BEAParticipate: Tips and Tricks for Successful Deployment

One hour left, and 25% of my battery life. It’s a race to the finish.

Craig Cochrane from BEA‘s professional services and Becky Lewis of SAIC finished off the first day with a session on the specific nature of BPM system roll-outs.

Cochrane pointed out some of the critical groundwork to cover in any BPM project: establish goals and key performance indicators, develop strategies for maximizing user adoption, select BPM projects, and prepare and train resources.

He covered several strategies for designing BPM systems, ranging from low-complexity, near out-of-the-box with direct user access to a standard inbox and a minimal amount of integration with other systems; through to fully-orchestrated situations where BPM controls the entire process, requiring significant integration. These often represent different stages in the same BPM project rather than endpoints in different projects: you can think of the low-complexity systems as early versions of what will eventually be a fully-orchestrated system.

Cochrane advocates an iterative development approach: not as extreme as Agile, but breaking the development into much smaller building blocks that can be rolled out incrementally, with user feedback adjusting the requirements along the way. It’s more of a mini-waterfall approach, although that’s obviously a taboo word, involving requirements, design, implementation, testing and project management at each stage. As he goes on to discuss change management, it’s clear that there’s still a lot of the old-style development mindset of use cases and screen mockups at the front end — in reality, we don’t mockup screens any more, we use rapid prototyping tools to create a working prototype, or else we risk delaying development to an unacceptable degree.

Lewis then talked to us about enterprise BPM at SAIC: they have multiple systems that embody parts of business processes (some redundantly due to decentralized IT), but no enterprise-level tool to tie all of them together or enforce consistent roles. They found that the sweet spot for BPM within their organization was processes that are complex, span functional boundaries, and have multiple system interfaces. They did think big and start small: they started on security and other framework components as would be required by future BPM applications, but started with a couple of smaller, low-risk projects. At the same time, they scoped out the high-priority (and higher risk) projects to take on once some of the internal resources were trained, and they’d had a chance to learn about BPM on the starter projects. Their first applications were training request forms plus some of the BPM framework components, and A/P invoice exception handling (now under development).

A big part of their framework vision is around the integration of ALBPM into their existing enterprise portal (built with BEA WebLogic, not ALUI), complete with single sign-on and a common look and feel, and with other technologies such as their Documentum document management system. This required the right balance: they didn’t want to customize so much that they couldn’t easily implement new versions of the core ALBPM product, but they wanted to have a consistency at the presentation layer. They removed some of the standard functionality (like creating custom views) in order to make it easier to support internally.

They also focussed on integrating their centralized Active Directory with ALBPM so that there wasn’t a duplication of effort in maintaining users, groups and roles. Interestingly enough, they created an automated ALBPM process to synchronize Active Directory into the ALBPM users and groups.

A key part of their strategy was to create a BPM knowledge repository, which they did using a wiki to capture key findings, evolving standards and best practices. Although they use a template to provide some level of consistency, they found that a wiki provides much more flexibility for knowledge capture than standard document repositories.

She had some useful summary points, like the one about planning for the first project to take more time than you expect, especially if you’re trying to build part of the big-picture framework at the same time. Still, they completed their first project in three months, which is acceptably fast.

Tonight, we’re all off to the ESPN Zone for dinner and entertainment, although I’m still trying to figure out exactly what the ESPN Zone is. I realize that sports-themed extracurricular events is the price that I pay for going to the type of conferences where there’s no lineup in the women’s restrooms.

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