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Process intelligence gains momentum at the intersection of BI and BPM

Process intelligence is gaining momentum for both vendors and customers alike. But what is it, and does your organization need it? Forrester analyst Clay Richardson offers answers in a Q&A.

Businesses and vendors are placing an increased emphasis on something called process intelligence, a term that’s...

taken hold in the last year and marries business intelligence to process data. Clay Richardson, a senior analyst at Forrester Research Inc. based in Cambridge, Mass., said the growing interest is related to the quickening pace of operating a business in an environment with increased competition, regulatory overhaul, economic volatility and growing data sources.

Today, process intelligence merges real-time analytics and performance data to provide up-to-date dashboards and metrics keeping track of, for example, how long it takes work to be completed, what work items exist, whom those work items are assigned to, what the average wait time is or where the bottlenecks are. Information gathered can be used to refine certain processes or provide performance guidance.

Think predictive analytics for business processes. Or, Richardson said, think Borders and Blockbuster.

“Borders and Blockbuster are the poster children of road kill in the new millennium,” he said, referencing two companies that have recently sputtered, faltered and even filed for bankruptcy.

Plus, Richardson believes, process intelligence may be a key in helping organizations make sense of “big data” and social information from internal and external sources. sat down with Richardson to talk about why process intelligence is so important and where the trend is headed.

Based on a recent survey, process intelligence is one of the programs many of our respondents were looking to grow in the next year. Why has it become so important?

Clay Richardson: The pace of doing business has changed; it’s accelerated significantly. Look at how quickly the market meltdown happened … I think we’ve gotten to a comfort level where we don’t think about how dramatic that time was. But, to a certain extent, businesses have become sensitive to those kinds of swings. They want to spot changes taking place through process and then they want to have the ability to address those changes. Businesses need to adapt rapidly to disruptive forces, compliance mandates and competitive threats. They see process as a real lens to understand how the business is operating; the intelligence or analytics part gives them the visibility to see and address what’s going on.

Who primarily uses process intelligence?

Richardson: Traditionally, it’s process owners: people who are responsible and accountable for the end-to-end process. That’s who typically asks these questions: How do we change? Where are the bottlenecks? They really have to keep an eye on what’s going on with processes.

What do you mean traditionally?

Richardson: I say traditionally because when we’re looking at the environment we’re in now and where we’re headed, we’re seeing more process decisions and ownership being pushed down to the front line -- to the people who interact with the customers. We’re even seeing, for example, some organizations bringing in real-time process data from their transaction systems or their ERP [enterprise resource planning] or CRM [customer relationship management] and from other external environments, such as social media, to give the end user the best information to make decisions when they’ve encountered certain steps in the process. The trend we’re following now is empowered BT (or business technology). That’s a shift from traditional IT departments. Businesses typically build their own solution with support from IT. The empowered employees or customers are driving to put process intelligence tools into the hands of the front-line workers and into hands of customers.

How do you push process intelligence into hands of customers?

Richardson: I have an American Express card, for example, and I have to submit expense reports every so often. One of things I like on the customer website is that I can get better insight, run reports, charting and graphing around my spending or reimbursement process. That helps American Express because if they can provide the tools to get insight into the consumer process, that means they can get their money faster. Customers are a big part of process, and giving them the tools to be more efficient and to make better decisions around their own process, it’s better for everyone. Some customers are doing this already. The trend says that’s going to continue.

You’ve mentioned that data to perform process intelligence can come from sources such as transactional data or external social sites. Can you expand on where the data comes from?

Richardson: Right now it comes from very narrow silos. Most of it is coming from business process management [BPM] systems, from packaged applications and transactional data created working within an ERP environment, standalone databases, data warehouses, data marts. A lot of those disconnected, disparate systems are pulled in to create reports.

One of things Forrester is starting to look at is this idea behind “big data.” Data is everywhere; companies are swimming in data … We’re starting to look at a corollary to big data that we call “big process.” Businesses have the data, but the data is tied to fragmented business processes. In an SAP environment or an ERP, they have their own processes, and those processes are creating data differently than their BPM. So we have this fragmented process world that is really on top of all this big data. For companies to be effective in the future, they’ll need to develop a big process perspective that brings data in from different sources and delivers a big picture of how they’re performing … Businesses are moving so quickly [these days], they can’t spend a month or a couple of weeks figuring out where, for example, a bottleneck occurred. They need the system to look at end-to-end process and challenges and begin to make recommendations -- here’s where the bottleneck is and here’s what we need to do to resolve it.

Can “big process” thinking tie everything together? Can it really be that simple?

Richardson: We’re not saying it’s that simple. It’s more of the reality of what companies will be dealing with in the future. We need to get out of this thinking that process only lives in packaged applications or BPM suites. Process lives everywhere. What does that mean or what will that look like in approach and how a company deals with it? Companies may take business process analysis and tie it to real-time decisions … Tying together the different pieces into overarching picture isn’t going to be easy. Vendors are doing some of this. They have overarching application monitors listening to all of the transactions taking place and serving those up in a big process view. But it’s still the very early days for big process. Businesses have to do some significant work to massage data, to determine the primary keys that will tie the process together. If we look out three to five years from now, the more defined methodology and capability around bringing all processes together to create a bigger view will be much more common.

If businesses have yet to implement process intelligence into their workflow, where should they start?

Richardson: This is tough partly because you have to ask, “Is this a standalone market or industry?” I have a hard time seeing it as a true standalone market. What will happen on the BPM side, organizations will probably be able to leverage a vendor’s process intelligence environment. On the BI side, organizations may end up buying a BPM suite and using BI to hook into the BPM environment. When organizations have multiple BPM environments, they’ll need to get overarching process intelligence capability. Still, I don’t see it as distinct market. [Richardson advises looking at offerings from Progress Software and Software AG and also HandySoft, which he fully discloses is a company he used to work for.]

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