Over the years, I have been regularly giving a talk on the value of aligning organizational goals with IT infrastructure change, focusing on how business processes and the data for information systems can be used to do that. In my talk I highlight how modeling the processes and the information together, as separate models in lock step, ultimately leads to heightened agility and greater productivity across the enterprise. Today, I am helping folks in SAP’s Operational Process Intelligence team on a use case for a major shipping company trying to increase their package tracking granularity, and am reminded of this topic, and how it is directly relevant to any enterprise looking for faster, better informed decision making supported by proactive, real-time alerts and interactive dashboards on any device.
So where do the business process models and the data models come together? Data is housed in business process models, often times implicitly, but more and more frequently explicitly identified. We can map that process representation of data directly to our enterprise conceptual models, which in turn is linked to the logical and physical data models representing our run time systems. Business process models are also transformed into process orchestration models which can be linked to those physical data models, keeping everything aligned from concept to implementation.
Wow, that was a lot of big words. What does that really mean? Well, there are fundamentally three reasons why you should care about this: First, any technology change that enables business transformation, like in-memory and real-time computing, cloud architectures or mobility, requires us to understand how our processes manipulate information so that we can plan, design and execute operational systems change in an easier way. Second, as organizations look to improve efficiency or conform to new regulations, we are always changing the way we run, and being able to measure the impact of business process changes on information means we can ensure business continuity is not disturbed and IT systems can be quickly aligned with changing business needs. And finally, as we seek operational process intelligence through leveraging our business information in more impactful ways, we need that single, centralized view of data, both at rest and in motion, in order to be more successful.
Back to the shipping company: what they need to do is not just know when a package is in transit, at a facility, or out for delivery; they need to know exactly where it is in transit to be able to provide up to the minute delivery estimates to each recipient or make real-time changes to delivery plans to meet critical client commitments. To do that, we need several changes to the way they run their business:
- We need to change the way they catalog the packages when they are out for delivery.
- We need to tie the package/truck pairing to a GPS data stream to know where the vehicle making the delivery is at every point in time.
- We need to know the planned route, and update the route plan in real time for changes made by the driver for detours or delays caused by traffic, construction, or other unexpected external influence.
- Finally, we need to tie that to a reporting system that can be used to inform customers within a small window when their expected delivery time will be, and alert those customers when changes to that expected time happen as the driver progresses through their route.
This is a classic case for a case for modeling and architecture. What do we need to change in the business processes to take these new steps and actions into account? What new information do we need, and what existing information will need to be changed? This is where process and data alignment becomes so beneficial. If we know each information asset that is used by each process step in the shipping company's current business operational models today, we can very quickly answer those critical questions. And, from there, we can define new processes and new information with confidence that we won’t create conflicting actions or misleading data assets. By further aligning business processes with process orchestration implementations and physical database systems, we can streamline the execution of operational changes to that shipping company's IT systems giving them thier operational process intelligence as rapidly as possible.
And SAP has the technology for this today. Using SAP’s PowerDesigner, and unique Link and Sync technology, we can integrate data models with process models. PowerDesigner can then generate models into NetWeaver BPM (using BPMN exchange) and into the SAP HANA Platform, for round-trip development. By linking information architecture with business processes, we can reach decision consensus faster, automate communication between all disciplines involved in any business change and transformation, as well as reduce the associated risk, time and cost.