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March 1, 2013

The Practicality of Intelligent Business Processes

By Marie Lingblom

Business process management these days is on a more “intelligent” journey toward its promise of organizational agility and performance. Strategies and solutions are increasingly focused on business process improvement.

A new report from Gartner singles out a more inclusive category called intelligent business operations (IBO) as one of the more effective techniques to improve business processes. Processes, in that sense, become “aware” of, and can learn from, a wide range of interactions, their context and situations that surround them.

Once a “situation” is sensed, says Gartner, analytics can be applied actively or on-demand to predict the outcomes of potential changes. Integrating real-time analytics with business operations, says Jim Sinur Gartner research vice president, changes and improves the way people do their jobs.

Virtually every business operation has one or more areas where real-time analytic services or active analytics should be applied, says Gartner. If done right, the results mean faster decision-making, better customer service, more opportunity for revenue growth, and reduced risk.

“It has been technically possible to implement real-time analytics in transactional and record-keeping operational applications for decades. However, few business processes or operational applications have actually used them until recently,” says Sinur.

IBO, he says, is earning distinction as a practical and popular solution as sources of business event data grow and things like rule management, visualization, optimization, BPM and other software tools improve. Gartner predicts that 70 percent of high-performing companies will manage their business processes using real-time predictive analytics or extreme collaboration by 2016.

Many organizations are finding at least one critical process that has appropriate leverage for higher performance. Garter cites examples including intelligent fleet management and intelligent prescription management processes.

The analyst firm also predicts demand for IBO will drive an increase in intelligent technologies and methods that surround active intelligence. This includes various combinations of event, business rules, analytics, social collaboration, dynamic processes and visualization software, packaged to support various types of problems.

In an article posted a couple of weeks ago by Solid State Technology, Judith Lamont, a research analyst with Zentek Corp. penned a sidebar that takes Gartner’s thoughts on next generation BPM and intelligent business processes a step further.

The intelligent business process management system (iBPMS), says Gartner, will be the next generation of BPM-enabled application. The BPM stack in the system includes social media, mobile device support, expanded analytics, decision support tools, and access to external information sources such as video and social streams.

Collectively, says Lamont, that capability provides well-orchestrated process management that improves operations and supports innovation in a qualitatively different way than that of traditional BPM.

In Lamont’s sidebar, Sinur points to an agricultural application being used on five megafarms in Australia as a great example of leveraging an intelligent process. In this project, data is being provided from probes measuring soil components and rainfall—from runoff models indicating where the rain goes and from external models of weather forecasts.

The result in some cases, says Sinur, was a 40 percent increase in plant yield. The system depends on a complex rule base, robust analytics and decision support to determine appropriate actions.

BPM vendors that are lacking critical parts of this evolving category are adding those capabilities by developing them in house or through acquisition, says Lamont. Most are trying to reach that goal incrementally rather than producing a solution that will require a full upgrade. “This is a journey, not an end game,” Sinur said, “and all vendors and clients are on this journey.”

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