Process Management One Step at a Time
August 20, 2008
I have written a great deal in my TV Technology columns about change. This is because it is so critical that TV organizations be prepared to change and change often going forward. As Winston Churchill said, “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” That is the only way to even remotely stay close to that ever-elusive “perfect” alignment of the technology with the business goals.
You can’t just change your technology, though, and expect success. With technological changes should ideally come process shifts. There are many organizations I know of that made a “smooth” transition to file-based technology, but left in place the same tape-based processes. This is not ideal because it fails to take advantage of many of the real capabilities for improvement that the file-based system was intended to bring. What we need is Business Process Management to manage our processes successfully through these kinds of changes.
BPM is a term that, like Service-Oriented Architecture, does not have clear boundary lines defining what it is and what it is not. BPM combines workflow with software integration. It is a way of developing and improving systems that starts with the process, not with the technology!
| Fig. 1: A business process is a sequence of tasks that extends across the entire facility. This example shows a process used to ingest new material.|
With the advent of process automation (not broadcast automation) or orchestration technologies, BPM has become very popular. BPM concerns itself with both the development of business processes and the links that those business processes have with the underlying technology. In some ways, it is a larger concept than SOA, which considers mainly the architecture and technology itself.
BPM all comes down to the business process. An example process appears in Fig. 1. Just as the service is the fundamental building block of SOA, the business process is the fundamental building block of BPM. A process can be of many timescales—short ones that may run for a few minutes to put a news story on the Web, all the way to long ones that may run for many months as a major business goal is realized. A business process should not be limited by technological or organizational lines but should represent, as well as possible, the way that business is really done in a facility.
Obviously we have many, many processes in our facilities. Some examples of processes we do that could be targets for BPM include edit a package, ingest a tape, master control changeover or distribute to Web. Basically, anything that people would say that they “do” is a candidate for a business process. Note that these are not low-level tasks like assign a unique ID. Again, BPM, like SOA, is focusing on bringing process and technology more in line with the way the business and its people work.
Even without actual process orchestration of any sort in place, BPM brings agility into an organization. Formalization of workflows and processes alone makes changing those processes easier simply because the current processes are now documented. Having a methodology in place to formalize processes, a standardized way to document them and an excuse to keep them up to date will make it easier to address each change as it comes.
However, if process orchestration is in place, then there are other agility-related benefits.
| Fig. 2: Continuous Process Improvement is critical to maintaining processes.|
Process or-chestration technology can help with that by versioning processes and managing their lifecycle. A facility can have many variations of a single pro-cess running at once. This is how it is in many facilities when change is implemented: one or two groups test out a new process or workflow while the bulk of the participants continue to use the existing, tried-and true process. Once the new methodology has been working successfully for a period of time, it can be rolled out to everyone.
BPM and related technology also provide the benefits of increased visibility to those who do it. This visibility takes a variety of forms from a general increase in workflow awareness to specific, available products that track process status and statistics. This is the area of BPM that has been most explored in recent years by IT vendors and is also one of the most exciting parts.
Communication is increased when processes are formalized because each participant in the process now has situational awareness of what is going on around him or her. A producer now knows that the editors take advantage of logging notes in a particular way, so she will endeavor to capture the most useful information for them. If all producers use a single, backlogged transcoder because it comes up as default, this work can be load balanced through orchestration across all of the transcoders in the facility.
An important point is that in order to maintain agility, you are going to need to continuously seek to improve your processes, (see Fig. 2). You need to regularly reexamine processes and occasionally make additional changes to them.
It is important to get started with a BPM program in your facility. The first step of this doesn’t have to involve the purchase of anything. You can start by getting people together and documenting your existing processes. Once this is done, you can consider which of your processes would most benefit from orchestration and start a small SOA/BPM project there.
Putting in some sort of BPM technology doesn’t magically make everything run smoothly. There is a Chinese proverb we have all heard that says, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” But what that proverb doesn’t help us understand is which step. Yes, all of our organizations could use better process management, and if you begin making smart choices to bring that about, the returns will be tremendous. You can count on IT!