object-oriented, where BPMN takes a process-oriented approach, which is more suitable within a business process domain. This is why BPMN is becoming the global leader and de-facto standard for BPMo and BPM.
If we model using BPMN, we are graphically representing a business process in the form of a business process diagram (BPD). BPDs are commonly used to represent, analyze, and implement current (‘as is’) and improved (‘to be’) processes.
So, it is of great importance that BPDs reflect real-world processes accurately and precisely. BPDs are commonly equated with business process models, though ‘model’ is more generic than the business process terms you would typically use. A business process model can also be a non-visual model (e.g., a program code or XML file) suited for being deployed on a business process engine.
It can be argued that a well-designed BPD, which is based on a standardized notation, such as BPMN, can positively affect most BPM activities and improve both intra- and inter-organizational communication, not to mention collaboration. The result is a well-established and flexible BPM practice that can be continuously improved and adapted to suit business requirements – a precondition for staying competitive in the turbulent corporate environment of today.