The Role of Business Process Management Systems

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“For information systems it is increasingly difficult to draw a line around an application system and say that you own and control it. For example, value chains extend beyond enterprises, supplier and customer systems become part of each other’s information architecture” (Hasselbring, 2000, p33) Critically evaluate the role of Business Process Management Systems (BPMS), Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) architectures and current middle ware technologies in resolving issues of system integration within and between organisations. How are these developments likely to change the nature of enterprise systems? Introduction Business Process Management and enterprise computing have undergone a remarkable evolution in the recent past. Emphasis on easy availability of data to customers and efficient management of applications within an organisation has lead to the need of integrating and automating applications within the corporate environment. Business Process Management and Enterprise Application Integration are both recognised as being cost efficient methods of integrating existing applications within an enterprise, and across multiple enterprises and adding new technologies to the mix. (Banerjee et al, 2005) Many academics have discussed the various aspects of business process and enterprise computing and the need for business integration together with the various technologies related to BPMS and EAI, and the comparison with other approaches like B2B and customer integration. Also, organisations today typically manage and maintain a diverse portfolio of Information Systems (IS) applications, and as a result organisations are now realising the pressing need to link “islands of applications” that have emerged as a consequence of divisional or functional silos. Consequently, both academics and practitioners are showing increasing interest in the area of Enterprise Application Integration, which is referred as the plans, methods, and tools aimed at modernising, consolidating, integration and coordinating the computer applications within an enterprise optimisation (Smith and Fingar, March 2003). Today, most companies recognise the value of systems integration, and use it in some capacity to cut costs. However, increasingly many are also looking to outsourcers to get to the next level of business performance, through deploying business process management systems and enterprise application integration. Analyst firm IDC defines business process management as “the business transformation or evolution strategy that employs all the advances that have been made in using IT to enhance business efficiency, integrate processes, and manage and present information for greater performance.” (Grigori et al, 2004) However, for companies that struggle with the implementation of “all the advances made it using IT”, one area to gain lift is in employing outsourcing expertise for greater business process and enterprise application integration. Main Body IS has become the organisational fabric for intra- and inter-organisational collaboration in business. As a result, there is mounting pressure from customers and suppliers for a direct move away from disparate systems operating in parallel towards a more common shared architecture. In part, this has been achieved through the emergence of new technology that is being packaged into a portfolio of technologies known as EAI. Its emergence however, is presenting investment decision-makers charged with the evaluation of IS with an interesting challenge. The integration of IS in-line with the needs of the business is extending their identity and lifecycle, making it difficult to evaluate the full impact of the system as it has no definitive start and/or end. Indeed, the argument presented by several academics is that traditional life cycle models are changing as a result of technologies that support their integration with other systems. (Irani et al, 2003) Traditional approaches to managing business processes have often been shown to be inadequate for large-scale, organisation-wide, dynamic settings. However, since Internet and Intranet technologies have become widespread, an increasing number of business processes exhibit these properties, and therefore a new approach is needed. To this end, Jennings et al (2000) described the motivation, conceptualization, design, and implementation of a novel agent-based business process management system, with a key advantage of said system being that responsibility for enacting various components of the business process is delegated to a number of autonomous problem-solving agents. To enact their role, these agents typically interact and negotiate with other agents in order to coordinate their actions and to buy in the services they require. This approach leads to a system that is significantly more agile and robust, and easy to integrate, than its traditional counterparts. Modern BPMSs are software platforms that support the definition, execution, and tracking of business processes. BPMSs have the ability of logging information about the business processes they support, and thus proper analysis of BPMS execution logs can yield important knowledge and help organizations improve the quality of their business processes and services to their business partners, through integration. Indeed, BPMSs provide a set of integrated tools that support business and IT users in managing process execution quality by providing several features, such as analysis, prediction, monitoring, control, and optimisation (Smith and Fingar, 2003). Grigori et al (2004) referred to this set of tools as the Business Process Intelligence (BPI) tool suite, defining further enhancements on the BPI tools suite, including automated exception prevention, and refinement of process data preparation stage, as well as integrating other data mining techniques. These developments are particularly relevant, as every day organisations execute thousands of processes as they transact business, and manage sales, contracts and delivery. Business process effectiveness shapes the company, in terms of its strength, growth and ability to effectively serve customers. When evaluating their own business process effectiveness, companies should consider the following questions: Are our processes customer-focused, do these processes support, enhance or move our business goals forward, is our organisation dependent on ad hoc legacy processes that are often manual, duplicative, biased and lack standardization, and are we losing operational efficiency and margin through poor process execution? The answers to these questions are key to the overriding question of whether a business should invest in business process management capabilities, in order to improve their systems integration. (Smith and Fingar, June 2003) Many organizations manage and maintain a diverse portfolio of IS)applications, and increasingly the integration of these applications is often necessary to support broader enterprise-wide business solutions such as e-business, automated supply chain management (SCM), customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP). EAI has been found to be the best approach to IS application integration by Lam (2005), who undertook a case study of an integration project at Harmond Bank, where an EAI approach was used to integrate the IS applications in its home loans division. The case-study highlights many of the management and architectural decisions that arc pertinent to IS application integration projects, and lessons learned from the case are discussed, together with the Critical Success Factors (CSFs) in Enterprise Application Integration. Lam (2005) thus used interview transcripts to identify groups of CSFs in which the CSFs appeared closely inter-related, concluding that, as organisations embark on major enterprise-wide business initiatives, they will need to think more strategically about how to integrate their diverse portfolio of IS applications. Enterprise integration is also considered to be of great strategic significance in the support of organisations trying to achieve a competitive advantage. Traditional approaches to integration such as electronic data interchange (EDI) have provided a wide range of benefits but have not managed to fully automate and integrate business processes and applications. In addressing many of the limitations of EDI to piece together disparate systems, ERP solutions introduced an alternative approach to integration. However, although ERP systems overcome significant integration problems, they have failed to adequately support intra and inter-organisational integration. There has been a great demand by organisations to overcome integration problems and become more competitive, and in this respect, EAI has emerged to address intra and inter-organisational integration in a more flexible and maintainable way. (Journal of Enterprise Information Management, 2004) Unfortunately, the literature remains limited regarding this emerging area and there is consequently a need for further research and contribution in identifying influential factors for EAI adoption. The rightful installation of ERP and EAI systems should involve replacing functional systems with a standardized company-wide system, however making an EAI system work is more than an issue of technical expertise or social accommodation. (Chang, 2002) Newman and Westrup (2005) builds this argument using the example of management accountants in Great Britain based on evidence from a survey and several case studies. It begins by briefly considering the role of management accountants as a professional group in Great Britain and the significance of the introduction of EAI systems as a challenge to their expertise. It further discusses how ERP systems are made to work, and introduces the technology power loop and its relevance to systems integration. It illustrates the argument using evidence from a survey and a number of cases in the United Kingdom and, in the final sections, it returns to the technology power loop and suggest some developments to it to aid understanding of how EAI systems work in organizations. Summary / Conclusion My findings tend to support Hasselbring’s view that the role of information systems in business is fundamentally changing, and ownership of an application is increasingly shared across many areas of an organisation. As a result, it is crucial to integrate these applications as best as possible, in order to secure sustained competitive advantage through supply chain management, customer relationship management and enterprise resource planning (Lam, 2005). Whilst they are not perfect systems, and many organisations are unfamiliar with their full range of application and usefulness, my research suggested that BPMS and EAI are two of the most successful and robust methods of integrating disparate systems and resolving any issues arising as a result of said integration. Of course, the approach I have taken may have its drawbacks, as many of the writers on the subject have openly professed a preference for BPMS and EAI, thus there is a very real possibility that their views on the concepts may be biased. Equally, although I was able to find many articles and journals citing successful BPMS and EAI implementations, there was very little writing on the drawbacks of these systems, both potential and realised. As a result, this work cannot be considered to be as complete, and as valid, as a study which incorporated research, ideally primary research, into said drawbacks, and found and discussed case studies where BPMS and EAI had failed to deliver the promised integration performance. References:

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  1. Banerjee, N. Chordia, A. and Rajib, P. (2005) Seamless Enterprise Computing using Enterprise Application Integration (EAI). Journal of Services Research; Vol. 5, Issue 1, p. 171.
  2. Chang, J. (2002) Envisioning the Process-centric Enterprise. eAI Journal; August 2002, p. 30.
  3. Grigori, D. Casati, F. Castellanos, M. Dayal, U. Sayal, M. and Shan, M-C. (2004) Business Process Intelligence. Computers in Industry; Vol. 53, Issue 3, p. 321.
  4. Hasselbring, W. (2000) Information System Integration. Communications of the ACM; Vol. 43, Issue 6.
  5. Irani, Z. Themistocleous, M. and Love, P. E. D. (2003) The impact of enterprise application integration on information system lifecycles. Information & Management; Vol. 41, Issue 2, p177
  6. Jennings, N. R. Norman, T. J. Faratin, P. O’Brien, P. and Odgers, B. (2000) Autonomous Agents for Business Process Management. Applied Artificial Intelligence; Vol. 14, Issue 2, p. 145.
  7. Journal of Enterprise Information Management (2004) Justifying the decisions for EAI implementations: a validated proposition of influential factors. Journal of Enterprise Information Management; Vol. 17, Issue 2, p. 85.
  8. Lam, W. (2005) Investigating success factors in enterprise application integration: a case-driven analysis. European Journal of Information Systems; Vol. 14, Issue 2, p. 175.
  9. Newman, M. and Westrup, C. (2005) Making ERPs work: accountants and the introduction of ERP systems. European Journal of Information Systems; Vol. 14, Issue 3, p. 258.
  10. Smith, H. and Fingar, (2003) Business Process Management: The Third Wave Meghan-Kiffer Press.
  11. Smith, H. and Fingar, (June 2003) A Chasm to be Crossed. www.intelligententerprise.com, 17th June 2003, p. 30.
  12. Smith, H. and Fingar, (March 2003) Don’t bridge the Business-IT divide: Obliterate it! eAI Journal; March 2003, p. 36.
  13. Spigel, R. (2003) B2B’s Tower of Babel. www.manufacturingsystems.com, April 2003.
  14. Stevens, C. P. (2003) Enterprise Resource Planning: A Trio of Resources Information Systems Management; Summer 2003, p. 61.
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