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DevOps is key to low-code BPM, digital process automation

Low-code BPM and emerging digital process automation tools empower business-side app development. But without BPM developers and DevOps management, automation can lead to chaos.

Low-code tools coupled with DevOps have made business process software development easier, and they're now paving the way for digital process automation.

Created to reduce manual intervention in business process implementations across organizations, business process management (BPM) software did automate manual tasks. Until recently, however, the development of that software wasn't an automated affair.

During a business process software development project a decade ago, Scrum master Reshma Nagrani relied on tools that were hardcoded and that had fragile code. It was hard to modify the existing software, so the project needed to be customized, and it wasn't easy to find the talent to do the customization work.

Today, older BPM suites (BPMS) are more robust than ever in that they are customizable and customer-centric. New low-code BPM tools are so simple that non-IT business people can develop enterprise apps, although they're not so simple that companies don't need business process developers and managers. Indeed, their roles in DevOps teams and emerging digital process automation (DPA) projects remain critically important.

Savvy users drive BPM evolution

This rapid advancement of development methods is driven by today's computer-savvy business process users.

"Users require software to do more in less time, and they want it now," said Nagrani, now director of growth for Agile for Growth, a training and consulting firm in Pune, Maharashtra, India. User demand forced business process software vendors and developers to change practices from "you use what we build" to "we'll co-create apps with you," she said.

Carl Lehmann, principal analyst, 451 ResearchCarl Lehmann

This customer focus led to the creation of low-code BPM and, more recently, DPA tools. An evolving class of BizDevOps tools -- particularly low-code platforms -- is being used to automate designs and builds and then run code .

"BPM suites have evolved to become simpler, line of business-oriented, digital process software development tools," said Carl Lehmann, principal analyst at 451 Research.

Today, these DevOps-like tool sets have made it simple to assemble workflows visually, test and then convert them to executable code, and then operate them within the business process software environment.

From BPMS to digital process automation

DPA software adds automated no-code/low-code, UX and AI-based development capabilities to traditional BPMS capabilities, such as compliance and case management, architecture modeling, data capture and management, and more. DPA, however, steps beyond managing processes with integration and automation support to digitize all business functions.

DPA tools foster process development with greater participation from the business.

We need to walk the fine line between control and chaos.
Rob Koplowitzprincipal analyst, Forrester Research

"They stress user experience, and they focus on innovation at or near the speed of consumer offerings," said Rob Koplowitz, principal analyst at Forrester Research.

Among the plethora of DPA software providers tracked by Forrester are Appian, Bizagi, DST Systems, IBM, K2, Newgen Software, Nintex, Oracle, Pegasystems, Software AG, Tibco Software and others.

BPM is deep and wide

Koplowitz fits business process software today into two categories:

  • Deep processes that look similar to BPM's traditional, complex, long-running processes and are critical for business workflows that require development and management by DevOps pros.
  • Wide processes that look more like low-code applications and are largely suited for developing software that codifies manual processes.

Because wide processes are simpler line-of-business digital processes, both developers and business people can build them quickly and often. As a result, many companies' business process application portfolios have expanded two-fold or more, according to 451 Research's Lehmann.

DevOps takes the lead

DevOps teams bear the responsibility to manage business-side development activity. There must be strong controls on what data can be accessed and programs built by the business side so that their activities don't interrupt or disturb any other systems, processes or data in the enterprise.

"We need to walk the fine line between control and chaos," Koplowitz said. "If business users are to be empowered, they have to work within a common set of organizational goals with proper governance, guardrails and change management."

Lehmann sees the DPA platform as a campfire around which business and IT folks can rally. DPA enables business users to do what they need to do without the need for constant IT support as long as they honor DevOps boundaries. Meanwhile, developers get more time to innovate.

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