James G. Kobielus By James Kobielus

In any dynamic business environment, the last thing you want is to indulge in navel-gazing. If you’re finely attuned to monitoring internal processes, but are not adept at responding to breaking events or anticipating the future, you will find yourself marginalized in the new global economy.

In a turbulent world, the most successful companies are those that stay lean–in other words, trimmed of excess overhead, fit for new challenges, and flexible enough to evolve rapidly. Forrester advises customers to make their business processes leaner, through such measures as reducing the number of steps, routing paths, participants, decision points, milestones, and revisions. As you do, you will find concomitant improvements in speed, cost, quality, and customer satisfaction.

Clearly, you can’t do that well if you don’t have, at the very least, the means to monitor a wide range of business processes in unified dashboards, reports, and other applications. That’s where traditional business activity monitoring (BAM) tools, which are a key component of most business process management (BPM) environments, play a critical role. However, critical as BAM may be, it is often deployed in a predominantly navel-gazing process-tracking capacity (remember what that “M” stands for) and, as such, is as much part of the problem as the solution.

Why? Well, for starters, most BAM environments are deployed in conjunction with specific vendors’ BPM platforms–hence can only track the subset of business processes that run on those platforms. But, even more limiting, BAM dashboards are often the stand-alone province of process administrators. Only in a handful of  BAM-using organizations do alerts and metrics escalate beyond the process administrator level and trigger the necessary human and automated workflows necessary to respond to breaking issues–or nip them in the bud before they can become issues.

To stay relevant, BAM needs to evolve in the age of lean processes so that it can become a tool for business agility at all levels. Next week, Forrester BPM analyst Clay Richardson and I will do a podcast on this very topic. In  that podcast, and in a joint presentation that Natalie Petouhoff and I will do at Forrester Business and Technology Forum in Chicago in October, I’ll sketch out a vision for the next-generation of BAM (which I half-jokingly call “uber-BAM”).

Here is a rough sketch of the maturity levels of BAM’s evolution to realize this vision:

  • BAM Level 1: Business activity monitoring: This is today’s BAM baseline. Essentially, it combines BPM with business intelligence (BI), interactive dashboarding, and complex event processing to deliver process metrics to consoles used solely by human process administrators.
  • BAM Level 2: Business action mobilization: This is the BAM level that many forward-looking users and vendors have implemented. It combines all Level 1 functionality with business rules engines (BRE) to drive sophisticated human and automated workflows in response to breaking events. It puts the “immediate action loop” into the BAM equation.
  • BAM Level 3: Business adaptability management: This is the promise of truly lean uber-BAM, and is found only in a vanguard of visionary  business environments. It combines all Level 2 functionality with embedded predictive-analytics models, which are developed and maintained by business process architects and/or subject-matter process experts. Continuously mining historical and real-time metrics, these in-process analytics drive automated “recommendation engines” that adapt coordinate response to changing conditions. Recommendation engines enable human and automated decision agents to seize opportunities and neutralize threats well ahead of the curve.

Going forward, this new vision of BAM’s evolution and promise will inform Forrester’s coverage of process agility and optimization.