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BPM brings data to life, part 2

July 25, 2011 1 Comment

Written by: E. Scott Menter, VP of Business Solutions for BP Logix

BPMAutomatepart21 BPM brings data to life, part 2In my last post, I discussed how BPM not only provides the well-known benefits of automation, but can also directly improve your business processes through its connection to, and manipulation of, various types of data. I talked about how BPM leverages corporate data, the information residing in repositories around the organization. In addition, I examined user-supplied data, and how BPM can be used to make the data input process easier and more efficient, and can even help the user make appropriate decisions.

Today I’ll cover the third and final of my three categories; namely, BPM-generated data. Nearly a quarter-century ago, in her book, “In the Age of the Smart Machine”, Harvard sociologist Shoshanna Zuboff observed that “[t]he devices that automate by translating information into action also register data about those automated activities, thus generating new streams of information.” Like the fancy Reagan-era computers to which Zuboff referred, BPM generates plenty of “new streams of information” as it goes about translating corporate and user-supplied data into actions.

For our purposes, the most interesting type of BPM-generated data is process metadata. Process metadata includes information describing the process execution itself: latencies, user assignments, paths taken through the process, etc. This type of data is valuable in a number of ways. For example, process metadata might tell us that 72% of marketing requests submitted for review are sent back for further improvement. That information in turn might be used to justify additional training, or perhaps to improve the design of an electronic form to ensure that appropriate information is collected prior to submission.

Because process metadata describes what happened each time a process was run, and because that information accumulates with each new process instance, it can also be a rich source of fuel for process improvement efforts. In the example above, if nearly three-quarters of marketing requests are being sent back, it may not be training or form design that is at fault, but the process itself. Perhaps a peer-review step could be introduced before approval, to minimize the rejection rate. In any event, process metadata can highlight where things aren’t going as planned. In that way, the metadata is like a diving rod, pointing process improvement analysts towards the best spot to start digging.

More rare, but exceptionally valuable, is process metadata that can actually predict behavior. BPM platforms know how long things have taken in the past, and they know the status of a given process instance at any given point: shouldn’t they be able to tell you, based on that knowledge and some basic inductive reasoning, how that process is likely to act going forward? After all, if an activity nearly always runs an hour long, isn’t it reasonable to expect that it will this time around as well? And, given that, to then be able to predict what effect that late activity will have on the remainder of the process?

So, while corporate data and user-supplied data are without a doubt the lifeblood of BPM, it is process metadata that holds the key to a deeper understanding of business processes. Using process metadata, organizations can better comprehend their own processes, improve them, and even predict how they will behave. Once the low-hanging fruit of business process automation has been picked, this in-depth understanding will continue to generate returns for the business for years to come.


Scott Menter BPM brings data to life, part 2E. Scott Menter is the VP of Business Solutions for BP Logix, a provider of business process management (BPM) solutions to corporations, government agencies, and non-profit organizations. Scott is the former head of technology for WaMu Investments, a national retail brokerage. In addition to technology leadership positions he held in financial services and higher education, Scott spent over a decade leading his own identity management software firm. Scott invites you to contact him at or on Twitter at

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