A never-ending story

Business Process Management is a journey. It is one you can start on for as little as US$75,000 and end up spending $1 million. It is a journey Middle East companies are just looking to embark on but, as Colin Edwards discovers, there are lots of twists and turns ahead.

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By  Colin Edwards Published  October 31, 2006

Business process improvement – getting people to work better, improving how work is organised and smoothing out workflows - tops the list of business priorities for IT organisations today. In a survey conducted by CIO Insight magazine it was seen as the lead IT focus with the two main goals being productivity improvements and cost reduction. But those have been the goals, in one form or another, of just about any and every company since the dawn of the industrial age. So what is new?

“Most organisations suffer from business processes that are burdened with inefficiencies, unnecessary work, redundancy and outdated procedures and policies,” says Khaled Al-Mobarak, president Mawj Information Technology in Bahrain.

“Companies are now under tremendous pressure to do more with less. Competition is very high and only the organisation that has the best-optimised business processes will succeed while the rest will be left behind.

“Hypocrisy, delays and business fragmentation that have been incorporated into IT systems intended to get the job done fast and accurate, also add to weak business processes,” he says.

The IT industry argues that it is the rate of change within the business world that has intensified the motivation for business process improvement. This, coupled with the complexity of the different processes across the enterprise, has made process improvement virtually impossible to execute without the aid of IT automation.

This might explain why the BPM bandwagon is getting a bit crowded currently. While there are a handful of pure-play BPM suite vendors active in the Middle East market, there are also many other more general players and they are coming from all technology directions – document management, ERP, enterprise integration, business intelligence, knowledge management, compliancy and SOA to probably name but a few.

The crowding and multidirectional approach to BPM is doing nothing to help clear the confusion that exists in the market.

Moses Kuria of Saudi Arabia based WAMAD, the IT services company with offices in Riyadh, Amman Jordan, and Dubai in the UAE, is one who believes non-pureplay BPM vendor solutions are creating confusion in a Middle East corporate market.

“They are not BPM suites so they are often not delivering to expectations,” he says. “They are ERPs which have been re-christened BPMs. It’s the same with document management solutions and workflow. BPM is BPM.

“We don’t come hooking up electronic document management and calling it BPM.We don’t come with workflow.We don’t come up with ERP and say this is BPM. People are selling what I call tired technologies - technolgies like document management and christening them BPM just to be able to sell their products. BPM is not about documents, though I’m not saying a BPM doesn’t need to interface with all those different documents and ERPs. It does.”

One person who disagrees with Kiara’s viewpoint is Giancarlo Sassi, presales director at FileNet, which has about 200 customers in the region - many of whom have deployed FileNet’s document and content management solutions and have, or are contemplating moving on to its BPM offering.

“It’s important in process improvement that content is shared and so these customers move there by using BPM tools. It’s very interesting because after the content wave we are seeing a lot of big customers moving into the BPM space designing their processes and reorganising them and then putting in place an application fully reliant on BPM,” he says.

A company that is coming to BPM from the ERP and SOA fraternities is Oracle. “BPM is a very hot topic. It is a topic under the SOA framework,” says Yasar Yilmaz, senior industry/applications marketing manager, Oracle Middle East and Africa. He believes there is a big awareness and education job to be done in the region especially among business managers.

“Where we’re different from many software vendors in this field is that we’re trying to explain the latest technology frameworks, like BPM, in such a way that business users understand the benefits. That’s where we see the challenge and the highest value,” he adds.

“In the Middle East market, topics like BPM are new topics compared to more mature Western economies. It is picking up, and there is a momentum, but it is not where we want it to be which is why we’re investing in explaining it to IT professionals and business users such as HR, marketing CFOs.”

SOA is key to BPM because of the disparate solutions companies have deployed over the past five years as software vendors flooded into a growing market. “People have more choice, but it is also making their lives more difficult because it increases the risk of having scattered software solutions within a company. So process management within a single infrastructure has become very important. That is why we recognise the fact that there is no more best of breed, no more one-stop shop, but there is best for a company’s business.

“The idea of leveraging BPM and sharing with the market is very important to us.We want to make sure that they know that while they have different solutions by using Oracle technologies and BPM, there is a way to orchestrate all that.”

One company that has capitalised on a growing awareness of BPM in the Middle East is Ultimus, whose regional manager, Dany Aoun, says the increasing number of customers wanting to talk about a BPM strategy has resulted in 90% business growth in the past year – something “we just have not seen for the past four to five years”. The growing interest in BPM throughout the region prompted the company to open offices in Dubai about two years ago.

While the market is ready, it still needs education, Aoun points out, but he adds that it is really a question of complementing not competing with the ERPs.

“An organisation at the end of the day is a vision; it has a bag of processes to automate this vision and people to implement those processes. Only 40% of those processes are automated using the traditional ERP approach. So if you look at a typical organisation there would be about 50% to 60% of its internal processes that would need to be automated and which could impact productivity. This is where we, as a company, come in.We work with ERP vendors and complement their solution.We work with document management vendors and complement their solutions.

“We have about 150 customers now representing some of the largest organisations in the areas of banking, telcos, government. Al Futtaim run SAP and us, Al Rostamani is running Oracle; in the government sector we have the Federal Immigration, Abu Dhabi Education Zone, Sharjah Airport, and Ajaman Free Zone. As far as Ultimus is concerned, we can integrate seamlessly with any ERP available.We have got customers running Baan, Oracle, SAP, JDEdwards and Great Plains – you name it.We integrate seamlessly.” At WebMethods, which opened its regional offices in Bahrain about six months ago to service the region, Paul Hammond, general manager, Middle East North Africa says the company has come out of the Enterprise Applications Integration (EAI) and B2B spaces and sees its move to BPM as helping it to differentiate the company in the now commoditised EAI market.

Despite having SOA solutions, Hammond believes companies should get their processes in a line before contemplating a move to an SOA framework. “We try to convince customers that they should not go the SOA route until they have disciplined managed business processes. You are far better off looking at BPM first before tacking the SOA arena.”

Hammond believes that one of the reasons the market is confused in the Middle East is that technology vendors, however much they say they want to talk to the business about SOA, tend, at first pass, to promote it as helping IT. “But when you talk BPM you should be talking to the business analysts and getting them to decide how a business process should look.

From that it can be translated into a set of IT rules. I think the marketplace is getting confused. You need to start the BPM conversation at the business level,” he adds.

“At WebMethods we have seen this.We do BPM workshops. First thing we do is talk at the business analysts level and this has given us traction with the CEO and CFO.

We try to only bring in the CIO at the end when it transforms to the technology level. I think some vendors, sales people and users are becoming a bit uncomfortable about this,” he says.

Without identifying specific solutions, the CIO Insight survey got negative feedback on new technologies and services, such as business process platforms and management suites, and business process modelling software, which have been created and marketed for the express purpose of helping companies manage and improve their processes.

According to the findings, there were high expectations of these systems, but the survey found that many solutions were not meeting the needs of companies and it indicated that they were almost as likely to miss the mark as hit it.

Like any new technology or management practice, implementers and especially early adopters inevitably are going to get their fingers burned.

“Companies can go wrong on two main approaches. The first is to underestimate the organisational impact. It is important to understand that, even if you have a wonderful tool, at the end of the day it has to be used by people. So it is important to understand and make sure it will be well accepted and that it is seen as a helper and not an obstacle to their job,” says Filenet’s Sassi.

“Secondly, the processes are sometimes not analysed properly. Even in big organisations, most of the critical processes are not that well known. Often they start with a basic knowledge and not a detailed one. So it becomes more difficult to do on-the-fly corrections to your database, your infrastructure, your systems, your data information or your process structure. It becomes so difficult if they have not been designed properly,” he explains.

While starting BPM as a small project at the departmental level might be a good approach to BPM, as this will quickly show the benefit that can be achieved, he urges companies to start thinking at the enterprise level as early as possible because it becomes difficult to change at a later stage.

“Starting at a departmental level is pretty good because it will give you the energy and endorsement to go on because you can show to the other departments and managers that you are achieving good results. You can start off at the departmental level but keep an eye on the big picture,” he advises.

But Kuria warns that it is putting the cart before the horse if companies approach BPM via ERP, ECM or EAI. While acknowledging that they are all key to achieving optimum processes and that his company’s IDS Scheer BPM solutions integrate with ERPs, companies should look at BPM ahead of their ERP projects as well as their document management deployments. Otherwise you’re going to come up with a fantastic piece of technology in the name of ERP or in the name of document management, but you’re not solving the underlying problems.

“We are not asking people to scrap their ERPs. BPM empowers your ERP implementation. But what we are saying is that before you embark on your new system, please look at your underlying processes to make sure you don’t duplicate any of the old bad processes onto the new system,” says Kuria.

Aoun says: “BPM is a journey and one that you can start on for as little as $75,000 and grow to investments of between $750,000 to $1 million as the numbers increase.

“First of all you have to start with setting up the platform, which is the software, then you can start looking at every process in your organisation and optimise it.”

To ensure they get it right first time companies need to acknowledge that they need a BPM platform, he adds. They should select three or four processes that will have a high impact on the users meaning they will select processes where the ROI is clearly measurable.

“Returns depend on process complexity and how many people in the organisation it can touch.We have implemented processes in 15 days all the way up to four months. If you look at how much the process implementation would take using the traditional approach it is probably 25% of the effort,” he says.

The returns are certainly good says Sassi, but it does depend on whether or not the team driving BPM know their own organisation well. “If they have this knowledge and have identified the problems for the projects that need tackling, then they can get excellent payback with BPM tools.

“But remember, you need to continually loop for improvement. BPM is a never-ending story. BPM is a two stage process - one is driven by business problems the other by continual search to improve and improve again,” he says.

“Most organisations suffer from business processes that are burdened with inefficiencies, unnecessary work, redundancy and outdated procedures and policies.”


“They are ERPs which are being re-christened BPMs. It’s the same with document management solutions and workflow. BPM is BPM.”


“You need to continually loop for improvement. BPM is a never-ending story. BPM is driven by business problems and by a continual search to improve and improve again.”

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