First Things First, Some Definitions…

Trying to find out a bit more about BPM technology? Start here! You will find more accurate and comprehensive definitions elsewhere on the internet but:
  • You’ll need to read the definition 3 times before you understand it
  • It will use a long list of verbs to describe what it does
  • Frankly, for more than a basic understanding you don’t have the time
  What follows then is a personal view of BPM I may miss some points but I hope to transmit the general thrust of the terms for anybody interested in automating processes.
  • BPM (Business Process Management) – This is a way of thinking about the word around us in terms of processes.  Processes have start and end points, some steps that are executed in order and some output which is the goal/objective of the process.  They also have a point of view, that is the process is defined from the viewpoint of somebody and how they see the world and that process as a part of it.  Applied to organisations that are serving customers, there is then a natural fit with customer journey/customer-centric views of the world.The process can represent the customer’s view of the organisation, they don’t care about the organisation’s structure and challenges they only know that they aren’t receiving the service they expect.  The goals of processes can thus be aligned to the organisation’s strategy and vision in a way that the traditional approach to organising businesses cannot do.  This is because a process can straddle departments in its objective to “book installation appointment” or whatever, this differs from traditional companies where resources are organised by specialism and somehow each department will produce what is required in the correct quantity to service all the customers.BPM then does imply a move away from the silo mentality engendered by specialist teams such as Sales, Marketing, Operations, Warehouse, Customer Support, so instead of working to KPIs for their department, teams are organised around processes which cover various departments to meet a process goal which aligns to the company’s vision.
  • BPMN (Business Process Modelling and Notation) – is an Objective Modelling Group (unfortunately shortened to OMG) standard for modelling processes.  Version 2.0 of the standard was produced in 2012 after 7 years development since 1.0.   BPMN diagrams, then are the swimlane diagrams which have been around for donkey’s years. Here’s a car sales example from trisotech:-
Note: you can zoom in and out with this viewer from At a superficial level it determines which symbol is used where when describing a process.  And this is about 95% of what BPMN will be used for, even though it is able to model Complex Event Processing (so capturing situations of what should happen with an interrupting process etc.).   It’s a tool to explain something to the business of how things are and how they could be.  To be honest, diagrams are really useful for communicating with the business, does it have to be a compliant diagram to be valid? Of course not, you just want everybody to look at your diagram and understand the same thing.
Where BPMN comes into it’s own is that underneath each BPMN diagram (modelled with a BPMN compliant tool) is an XML description of the diagram.  This can be packaged up with HTML forms to create a process that can be deployed onto a BPMS engine and so create a workflow from the diagram which is accessible through a portal.  Different groups of users (the swim lanes in the diagram) will be able to access their tasks for each initiated process from the portal, so Sales can access “Enter Order” and “Order Car from Factory” only.  The process engine controls the steps in the process for each instance of the process.  It might not sound like a lot, but the impact is huge, the technology enables the business to abstract the process out of spaghetti code on a server, out of staff and onto a workflow which the business can measure, modify and re-deploy as they see fit.
  • BPMS (Business Process Management Systems) – These are products that vendors sell to manage your processes.  They are typically composed of at least the following elements:-
    • Modeler: Graphical tool for capturing processes in a BPMN diagram
    • Database: To hold the process definitions of processes
    • Process Engine: To run deployed processes
    • Back End: To manage process instances in flight
    • Admin: Configuration of users
    • Simulation: For simulating changes ahead of releasing them to understand resourcing and/or bottlenecks
The systems try to be a one stop shop for managing processes for an organisation.  The vendors themselves try to position themselves by a particular vertical or by flexibility where the most flexible systems need the most work to integrate with existing business systems.
  • CMMN (Case Management Modeling and Notation) – A standard from OMG which came out after BPMN 2.0 and so there are currently no BPMN 2.0 compliant products out there.  Case management is for the parts of processes where there are no fixed step of steps or where trying to model  the process would be hopeless as you are trying to capture “experience” that has been built up over a number of years.  Typically think of a hospital where the objective is to make you as a patient better but the steps that need to be taken to do that are not known yet.  There maybe dependencies between tasks which create mini-processes, but a case can be worked in any way as seen fit by the case worker.  Case management then is used in areas to support “knowledge workers” and whilst cases can’t be automated, they can still be managed and reported on within a BPM system.
  • DMN (Decision Model and Notation) – Another standard from the OMG, this is a way of modelling decisions so that they can provide repeatable results to decisions that are required from business processes.  DMN is related to business rules and the business rules approach to controlling business behaviour.   So by taking common decisions that are regularly made decisions across the business and referencing them in one place, the business can ensure a consistent approach to dealing with customers etc.  The logic is held in a decision table which has conditions on one side and results on the other side.  Decision tables can be chained together in a decisions results graph and take lots of variables and deliver consistent behaviour.  Personally, I think that they are useful in reducing the workload for the humdrum cases, where a case is more complex then the decision returned can be to route the case to a human pair of eyes.  Using the Pareto principle where 20% of cases take up 80% of your time, then  DMN can automate the 80% of cases which can be described as ‘humdrum’ or ‘boring’ and leave staff to concentrate on the cases that need their experience.
  Hope some of this helped.

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