In today's hyper-competitive world, sometimes the winner is simply the first one out the gate.
Bringing products to market faster than your competitor might mean the difference between an entrenched product and one that falls by the wayside. This might be easier to manage if not for the fact that globalization has given rise to a global supply chain full of unpredictable booms and busts that can adversely affect the ability for a business to provide goods and services.
What is needed in today's world is a flexible supply chain and tools that allow a business to nimbly and swiftly manage any changes with suppliers, contract manufacturers, and retailers. Business Process Management (BPM) streamlines a business's operations and allows the business architect to swiftly model and execute crucial processes in order to keep operations humming along, regardless of the fickleness of supply chains.
Moreover, business process improvement results in both lower costs and improved quality. BPM, applied at a deeper level, includes a means to analyze processes. These processes, such as interactions with third-party suppliers, can be diagrammed, analyzed, and improved before being implemented. BPM solutions often include a simulation capability, which allows a company to work out inefficiencies and problems and optimize an end-to-end process before executing it.
Failure to do this can potentially cost the company valuable time and money if a process does not work. BPM at its most complex level goes further yet. It integrates and applies information technology tools that actually participate in managing the process.
In executable BPM, the process can be graphically designed with the BPM software, and then actually executed or run as one might run a software application. Where there are people involved in the process, they may be presented with forms to fill in, along with information they might need to complete that step. Where the system is automated, the software can either perform the task, or can be linked to an information technology tool specifically designed for that purpose.
For example, the actual process in a company might look like this: A clerk in the front office manually enters orders into the computerized order/inventory system. That program is accessed in the warehouse by the employees responsible for pulling stock out of inventory, who also pack and ship it and finally manually enter into the system that the stock has been reduced and the order has been filled. The order-inventory program is part of the existing information technology behind this process.
Let's look at how this process might be managed with executable BPM. First, the process designer draws the process graphically as a flow diagram. Then, as the steps where employees act are identified (enter order into system, pull from stock, pack and ship order) the process designer creates the forms that the employee will complete (the order form, checklists).
The process can be designed to take the order data, automatically check inventory, calculate the weight and postage for the package, direct the packer to the location of the order, identify the correct size of shipping carton, access the customer's address information in the company's database to print a shipping label, ask the packer to acknowledge that the item was pulled, the carton was packed, the postage was charged, the order was shipped, etc., and record all details of the process that was implemented.
The whole BPM process is deployed in an environment where the people involved at each manual step in the process are able to interact with the process (for example, via an internal or external Website); and the automatic steps (and interfaces with existing information systems) are managed by the BPM software itself.
Things will continue getting more complicated as new supply chains emerge and businesses take advantage of more choices to bring down costs, increase their profit margins, and become leaner. BPM is a valuable tool for a business interested in managing these changes in the face of a constantly evolving and ever more competitive business environment.