Lets start with some definitions first :
Business : The occupation, work, or trade in which a person is engaged: e.g. the wholesale food business.
Process : A series of actions, changes, or functions bringing about a result: e.g. the process of digestion; the process of obtaining a driver’s license.
Model : A schematic description of a system, theory, or phenomenon that accounts for its known or inferred properties and may be used for further study of its characteristics: e.g. a model of generative grammar;
“cited from : process. (n.d.). The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Retrieved April 30, 2007, from Dictionary.com website”
So Business Process Modelling can be defined as a schematic representation of activities and functions performed by an organization to achieve success in their trade and services offered to the market and customers.
I am sure that there would be a lot of gaps in above definition, if we attempt to make it complete but one thing can be inferred clearly : For a Business to go about doing its business and provide the right services and products to its customer, its understanding and control on how they perform and operate is essential and infact in current age, a competitive edge.
Hence, Business Process Modeling can be viewed as a very critical activity both from a business and technology perspective. The reasons for doing process modelling can be many, but we can outline the same into following:
Process Documentation : Need for organization to document their business processes
Process Improvement Exercise: Organizations looking for performing an analysis of current processes and how the same can be improved. Process modeling here would be just a part of the approach in this case. Typically a BPI activity would involve analysis of current as-is process, refinement of processes based on six sigma, lean etc. and coming out with a revise To-BE process.
Enterprise Systems Implementation : Though some might call it a myopic view to process modeling, however traditionally and even today many organizations have carry out process modeling work before implementation of major IT system for e.g. ERP, CRM, Order Management systems etc. This definetely is a wise choice considering that most of the enterprise systems being deployed has an impact on how you perform your business going forward. Again details of best practices in this space can be a separate discussion itself. Especially the discussion around need for doing process modeling/analysis first or choosing the systems and then pursuing process modeling. I had a discussion with one of my clients once in which it was latter and my fundamental question was now will you change your process for the system or vice versa and whether the whole choice of the system would have been different if they already had an idea of their processes which needed automation help. Anyways there are pitfalls both sides.
Enterprise Architecture : Many organizations have a separate Enterprise Architecture practices and one area of EA is Process/Business Architecture. So organizations do carry out process modeling work as a standalone aspect to achieve a decent view. However in this case process modeling could be a very abstract representation of processes due to the high level view typically required from EA viewpoint. Organizations could go into details, but in my experience its not easy to get funding for doing Process modeling work just as a project without linking it to some specific business related project/budget. Thats a pity, sometimes as EA teams can add real value given the resources to do detailed analysis of Enterprise’s architecture. Infact with SOA becoming essential approach within many EA teams, I think process modeling in detail provide greater value and help in identifying the correct service mapping.
BPM : Process modeling is also the starting point for a Business Process Management projects. Typically BPM tools will provide their own modeling tools, so care must be taken to identify the need for process modeling. Whether it should be only for the particular BPM projects or its maintained in some bigger/central process repository. I prefer a central Process repository for all process models for e.g. in tools like Telelogic system architect, aris, case wise etc. and picking out process for BPM implementations from central repository or better still create BPEL from the process models directly. However this aspect of product integration is not the most mature and care is needed before use.
Ok, I am sure there are many more benefits of process modeling and I would get time later to elaborate in other articles/blogs.
Lets move into some aspects of how to build better process models. Some of the pre-requisites for process modeling are as follows:
1) People: You need to have good skills within the team from various perspectives, you need good business analysts to undertand what needs to be modeled and engage with business users accordingly. You also need a good scribe or modeler who understands how to map the requirements into models. As we are limiting it to modeling space, you may not require people with six sigma, lean,simulation skills though they would take part at appropriate phase in analysis.
2) Tools : you would need appropriate tools to model the business processes. It could start with basic word processing tools like word, move into graphic tools like visio to sophisticated tools like aris, system architect. Choice of tools would depend on requirements and objectives for modeling and obviously other factors like cost, skill sets etc. I personally feel that modeling efforts in tools like word and visio is a myopic view to modeling and processes are assets of any organizations and should be available centrally to be updated constantly. You should consider a repository based tool which supports standard modeling and reporting techniques to provide long term benefits.
3) Standards : Its very essential for an organization to choose and follow a common methodology for process modelling. We have over the years used multiple methods for process modeling like flow charts, petri-nets, Event based process charts and now with new standards like Business Process Modeling notations ( http://www.bpmn.org ), the choice is much simpler. A standard based approach allows a common ground for process understanding and discussion which can be a nightmare otherwise. In my experience I have seen companies using a pot-pouri of process techniques, some which are home grown with different symbols and color combinations meaning different things to different departments in the same company. The issues become manifold when you try to come out with cross-functional process maps based on proprietary notations. So in my opinion organizations should consider formalizing on a process modeling standard before starting any major modeling exercise.
So as we can see its process modeling is an important step in providing a clearer picture to a business regarding the activities they perform and also through analysis the impact it has on its business and underlying infrastructure. The business has to play an important role in sponsoring initiatives supporting process modeling and architecture especially when embarking on a BPM/SOA journey.
Business process modelling