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As organizations begin to consider implementing a business process as a service (BPaaS) capability, it is important to consider that these are frequently built on top of other cloud IaaS and PaaS capabilities. Michele Cantara, vice president of research at Gartner, said that SaaS and BPaaS are typically built on top of PaaS capability. At times SaaS is an explicit layer, and at others the SaaS layer is embedded directly into a BPaaS offering.
Cantara's research has found that 96% of SaaS buyers think that the process customization capability of PaaS is important. There is a lot of confusion about the difference between BPaaS and SaaS because they can use identical software.
But Cantara says, "What is different is the type of SLAs or specific contract agreements that end users have with the service provider. With SaaS you are contracting for access to functionality focused on uptime and availability. For BPaaS, you are contracting for business outcomes that might include access to app and availability, but also the number of customer applications processed correctly, or the number of customers onboarded."
Consider end-to-end process visibility
One important use case of BPaaS service is to improve the visibility of process across organizational boundaries. This can save tremendous time and money for executing processes when there are a lot of participants in and many variations in a process.
Cantara said that end-to-end process visibility is needed by participants in all kind of organizations including retailers, distributors and manufacturers. One electronics reverse-logistics enterprise that Cantara analyzed leveraged the benefits of its ability to innovate processes that are tailored to the returns and warranty processes of the different participants.
This particular provider built a process which is offered as a business service to cell phone companies.
While on the surface, this process looks simple, it is not, said Cantara. In theory, faulty units should be returned by the retailer and shipped by the carrier to a service center. Implementing this business in the cloud made it easier to ensure that the service center would transport the replacements to its business customers and returns to the retailer, while providing everyone involved with the status of individual returns.
Set the right context
Brian Reale, CEO of Colosa Software, an open source BPM software vendor and BPaaS service provider, expects to see the cloud play a major role in the growth of BPaaS implementations. He said we are seeing the first wave of cloud-IoT-based applications, which is more hype-based than anything else. The initial use case is generally based on automating activities for a single human interaction or perhaps a human plus a single IoT sensor-based device. This type of automation is more closely related to IFTTT type of applications.
A popular BPM sales slide a few years back appeared in many BPM vendor slide decks that made the claim that BPM does for organizations in the '90s what Excel spreadsheets did for the individuals in the '80s. In other words, Excel advanced individual productivity, and BPM is designed to advance group productivity by reducing the time spent in the gaps in a typical flow chart. Colusa said this first wave of iBPM IoT-Cloud apps is sort of like the Excel for the individual compared to the next wave, which will aim to tackle more sophisticated and collaborative scenarios.
But despite the growth of the IoT, and the movement of BPM into the cloud, Reale does not believe that much has changed regarding the key to successfully implementing BPaaS use cases. Business managers need to understand organizations and understand the basic principles of change management. Process design and technology are rarely the stumbling blocks or causes of failed BPM initiatives. Colusa said, "BPM failure tends to be more related to poor expectation-setting, lack of strong executive sponsorship, poor communication plans, and poor socialization of the changes being implemented and their expected outcomes."
Watch the customers
The trend towards BPaaS also opens the gates for improving relationships with customers and enabling new business models, said Scott Menter, vice president of business solutions at BP Logix, a BPM tools vendor and BPaaS service provider. The history of BPM was in back-office processes like procure-to-pay, capital expenditure managements or ensuring compliance. Menter said, "More organizations are looking at leveraging BPaaS to take process out to the edge of the organization and then beyond." This is starting with improving the recording of sales and better field service personnel.
Context is the key to getting more value from customers. Menter said, "You don't want every time they interact with the company to feel like the first." If someone bought a service or product before, the applications should know about this so that all of the steps in the process are relevant. If someone is looking for a branch nearby, the BPaaS-enabled application should use the data available in the context of the device they are on.
Adopt a new development paradigm
BPaaS has the potential to enable organizations to create applications with far less coding, said Menter. He said, "Enterprises architects are finally starting to recognize that BPM is not just a technology that automates business processes, but [one] that will also revolutionize the way development is done altogether."
Organizations have traditionally thought about business process as a tool for implementing fixed, preset processes, or ad hoc kinds of processes. Today, organizations typically buy a BPM suite or procure a BPaaS to solve a specific point problem like procure-to-pay or human resources management. In addition, they might hire programmers to implement BPM capabilities for some in-house development that involved programmers. Often after the programmers leave, the organization needs to redo the BPM application. "This current state is hard to maintain," said Menter.
When enterprises discover they can create a more manageable set of applications on top of BPaaS platforms, there will be less need for custom coding. Menter said, "If you are a bank, you have to ask yourselves if you really need a staff of 2,000 programmers." In essence, they are spending a lot of money to solve a problem which is exacerbated by the challenges with hiring and retaining top-tier technical talent.
Menter recommends that organizations adopt an Agile approach that does not require organizations to make a huge investment in modeling the process as it is. Menter said, "How much do you want to invest in the current process rather than just moving on?"
The other nice thing about just implementing the process first is that it makes it possible to use the tools to identify problems with the process that go beyond operational excellence. "Ten minutes after you turn it on, you are going to find a problem," said Menter. While it is important to know what you are doing, it is more important to iteratively use BPM and BPaaS to just start it.
Will BPaaS help solve business problems?