Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Where is the End in the End-To-End for business processes?



Charlie put out his hand and touched the screen, and suddenly, miraculously, the bar of chocolate came away in his fingers. He was so surprised he nearly dropped it.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl


Every time a business finds a way to extend the reach of the consumer experience (which may include consumers, partners, vendors and other stakeholders in the business process) closer to where it is consumed, there is a significant gain in productivity.

One of the essential requirements of the process platform is the ability to enable businesses to capture, manage, quickly deploy and execute end-to-end processes. However I find that quite often this has been viewed one-sidedly either from the IT or from the modeling perspective of the process. In other words, if you design web service interfaces and know how to manage your infrastructure that should be enough, right?  Or perhaps if you can put all the BPMN shapes in the process map that should be good enough, no?

But how about the partner or the customer outside of the organization, who’s systems are not included? Aren’t they part of the business process? Certainly many would say: SOA can helps us with all of that … and let them figure out the handshake as an afterthought.

My take is that this is simply not enough!

Looking back at the distant 50s and 60s of the 20th century the creation of the Interstate Highway System in the USA created an infrastructure that made possible the supply of large consumption markets with an enormous variety of goods delivered from all parts of the country and the world. The cheap and fast transportation of all kinds of commodities raw materials and finished goods made possible the emergence of discount retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target. Extending the reach of the retail business processes closer to the consumers and the improvements in shopper’s experience totally reshaped the industry in the decades to come.

Changing the value proposition and the experience lead to the abandoning of the moms-and-pops shops regardless of how hard they tried to dress up their windows.

At the turn of the century the transformation of the Internet into an affordable to most households Information Superhighway ignited the web revolution and extended the reach of retail and other business processes enabling every imaginable organization from NGOs, retail, finance and banking to social networking to expand their reach. The paragon of Internet retail Amazon is probably one of the most striking examples. Amazon has been steadily chipping away market share through providing more choices, better services and first class customer service from your home PC, HDTV or mobile phone. Extending the reach of the retail business processes further and even closer to the consumer and enriching the user experience with clever innovations proves to be a winning strategy for Amazon. In 2009 holiday season for the first time Wal-Mart and Amazon crossed swords in a price cutting war that left no clear winner.

Wal-Mart decided to do what it can do best lower prices and dress up the window shop – Amazon unveiled investments in user experience innovations combined with extending the reach of its business processes to mobile devices such as its own Kindle and mobile phones. Amazon Mobile was designed specifically to enable the user to manage every aspect of a purchase adding new services specifically designed for the new medium Amazon Remembers.

So how is that relevant to the BPM players?

The commoditization of BPM in the last couple of years is not a secret. BPM providers have been trying to create critical advantage by improving their modeling tools, improving analytics and simulation and aligning themselves along technological boundaries. While this is a must in a very competitive market, these measures are relatively short-lived and do not provide a long lasting competitive advantage. Global 360 provides a platform that manages all aspects of the business process across departments, we have also taken a unique approach of identifying the needs of the actual users rather than the specifications of IT managers and business analysts. As a result Global 360 has pioneered the persona driven BPM. This attention to user experience has been a departure from the traditional incremental improvements in process modeling, simulation and execution typical for this market. How about extending this gains further?

Can the car insurance claim get processed by the time the driver leaves the crash scene?

Does the medical claim start when the patient files a fax for reimbursement or when the ER nurse performs the triage?

Can the car application loan get approved by the time the customer leaves the dealer’s lot?

Just to put things in perspective, think of what would happen if Amazon asked you to go get your package from the nearest distribution center, instead of having it delivered to your doorstep. Is that good enough? The end-to-end user experience is going to be increasingly important for BPM systems, so why not work on improving it?

The fundamental shift in how work enters and exists the business process created by the emerging new generation of mobile device platforms is another way of redefining and challenging the typical roles in many business processes. Two great examples are the mobile applications of the car insurance giants Nationwide and Geico, which recently started offering an interactive claim submission application from the crash scene. How would that affect the job of a document scanner/indexer, claim validator or customer representative in these organizations?

By empowering users at the real end of the business process, organizations will continue to improve processing speeds, lowering costs and empowering the end users. Furthermore extending the user experience and the reach of the BPM system outside of the organization boundaries will provide value back to the end users by exposing analytical data, tips or otherwise helpful information that improves the relationship and loyalty between the organization and its partners and customers. For example wouldn’t it be nice if Geico Mobile allows you to setup notifications to 911, or loved ones in the event of an emergency, or perhaps gives you a map of body shops and repair estimate? Would the triage nurse make the same decisions if she has analytical data from regional hospitals about a flu outbreak? And what if you can buy a cheaper car because the dealer can lower their expenses to process a car loan?

While many are seeking value and growth in chasing the BPM tail there are some surprising productivity opportunities out there. Try thinking end-to-end user experience rather than end-to-end process and you’ll be surprised.