Business Process Management in the Real World — Why It’s Important to Govern Both Automated and Manual Processes

Apr 13, 2015 10:15:12 AM

In a perfect world, all business processes would be automated and all work tasks would be accomplished with the click of a button. This idyllic work experience seems to be the realization of Plato’s utopia…or, if you prefer, the world of the Jetsons. Regrettably, however, we clearly do not live in a perfect world. Put simply, while any repeatable process can be automated, not every process is repeatable, so automation is not a practical solution in all cases. This is particularly a problem for enterprises since business productivity is almost entirely dependent on the rapid and accurate performance of business processes.

To begin, it needs to be understood that business processes are not just utilized by IT administrators. In fact, business processes are used by every individual in a business ecosystem—from the CEO to middle management to task workers, even the enterprise customers. A business process can be defined as any series of tasks necessary to complete a common business requirement. These might include provisioning resources, completing a service request, initiating a sales contract, auditing for compliance, or performing any other chain of activities frequently employed in normal enterprise operations. Individual tasks that require the use of computing technology can often be automated. Automated tasks are completed faster and with greater accuracy than manual tasks, ensuring consistent results and improved user productivity. Naturally, it follows that the more tasks are automated, the more efficiently a business operates. Whole workflows, consisting of multiple tasks, can be automated to perform complex jobs from single point of execution.

Unfortunately, not all workflows or individual tasks within a workflow can be automated. The requisition process for a new desktop PC may automatically determine and provision the model, operating system, hardware configuration, and base applications for the new device based on the user roles, but other elements—such as approval for the installation of additional software—may require manual inputs from a third party. Similarly, a regulatory compliance audit can leverage automation to collect the bulk of information from software elements, but a physical inspection of the hardware and surrounding environment may be necessary to complete the audit process. Complex business processes typically require a mix of both manual and automated processes performed in a particular order to complete successfully.

Most commonly, complex business processes consisting of both automated and manual tasks need to be governed from initiation through completion, executing each individual task in a workflow in a methodical fashion. If steps are missed or performed in an incorrect order, the entire process may fail and/or result in business-impacting errors. Also, the time-consuming activity of monitoring and executing each step in a workflow can undermine the value of introducing automation in the first place.

To be effective, organizations must adopt business process management solutions that are able to govern both automated tasks and manual tasks. Upon initiation, the platform executes any initial automated elements before submitting a request for manual actions to a ticketing system, a change management platform, or to any other commonly utilized service support solution. Even just a simple alert or email can be used to engage individuals to perform manual tasks. Once the manual tasks are acknowledged as completed, the governing platform executes the next set of automated steps until another set of manual process needs to be performed. In this way, complex business processes are entirely managed through completion without requiring constant babysitting. Business users, therefore, are empowered to initiate a broad range of processes without needing to understand, or be aware of, all the technical and non-technical tasks that are subsequently performed behind the scenes. Now that’s a work environment in which I expect even George Jetson would feel comfortable.


Steve Brasen

Written by Steve Brasen

Steve Brasen is a Research Director leading EMA’s practices covering endpoint management, identity management, and access management. Steve’s career at EMA follows 20 years of “in-the-trenches” enterprise experience in IT management, operational support, and engineering for high-technology, telecommunications, and financial institutions, including: MCI Worldcom, Bell Communications Research, UNIX International, Salomon Smith Barney, and Agilent Technologies.

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