If process can move its focus from the back-office of ERP and finance, then it has a chance to become the next killer application.
For the past couple of years the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has been engaged in a quiet revolution as it pioneers much new and highly innovative thinking about process. It has conducted significant grassroots experimentation around the ways project managers might alter the parameters of current data collections by stringing together related tasks to generate a new systems environment.
It is developing ideas about a visionary, component-driven architecture, which incorporates processes, and using a business process model residing in a Lotus workflow application to capture business knowledge and a process library to hold reusable processes and activities. And it has developed a diagramming scheme to graph patterns in business processes in the hope that it may prove feasible to automate those workflows, rather than have to build them repeatedly.
"Our thinking is that we should now start to revolutionise the way we think about what a system is, and how we deliver it, into: we have a graph, we have a process, and what are the points in this business process?" says director of IT architecture Don Bartley.
"Now what is a system? Well, a system is only those points in a process where it needs to interact with something to support its work, like a computer system. That's really interesting, because that gives you a framework for understanding which sets of services are required to support your business processes. But the whole thing is turned around the other way, because it's the business process that drives it, rather than the existence of some large application system that people need to fit to," he says.
So far the approach has proved effective mostly in helping the ABS to automate the things it already does. Ultimately the goal is to get people to think beyond the way things are done now to find new and better ways of getting the ABS's work done.
The ABS approach is in line with some new ways of attacking the whole issue of process. EDS principal, business process innovation services, Angela Frith, says if a component-based technology set is being used to automate processes, it is possible to define these processes as business rules linking process components or business use cases. Each use case is related to each business task with task owners, inputs and outputs. The result is a standard set of process components that can be reconfigured to meet the requirements of selling, originating and servicing different products. Some organisations are keenly adopting this approach.
"Many organisations today are driving towards a single sales and service platform to support all customer channels - phone, Internet and branch," Frith says. "With a single customer-facing platform organisations can achieve a consistent customer interface with the right processes and integration with back-end product systems. A single platform means the organisation can have one set of standard processes for common business functions for each product sale such as capturing customer credit information, regardless of channel."
Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.