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Why integral workflow systems shouldn’t be ruled out against a Business Process Management system

Why integral workflow systems shouldn’t be ruled out against a Business Process Management system

4 May 2017

Having worked in the Business Process Management (BPM) industry for nearly 20 years, primarily for software vendors, you inherit a number of preconceptions. 

One of those preconceptions is that all internal/integral workflow systems are inferior to an external BPM system.

This preconception is born from the fact that there is no set definition for what a workflow system is and the term therefore encompasses a huge variety of capabilities and implementation approaches, including at the most basic level progression of one screen to another. This in the face of a sophisticated BPM system, does indeed appear unsophisticated and subsidiary, which has allowed BPM vendors and IT departments to dismiss them as such.

However, it is wrong to apply this scepticism to all internal/integral workflow systems. As I said, they vary hugely in complexity from the most basic, through more tailored interaction in wizards, to complex process management applications that provide user interaction and automation capabilities.

The more sophisticated systems even allow business users the management and control of the system, challenging another criticism often levied at workflow systems.

Not all integral workflow systems are equal.

In rare cases, these integral process management systems, as I will call them from now on, can rival the capabilities available in the more sophisticated BPM systems including:

  • Visual Design Studio for Processes (BPMN) and User interaction
  • Automation Capabilities
  • Work Management and User control
  • Integration to external systems
  • Reporting and Analytics – SLA and Cost

As well as the above, integral process management systems can provide an additional number of real, tangible benefits that need to be seriously considered as part of a project or evaluation process.

Data access, storage and reconciliation

One of the biggest challenges and costs associated to a BPM implementation is the integration and management of data between the systems. A number of questions need to be asked such as; Which system is the master? When do I need to perform an update? When do I need to check for an update? Who wins in a contention? Where do I delete data from? Where do I source data from in the event of a “subject access request”? etc.

Whilst BPM systems struggle to manage the ownership and retrieval of this data, one of the major benefits of integral process management system is the direct access it has to the data in the administration system. Not only does this help reduce the initial project implementation costs and time, it will also impact the on-going maintenance cost and data risks, especially in light of the new GDPR data protection regulations.

Keeping systems at the core

Another benefit of an integral process management system is that they are delivered as part of the core solution platform. This means that you do not have to invest in additional database and application infrastructure or worry about latency and connection issues between the systems. It also provides a system that is already ‘’context’’ aware of the main business function that it is supporting.

User experience

Lastly, in a utopian world, as part of a BPM system implementation, you would never need to access the administration system screens directly, to complete a process. However, the reality in the majority of implementations is there is a need for swivel chair integration (opening a second screen and typing data into it) between the two systems.

With an integral workflow, these screens are just part of the system and can be opened and interacted with from within the integral process management component. They can pass relevant data and provide the user with a seamless and consistent experience. This reduces processing complexity, provides familiarity and increases the speed at which the users are able to progress tasks leading to greater productivity.

Integrated, but not integral

There is an emerging trend for system providers to sell integrated BPM. In this model they take an existing BPM system and with the provider, integrate the two systems. Whilst this has a number of obvious benefits, it’s the level to which this integration has taken place that needs to be investigated and understood fully to identify whether these are achievable.  In most cases, you will find that the two systems are installed and delivered separately and in some cases running on different technology stacks. This is likely, therefore to cause a duplication in hardware requirements and support costs.

In general, the integration is performed through a standard interface, which does not necessarily mitigate the data reconciliation and storage issues described previously.

Finally, with two vendors involved in the implementation and support, when problems arise there will inevitably be a contention as to which system the problem is with and who will support the resolution.

Final thoughts

Despite the real, identifiable benefits they can bring preconceptions around integral process management systems seem to have made BPM systems the default choice.

By taking pause to overcome these preconceptions and by understanding the capabilities of integral process management systems, companies are able to drive project and organisational benefits by using them to reduce project complexity and costs, remove risk and deliver productivity gains.

Remember not all workflow systems are equal.

About the author

Simon James

Simon James

Product Consultant, BPM - Sonata

Based in our London office, Simon has worked in the BPM industry for nearly 20 years. In this time, he has been involved in most aspects of the SDLC, including the implementation of workflow and BPM systems to financial service organisations.

He is currently the Product Manager for the BPM and Reporting functionality within Sonata.