Latest technological advancements in software industry are often not well understood by the business users, unlike the IT professionals.
In this article, we take a look at BPM/SOA frameworks, how they can contribute to the performance of HR, Finance, Sales, Marketing, etc. departments' business users and why they are important for the Middle East market!
IT industry, and especially the enterprise software market, has always been a dynamic platform. Especially within the last five years, Middle East (ME) has truly become a part of this dynamism. As the companies are getting more sophisticated in software usage, this is creating a momentum for more solution providers to flood into the ME market and providing more alternatives for the users. More supply of options is contributing to the learning curve of businesses and in return, equally contributing to more demand for better solutions from the software vendors. This whole supply and demand relation is in a way making the lives of companies a bit tougher as the state of inequilibrium is pushing more IT concepts, frameworks, business applications and infrastructure solutions into the everyday lives of the end-users, C-level executives and the trading partners of these companies. IT is not only combining internal divisions on-line, but also extending its reach to any entity that touches the company's business processes in various ways. Therefore, the streamlining of an entity's operations to create 'value-chains' across these business processes is making more business sense than ever since it is harder to establish these chains with so many disparate systems in place.
As the experience of companies in Middle East with software usage increases, IT related investments are getting perceived as an integral part of their performance. Business users and IT are getting more involved in their decision making process for leading their entity. IT had always been the originator of software projects or the primary owner of software selection processes, but today, business users are also getting involved in selection, in-house development and packaged software implementation processes. This involvement was pretty much more applicable to the business applications or the so-called industry solutions. However, in the last 2 years, it is overflowing into the seemingly complex and not-so-business-user-friendly 'techy' topics. For this particular reason, IT vendors who have solutions and experience in the areas of both Business Solutions (CRM, HR, SCM, etc.) and Technology Solutions (Database, Middleware, etc.) are being seen as more valuable partners to work with from the perspectives of business and IT entities.
Collaborative involvement of IT and business users in projects is a critical success factor. Though in various cases, it might not prove sufficient! Have you ever experienced firsthand the "business/IT alignment gap" resulting from traditional development approaches? First, business analysts explore and document requirements on their own for months. Once those requirements are frozen, IT develops the application. Many months later, the application is completed, and everyone is surprised that the original requirements have shifted, were misinterpreted, or simply incorrectly analyzed. Let's be honest: it's very hard (even impossible) to get everything right in one iteration. But after 12–18 months, time is running short and unfortunately, the application has been designed with little flexibility for change. Hence, it becomes a liability, not an asset, from Day 1. Soon, a new application will be built from scratch to replace its predecessor in another "big bang" IT project… Hence, there is another element needed to align with the collaboration of business and IT.
The marriage of SOA and BPM development techniques creates an opportunity to end this mess. One of our ME customers said it the best: "I believe that software engineers are ahead of business analysts in practicing agile development and reuse. However, as long as business analysts will not get incorporated in the process, any engineering effort will have little overall impact. With SOA and BPEL to orchestrate and build processes with reusable business services, we now have, for the first time, a way to effectively make business analysts part of agile development. That's huge progress!" Based on these type of successes, we learned from our customer base that the marriage of BPM principles with SOA technologies is a sweet spot for business value. Wherever we have seen bottom-up service enablement coupled with top-down process engineering, SOA projects delivered the highest return.
Just as BPM and SOA are converging, the lines between the disciplines of integration and building composite applications are also being blurred. There is a significant similarity between value pattern 1, which focuses on standards-based integration, and value pattern 2, which describes how to build modern, composite applications. This is not surprising given the vision of SOA to construct integratable applications. In the SOA world, application architects will begin by building business services layers that future applications can reuse. Integration architects will not be limited to data integration between packaged applications; they will create composite applications that provide value by connecting Web channels, embedding human workflows, and so on. If SOA is done right, integration will no longer be an afterthought when developing applications. This will provide great flexibility to companies whose business users demand the software to help them run their business in line with their industry and company specific requirement.
One good example to the utilization of BPM would be in the Human Resources Management area, which is a very critical function for most of the companies in Middle East. As the number of employees from different parts of the world that are joining companies in Middle East increase, the process of 'on-boarding' or as some recognize as 'new-recruit enrollment' is gaining importance. This is a tough process because it covers so many departments along the way to bring a new employee to an up-and-running state as quickly as possible. Furthermore, a smooth on-boarding process is what every new-hire wants! The first process might be asking the new-hire to validate personal information, such as name, address, and contact details. This data would be used update the employee records in the HR system of the company. Next, company might require the new-hire to complete an immediate compliance training that utilizes their i-Learning systems. If our new-hire is not happy with the office space allocated, he/she might want to submit space relocation to facilities department and if this gets approved, this in turn might update corporate property management systems. The new-hire would then order his/her office supplies and stationary and his/her computer and peripherals, which would require him to access an employee purchase requisition system granted by purchasing department. Finance might as well want to validate the available budget of the new-hire's department and acknowledge him/her and the relevant division manager. This snapshot of a typical on-boarding process is a simple example of how complex a seemingly simple process can be as it spans outside of HR, and has a lot of variance depending on who the new hire is, where he/she works, the job function and so on. A solution based on the utilization of BPM systems provides a nirvana state by supplying a simple single point experience that will walk the user (new-hire in this case) through the process and is context sensitive to who he/she is, his/her job function, etc. as mentioned above.
As a very dynamic and emerging market, Middle East is Oracle's focal point. Region is very open to new offerings and welcoming for software companies willing to provide the solutions that are not just "best of breed", but "best for their business". This makes the provision of SOA and related BPM technologies even more critical for Middle East market because, as the deployment of packaged applications have kick started much later than rather settled economies, we see huge amount of in-house developed applications in these entities. These are very highly tailored designs for the respective entity's departments and generally, hard to be replaced. Another catalyst for the adoption BPM technologies is actually related with the ever increasing competition in Middle East as the region is experiencing remarkable growth, which pushes companies to be more agile and flexible to cope with sudden change requirements. Imagine a financial institution that faces pressure to alter its service offering procedures for mortgage loan application within a week to cope up with a competitior's offering, or a telco operator that has to offer a new set of marketing campaigns with whole new set of business processes or modification of existing ones that are backing up these processes to offset a challenging campaign from a newcomer to the market! With the advent of SOA and BPEL for the orchestration of business processes, these faster deployments will be more feasible and viable. Software vendors who have business applications, industry knowledge and technology offerings will be the key partners for the businesses in Middle East. This will create a platform of synergies for in-house developers, bespoke applications, individual packaged application components provided 'a la carte', business users, c-level executives, suppliers and even customers of these companies. The end result will be better information for better business, more business, and above all sustained business.