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When Worlds Collide -- Or Don't -- BPM & Business Simulation

BPM prospects often ask a question about "simulation".  Our standard answer is "simulation is best done by a best-of-breed business simulation product, outside of BPM".  This answer is usually delivered after some qualification to discover what the prospect means by "simulation".  Some of the time the prospect is concerned about technical simulations and the regular process of software QA.  But the majority of the time the prospect wants to be able to do business what-if simulations to answer questions such as "how many warehouse staff should we have" or "should we add a new warehouse in the Midwest".

Why is the BPM business simulation question so frequently asked?  The reason is that the question is directly related the two main business cases for BPM.  BPM is justified either on efficiency terms or on business model terms.  The BPM efficiency business case is the same IT efficiency business case that has driven most IT investments for two generations.  Efficiency in the best of situations is about dramatically reducing costs for a given business process; in the worst of situations, it's about "paving the cow path"!

The business model business case is less common, but more interesting.  The business model business case is about performing the work of business in a new way, quite often including some measure of BPO.  And typically, BPM is an enabler for BPO.

Both the efficiency and business model BPM business cases are based on calculations of results.  But without simulation, these business cases are usually a grab-bag of spreadsheets and assumptions which amount to a black box -- and an expression of faith.  Unless you can simulate your business, at the level of business artifacts and actors, your business case is not fully understood.  Thus the ability to simulate business processes at a business level is a critical capability for understanding BPM construction and investment.  At a high level, business simulation is not only the way to justify BPM in the first place, but on an on-going basis, it is the only way to really manage a BPM program as it is constantly evolving!  It is even likely that the lack of business simulation will impair the success of your BPM program.

Having established the importance of business simulation for BPM program management, the interesting question can be asked:  "What is today's industry standard for business simulation as it relates to BPM technology?"

And the answer is, according to a number of recent industry watcher blog reports, is "nowhere".  Given the importance of business simulation to successful BPM, this answer is a little surprising.  Let's look at the few current, admittedly sparse, reports which form the basis of this conclusion and then some reasons.

Dave French (Dave Thinking Aloud, "Simulation Not In The BPMS Please") says on May 12th, 2011 that "efforts of BPMS vendors to deliver simulation of processes have not been impressive".  And Mr. French links to the inimitable Bruce Silver (BPMS Watch, "A Fresh Look At Simulation") who says on May 11th, 2011 that "probably no aspect of BPM has underperformed versus expectations more than simulation" and then provides an excellent analysis of the situation from a BPM perspective.

But the most interesting comments about simulation and BPM come in the responses to the BPMS Watch item.  An industrial engineering student named Richard highlights the need for simulation and notes that apart from Mr. Silver's note, no other BPM-oriented blogs he has scanned over the past year even deal with the question!  And a consultant in the IBM FileNet space, David Champeau, says he's seen only one job posting in five years related to BPM and simulation.

What is the meaning of these data points, both of which appeared only in spring 2011?  If one did an extensive market and technology survey, you would probably find a confirmation of the observations noted above, specifically that there is a huge gap between BPM technology and business model simulation.  And this gap is present even after 10 years of BPM market and technology development. 

If you want to drive a powerful BPM program, because you want to gain the efficiency and business model edge that BPM promises, make sure you don't neglect the question of business simulation.  If BPM is about modeling your target business reality in process models, not being able to simulate business on those models means that you are driving in the dark.

BPM Process Modeling Redux 2014

On BPM.com Peter Schooff posed a question about any "business benefits to simulating case management".  And the discussion eventually vered into the more general question of business process simulation overall.  Interestingly, Lanner's Geoff Hook offered some feedback on the various opinions.   The whole dialogue is worth visiting for what it says about the state of BPM simulation generally, but especially relating to case management patterns.  Business Benefits to Simulating Case Management

Exciting 2013 News For Modeling, Simulation - BPSim Standard Out

Elsewhere on this site the point is made about the importance of modeling and simulation as an indispensible leverage point for big data and process.  When the original post above was made in 2011, the technology and cost hurdles for business simulation of process was quite high.

Now the release of the new BPSim (Business Process Simulation Interchange Standard) specification willl likely change all this.

More information here on the technically-oriented Integration Developer News site: 

http://www.idevnews.com/stories/5327/Leading-BPM-Vendors-Collaborate-on-Next-Gen-Business-Process-Simulation-Standard

And a blog comment:

http://social-biz.org/2013/01/14/care-about-simulation/

Here is the cross-vendor standards organizations:

http://www.bpsim.org/

Apparently Lanner (referred to indirectly in the original article above) will be among the first to market with a BPsim-enhance version of their existing platform.  Here is the Lanner announcment:

http://www.lanner.com/en/newsitem.cfm?theNewsItemID=67C6FDD2-15C5-F4C0-99BA992881E5367C 

Note that all products currently in development are still in the alpha stage.