It feels like yesterday when globalization was the dominating topic in the media. The big fish kept eating the small fish. Then digitalization kicked in heavily and has been changing the world ever since. As a result today we rather see the fast fish eating the slow fish, independent of their size.
In this blog series we want to take a look at the broad topic of digital transformation in the context of business process management (BPM) and show you how to approach it in a meaningful way. You will learn how you can bring your business up to speed by utilizing BPM(N) and which details matter in order to swim faster than the others.
This first blog covers some of the basic issues, companies are facing when trying to get started with digitalization. It also outlines an approach how to overcome these issues. The second blog will make use of the proposed approach in a concrete showcase example. The third and final blog offers a look behind the scenes of the showcase, focusing on the technical architecture utilizing SAP Cloud platform services, especially the workflow service component.
So let’s dive right in!
Digitalization is changing the market
Digitalization has not only affected our private lives in recent years but is more and more becoming a critical factor for companies around the world. Start-ups are ready to disrupt established markets with fresh ideas and new processes. In order to cope with these changes, companies need to find a way to adapt and compete.
It goes without saying that one major challenge in the first place is to establish the right mindset to enable any form of digital transformation within a company. Change needs to be welcome and not feared. Information silos need to be removed and service orientation and curiosity should be core competencies of all employees.
Eying the processes, in our experience many companies invest too much time and energy into implementing their standard processes while neglecting their differentiating business processes. Standard processes can usually be covered by standard software pretty well. On the other hand, processes which make you unique and stand out from your competition cannot be part of a standard software by definition and therefore require special attention.
In reality, often there is no transparency about the existing processes at all. Many key processes have been coded years ago and are only partially known in the heads of a few. Even worse: sometimes there is a huge gap between what the stakeholders believe a process is doing and what it actually does.
As a result, over the years many of those processes have grown into inflexible black box IT implementations with high dependency on a few people who carry all the knowledge. This results in lengthy change procedures which prevent the affected companies from keeping pace with the markets. Also this can lead to dramatic situations when key staff is leaving.
Finding the right approach
As a first step in order to prevent this from happening, companies need to identify and understand their unique selling point (USP) processes. There needs to be transparency and a common understanding about those processes in order to be able to constantly challenge and improve them.
Business and IT need to interact collaboratively with each other in order to transfer this core-knowledge from the heads of a few into common knowledge. We strongly recommend to make use of a visual representation of your processes instead of writing lengthy blueprints. From our experience, BPMN 2.0 has proven to be the perfect match to act as a common language between all participants here. Basics are not only learned easily, but the standard also offers the perfect base for automation of your process-models in so-called process engines later. Therefore using BPMN 2.0 as a foundation to describe and document your processes transparently is the first step in building a flexible process-driven IT architecture.
Creating your process models in a sustainable and meaningful way can be tough though. Details are important. The key to success is to keep technical implementation details separated from the core business process. It is also helpful to make use of re-usable micro-processes which are exchangeable in the future.
Figure: Micro-segmentation of processes enables flexibility for the future
It is vital to choose the right methodology when designing and cutting your process models. We recommend to follow the process-driven approach as defined by Dr. Volker Stiehl. Following this approach leads to process models which remain flexible and maintainable at the same time. To explain this approach in detail would go beyond the scope of this blog, therefore we will leave you with two pointers:
- You can get a first overview about the PDA approach here: https://blogs.fau.de/wedekind/the-process-driven-approach-past-present-and-future/
- If you want to dive in deeply, then the book “Process-Driven Applications with BPMN” from Dr. Stiehl is the best way to go:
- ISBN-13: 978-3319072173
- ISBN-10: 331907217X
Figure: “Process-Driven Applications with BPMN” by Dr. Volker Stiehl
By applying the mentioned methodology, you will gain transparency and clarity about your USP processes, which will be documented in BPMN 2.0 while following the PDA-approach. This is already a huge step forward, since it enables you to discuss and adapt your business processes constantly. From here you can now think about (further) digitalization of your USP processes and use different methods to analyze them.
For example if your USP processes are in the area of sales and distribution you might use methods like customer journey analysis where you map out all the customer touch points for a specific persona along your process chains. For each touch point you might now go into deeper analysis of the process behind it. Think about which pain points exist for the specific persona you are looking at, how to resolve them and how well the touch points integrate with each other.
Once you identify a process along the chain which can be improved, you are now in a position to do so. Imagine doing this exercise without transparency about your own processes… it would be impossible.
An alternative approach to tackle digitalization is to try and disrupt your own company by coming up with a completely new purpose. Try to think ahead five or ten years from now and imagine what your industry will look like. Which role do you want your company to play and what kind of processes and services do you need to create in order to get there? First clarify the “What” and “Why” and then think about the “How” – e.g. by using methods like design thinking. Utilize BPMN to sketch out different ideas and analyze them within your digital lab or with external incubators. Based on the created models you might also build lightweight prototypes which can be adjusted and tried out quickly thanks to the power of process-engines – which brings us to another major advantage of BPMN 2.0: automation.
The supreme discipline: Automation
So now you have a common understanding of your processes and are able to analyze and adjust them. Well done! You are already ahead of most others.
What’s next? Well, there still is a long way to go. How will you transfer your process model into execution? Is it all manual? Maybe, but most likely you will aim for automation of your processes… in the end this is a major part of the digital transformation, isn’t it?
But how to handle the actual implementation? There are several possibilities. Do you just hand your process models over to your IT-staff to code along? Will you use loosely coupled micro services using an event-driven architecture? Or just outsource the implementation completely and get back a black box implementation again?
Of course there are advantages and disadvantages for all mentioned options. But we need to keep in mind our main goal: Gaining speed by providing transparency and flexibility. This does not only concern our process documentation, but of course also our process implementation.
You might remember that process engines have been mentioned before. Basically they allow to transfer your process models into execution and therefore represent a model-based approach. The big advantage here is that business and IT don’t only talk the same language during process design, but also during process execution. This creates true transparency and acts as an enabler for deciding on and implementing process changes quickly.
Technically speaking, the procedure is to take your PDA-ready BPMN 2.0 models, import them into your process development environment and enrich them with some configuration and technical artifacts like data types, mappings, interface calls and so on. Afterwards you have a runnable process which can be deployed to a process engine. Once a process is running, you always have full transparency where your process currently stands, which path it has taken and what data it is using. You could even go a step further and run process mining tools, which for example allow to create heat maps across lots of process calls in order to show you which process paths are frequently used and which ones might never be taken.
In the SAP world, SAP Cloud Platform (SCP) Workflow and Business Rules deliver the tools to achieve exactly that. Using SCP Workflow to model and deploy BPMN 2.0-based business processes lays the foundation of adjustable and quickly automatable business processes which are understood by business and IT. In combination with SCP Business Rules customers can enhance flexibility of their processes even further since this service enables them to maintain their process rules within the specialized business departments directly. In order to create more complex integrations in cross-system processes, you might also make use of Cloud Platform Integration which offers the full variety of integration options that you would expect from a modern integration platform.
Having these services available in the SAP Cloud Platform lowers the initial hurdles for customers to get started with creating process-driven IT architectures enormously. In the on-premise world customers were required to make a pretty heavy pre-invest and have the infrastructure ready even for simple proof of concepts. Individual processes can now be automated much quicker and with less initial effort due to the easy and flexible service activation in the cloud.
Be ahead of the market
We expect the cloud adaption to rise significantly within the next few years since the need for short innovation cycles and agile projects will rise. If you combine this with the fact that more and more companies will need to invest into topics around digital transformation and process automation, you can easily see that cloud services like CP Workflow, CP Business Rules or CP Integration will play a key role on the IT-roadmap of many companies.
In order to stay ahead of your competition, now is the right time to look into your processes and your technology. Is your company prepared to start the journey into digitalization?
Get in touch
itelligence already supports several customer projects which make use of the new cloud-based workflow service component and we have used the PDA methodology with great success in many BPMN implementation projects.
Interested into the capabilities of our methodology and the new SAP technologies? Are you looking for an experienced partner who can help you with finding a meaningful path trough your digital transformation journey? Don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.
In the next blog of this series we will see how the approach described in this blog can be put to use, looking at a practical example.