Beyond workarounds: How cloud beats BPM project obstacles

See how one company used the cloud to boost their BPM project and open their workflow.

Leveraging traditional approaches to work around hurdles in a business process management (BPM) project is still viable in some cases but cloud-based tools are bringing greater flexibility and ease of use for BPM updates.

A few months ago, I blogged about a clever workaround for a business process whose definitive enhancement required some interdepartmental cooperation. This was not forthcoming. The practical resolution here involved a creative workaround that used the existing telephone system and some sheetrock. (Yes, really!) Today, enterprise architects can glean solutions from both the worlds of physical and virtual infrastructure. The rule of thumb for selecting either option? It's often better to make creative use of available resources -- even if they don't fully solve the problem -- than wait for the perfect solution.

Out with the old way, in with the new

Brick wall cracking

Imagine a national manufacturing company whose various departments need access to bits of data housed in a very old, very closed enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. Right now, much of the information stored there is shared either by printing it and walking it over to the person who requested it, or by copying and pasting the content into email messages. To be sure, these are process workarounds that are bred of an inability to enable interoperability -- but they are only slightly more advanced than the carpentry and communication technologies mentioned in the opening paragraph.

Instead, what if the manufacturing company in question turned its attention to the cloud? Here's an electronic technology that can be leveraged almost immediately to get out from under some potentially heavy-duty integration chores and can easily grant secure, trackable access to anyone, in any department. The big challenge here, of course, is that there are a great number of would-be service providers to sift through, but this task can be readily and systematically tackled if the one has a solid understanding of the company's particular requirements.

Many of today's cloud solutions are so accessible that pretty much anyone with any kind of budget authority … can consider using them.

The scenario just presented is based on a true story. While the company has not yet written the ending, it has found so many attractive possibilities that it is no longer looking at the cloud as a resource to use as a temporary workaround until a final infrastructure plan can be developed. Instead, it is now considering architecting its entire ecosystem in the cloud, and is sorting through the alternatives to find the right pieces and providers.

Beware the double-edged sword

The really tricky part of this BPM project lies in the fact that using the cloud to work around process obstacles cuts two ways, with a strong upside and a strong downside. Workers will either love it or hate it depending upon their organizational role. The reason, simply put, is that many of today's cloud solutions are so accessible that pretty much anyone with any kind of budget authority and a corporate credit card -- or not, as free services are often available for low data volumes -- can consider using them, even temporarily, to do what they want to do.

Even moderately tech-savvy business executives love this because they don't have to ask or rely on anyone else in their organization for help, even though they end up creating silos of information that someday will have to be reconciled with the rest of the infrastructure. IT hates it for precisely the same reason: They don't know everything that's happening around their organization, and they do know that they'll be called in to save the day when technical issues inevitably arise.

At the end of the day, interdepartmental cooperation is the best idea because it allows for the free exchange and successful pairing of business requirements and technology prowess. The quasi-fictitious manufacturing company we talked about figured this out early into their BPM project, and by intelligently leveraging the cloud, it has positioned itself well to make significant permanent fixes to some of its core processes.

All without a single bit of spackle being used.

This was first published in May 2014

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