BPM Keeps Pace With Business Changes

By Tony Kontzer Print this article Print

Business Process Management is increasingly critical as companies struggle to keep up with fast-evolving markets.

Walk into one of the Athletes’ Performance fitness centers scattered around the country, and you’ll find that each computer-controlled piece of exercise equipment has been updated with the specific settings and instructions for each regular client. Enabling its highly skilled trainers to tailor personal workout plans for a large number of customers allowed the chain to quickly scale its expert-driven business model and rapidly expand the business.

In the past, the company—known for training some of the world’s top athletes, including the Los Angeles Dodgers, Olympic teams, NFL players, and the German soccer team—relied on its expert  staff to apply its steady flow of research findings in fields such as nutrition, metabolism and neuro-science. But management was ready to take its sophisticated approach to fitness directly to the consumer with a network of consumer training facilities called Core Performance.

To achieve that goal, Athletes’ Performance had to automate the process used to adopt rules so that it could deliver its services at a consumer-friendly price. One thing stood in the way: The company needed a simpler way to distribute the rule set that guided its customized training regimens.

Backed by an open-source IT environment, Athletes’ Performance looked at Drools, but eventually chose the rule-management system sold by ILOG (later acquired by IBM) because of its speed and flexibility. By fall 2008, Athletes’ Performance had put an implementation of the renamed IBM WebSphere ILOG JRules into production with about 23,000 rules, according to CTO Jon Zerden.

Using ILOG as it would a business process management (BPM) system, the company was able to change everything about how it incorporated business rules—from shedding its reliance on Excel spreadsheets and the knowledge in its trainers’ heads to slashing the amount of time it takes to complete research studies and change its rule set.

Most importantly, Athletes’ Performance could instantly deploy rules to all its facilities, with its computerized workout equipment automatically adjusting settings for each client and providing specific instructions to trainers. That, in turn, allowed the firm to scale its business to service consumers much more cost-effectively than it could its elite athlete clients. While up to 14 of the company’s specialists work with any given professional athlete, each trainer at the Core Performance facilities can work with up to 16 consumer clients at a time.

“We’ve used the technology to automate the rules and bring speed and consistency to the methodology,” says Zerden. “BPM has allowed us to adjust the rules in a much more granular and expeditious way as the market evolves—and to do it at a much more palatable price point.”

BPM Market Is Growing

Such stories are the reason BPM technology is on the rise. In a July 2011 report, Wintergreen Research predicted that the BPM market, which it pegged at $2.3 billion in 2010, will grow to $5.5 billion by 2017. Clay Richardson, senior analyst at Forrester Research, predicts that the market for BPM software—which is typically Web-based, with integration into back-end systems—will exceed $3 billion this year, with large companies investing as much as $15 million in a BPM solution.

“Companies using BPM technology can analyze business processes and identify opportunities to become more efficient, more cost-effective and more profitable,” says Richardson.

Unfortunately, many companies don’t realize that they need BPM. Richardson points out, for instance, that a company may not know that two separate groups are managing identical processes in very different ways. That situation, if addressed, can yield cost reductions of as much as 20 percent.

Consider Liquid Controls, which wasn’t looking to head down the BPM path in 2004 when it set out to address a simple problem. The maker of liquid-flow meters and measurement equipment, based in Lake Bluff, Ill., needed to get a handle on the hundreds of documents detailing how it builds its products—all of which were stored as an unwieldy collection of paper files. That made it tough to keep track of the constant changes to those instructions.

After deploying a Web-based workflow tool with document management capabilities from iMarkup (since renamed BP Logix), the company was able to speed up product assembly and simplify the internal auditing process.

This article was originally published on 2012-02-09
Tony Kontzer is a freelance writer for Baseline magazine.
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