Most business process management (BPM) software offers standard if rudimentary reporting capabilities. Via generic dashboards, users can see, for example, how many business or operational processes are under way, when they started, and when they finished.
But BPM's one-size-fits-all reporting capabilities lack the ability to link those process metrics to business outcomes, according to some business intelligence (BI) vendors and analysts. Adding more sophisticated BI capabilities, they say, could make the way organizations automate business processes more intelligent and, ultimately, more efficient.
"Users want visibility into those business processes so they can understand not only how the process is behaving from an operational perspective, but they also need to understand how the processes are affecting the business," said Jeremy Westerman, product marketing manager at Tibco Software.
Tibco is among a small number of vendors that have undertaken the job of integrating BI and BPM software. In October, the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company released Tibco Spotfire iProcess, which combines the vendor's core BPM platform with interactive, customizable reporting capabilities acquired from Spotfire in 2007.
How BI in BPM can improve business process reporting
The new self-service platform is designed to integrate data from other business applications -- ERP applications and BI reports, for example -- with BPM-based data to give a more complete view of business processes.
Westerman used mortgage processing to illustrate the new software's capabilities. In such a process, there are usually dozens of hand-off points between systems. One system examines an applicant's creditworthiness, then hands the process off to another system that reviews the property being mortgaged, and so on.
A standard BPM system, Westerman said, would report only on when the process started and how far along it was. With added BI capabilities, Spotfire iProcess can bring more detailed business information into the BPM system, such as detailed data on the customer and property, including the type of house in question, the amount of the customer's down payment, and his employment history.
With more detailed data, users monitoring such business processes can more easily spot red flags or even automate the process to alert them to potential problems, based on predefined metrics.
"That type of data is specific to each process," Westerman said. "But a standard dashboard can't give you this information."
Users can also customize the resulting dashboards and reports to meet their requirements, he said. An executive could use the system to gain a "60,000-foot-view" of business processes and how they relate to business outcomes, while a manager could focus just on data related to his department and its processes.
Partnerships key to BI and BPM integration
Boris Evelson, an analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research, has long argued that BI and BPM software can complement each other. "They really should have been connected all along because neither one of them can exist without the other," Evelson said. Business processes, he added, don't live in isolation, and the addition of business data to BPM systems helps put business processes in context.
The two have largely developed independently of one another, however. Until recently, the only way for a company to improve its BPM reporting capabilities was to do the complex integration itself. That is beginning to change, Evelson said, as both technologies become more mature and organizations increasingly recognize the need to make the most of the ever-increasing volumes of corporate data.
Jaspersoft, an open source BI vendor based in San Francisco, just this month has partnered with BPM vendor Handy Soft to embed its BI tools in the company's BPM suite. The new offering, called BizFlow Advanced Reporting, is being used by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to automate and monitor security operations. The NRC says the BPM system with enhanced BI capabilities is saving 75 man-hours per day -- more than $1.5 million a year.
"I've long believed the intersection of process improvements and BI has a lot of potential," said Brian Gentile, CEO of Jaspersoft.
But integrating BI and BPM software isn't as easy as flipping a switch. As applications and data sources increase, connecting them to BPM systems becomes more difficult, according to analysts at Ventana Research.
"BPM products have been in the market for more than a decade, but many are expensive and difficult to use and address only a single aspect of a company's needs," states a 2006 Ventana report on the intersection of BI and BPM. "What's more, often they are hard to integrate with other BPM and BI technologies."
And most BPM vendors don't have the reporting and analytics expertise to build and embed BI capabilities into the software on their own, Gentile said. As a result, he expects more BPM vendors to partner with BI vendors, as Handy Soft has done with Jaspersoft, to improve their reporting capabilities.
More specifically, he said, open source BI companies are likely partners for BPM vendors because of the lower cost of doing business. "If a BPM company tried to build one of the aged proprietary BI tools, it would be very costly and complicated, and they wouldn't be fully using the breadth of the BI tool," he said. "It is a matter of economics."
In other cases, as with Tibco and Spotfire, BPM companies could buy BI vendors outright, or vice versa. Either way, analysts and vendors alike expect to see more convergence of these two previously distinct technologies in the years ahead.