Apply DevOps best practices to the BPM lifecycle

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DevOps adopts BPM best practices to build apps

Modern BPM systems must be compatible with the DevOps approach and employ DevOps best practices to create applications for today's enterprises.

There has been a fundamental shift in the application of business process management systems over the last few...

years to where these platforms are now increasingly part of the toolkit that developers -- and more often "citizen developers" -- need to build modern applications as they apply BPM best practices.

Indeed, originally deployed to improve operational efficiency and lower costs, BPM systems are now more frequently viewed as application development platforms where users can build applications that automate business processes and decisions.

The intersection of BPM and DevOps

When viewed as application development platforms, requirements for BPM systems are tied to the use of development methodologies, particularly DevOps.

Modern BPM systems must be compatible with the DevOps approach, as much any other software development platform, said Phil Simpson, senior principal product marketing manager for JBoss Middleware at Red Hat.

There are natural affinities between DevOps and BPM, added Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT in Hayward, Calif. DevOps aims to better integrate the all-too-often separate efforts of developers and operations professionals, while BPM focuses on enhancing business processes and workflows to address specific customer requirements or deliver broader benefits.

While DevOps efforts are often inward-focused and BPM is typically focused outward, both can deliver substantial value to customers.
Charles Kingprincipal analyst, Pund-IT

"While DevOps efforts are often inward-focused and BPM is typically focused outward, both can deliver substantial value to customers," King noted. "That's mainly because many of the core goals of DevOps, including dynamic planning, Lean and Agile techniques, continuous integration and automated testing, can all impact the timing and quality of processes that impact customers. Strong business rules are the tracks that projects run on and are essential to reaching the desired destination."

Business rules have always been an important part of BPM since they help support the automation of business processes.

Meanwhile, "Fast development by a combination team of business professionals and developers used in an iteration-based approach has proven to be very effective if team communication is high," said Jim Sinur, vice president and research fellow at Aragon Research, noting the value of DevOps and Agile development for BPM environments.

"We have Agile development teams in our labs that help build segments of code in sprints and put them into actual use with customers to generate a real market feedback loop that validates our product-service-solution direction and delivers value to ourselves and customers during the innovation process," said Ed Fox, vice president of network services at telecommunications provider MetTel in New York.

Fox said DevOps intersects with BPM at all points in his organization. "DevOps helps make the innovation process continuous, and BPM needs to be a living process that can dynamically evolve to support new and improved capabilities on-the-fly," he said, "which is why BPM should be delivered in a SaaS model, as ours is."

Norbert Siegers, head of IT channel solutions at Netherlands bank ABN AMRO, said his group has deployed BPM successfully as part of a multiyear digital transformation, moving from a monolithic system with waterfall-based development to a series of smaller services based on Agile and DevOps processes. "We are pursuing a more agile model and using the latest techniques for continuous integration and continuous delivery," Siegers said.

Digital process automation

Clarifying business rules and enacting them in process via workflow between functional teams is critical to DevOps success.
Rhett Dillinghamsenior analyst on cloud services, Moor Insights & Strategy

BPM is in the midst of a long shift toward a continuous delivery mindset, and players in the space have invested heavily toward that end since these vendors are particularly capable and experienced in managing tasks across systems, people and data sources, said Rob Koplowitz, an analyst with Forrester Research specializing in BPM. However, Forrester now uses the term "digital process automation" rather than BPM because the firm sees it as shifting to directly support digital transformation as organizations adopt new BPM best practices.

"Rules engines and advanced decision management are becoming increasingly common for managing the rules associated with complex processes," Koplowitz added. "They offer greater flexibility and can often be maintained by business users."

BPM tools require more collaboration

BPM has existed as more of a historical enterprise software item than as something prevalent in the last several years of applications developed native to cloud computing. Agile software development evolved and grew into DevOps methodology variants initially enabled via configuration management tools, which enabled infrastructure as code, said Rhett Dillingham, cloud analyst, consultant and product leader at Moor Insights & Strategy. That has been further enabled of late by the emergence of Docker containers and technology layered from there -- container orchestration and the maturing of platform as a service -- that eases the development and operations role collaboration, including automation of workflow between them toward a more seamless progression and continuous integration and continuous deployment.

"Clarifying business rules and enacting them in process via workflow between functional teams is critical to DevOps success," Dillingham said. "Individual efforts can mask gaps between development and operations teams during normal operation, but when the teams are working under the pressure and urgency of a business-impacting service incident, the gaps are often exposed. That shows up in delayed incident handling from a lag in escalations for additional resources and leadership input, tasks bouncing between teams from unclear responsibilities and delayed decision-making."

Meanwhile, larger-scale DevOps transformations bring with them a need to coordinate the flow of information across tools and processes, said Mik Kersten, CEO and co-founder of Tasktop Technologies, which provides integrations to BPM platforms and a host of other development environments. Yet, BPM technologies have been useful in coordinating various systems, but they have not been commonly adopted for software development tools, he explained.

"The problem is that they are not tailored to the high rates of collaboration that need to happen for effective DevOps -- for example, ensuring that comments on tickets and code reviews flow instantly across teams and stakeholders," Kersten said. "In order to apply the benefits that it provided for back-office systems to DevOps, we need to rethink BPM and rethink its principles to center around flow and feedback, not just business processes or tasks."

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