Business process modeling notation -- the open source graphical notation for business process diagrams -- has been kicking around since the early 2000s. The widely used standard underwent a significant overhaul in 2011 and another revision in 2014, dubbed 2.0.2.
Now, a variety of new BPMN capabilities are being introduced as part of an expanded ecosystem of modeling and notation standards called BPM+.
BPMN has traditionally focused on diagramming a model of the business process. But many business discussions require keeping track of other details as well. Executives also need to be able to quickly communicate about the reliability and trust of elements expressed in a model.
The new BPMN capabilities and expanded types of notation reflect the increased organizational and technical complexity of doing business. Every business process increasingly interacts with a far larger number of applications and systems than when the standard was last revised, such as stream processing engines, new decision models and AI/machine learning tools. In addition, highly regulated industries like banking, financial services and insurance need to fine-tune business processes to comply with a larger number of regulations.
What is Business Process Modeling Notation?
"Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN), also called Business Process Model and Notation, is an open standard to diagram a business process. It is like a flowchart and uses standardized graphics to represent the participants, choices and flow of the process. The diagrams are designed to be detailed, but easy to read without training. This allows the same diagram to be used by executives, analysts and technical implementation staff to foster collaboration and understanding between groups."
To learn more about the history and evolution of the BPMN standard, check out TechTarget's full definition of BPMN.
The ecosystem of BPM+ capabilities promises to help enterprises collaboratively plan for and optimize these more complicated processes.
OMG expands scope with BPM+
Jason McC. Smith, vice president, technical director and CIO at standards body organization Object Management Group (OMG), explained that BPMN is the core of the new BPM+ ecosystem of specifications, which in addition to BPMN includes the following standards to date:
- Business Motivation Model, which provides a formalized way for describing modern business models;
- Case Management Model and Notation (CMMN), which describes how cases might work through a workflow management system;
- Decision Model and Notation, which standardizes the notation for decision support and business rules systems; and
- Semantics of Business Vocabulary and Business Rules, which formalizes operational rules such as security and compliance policies.
Other specifications working their way through the standardization process include the following:
- BPM+ Knowledge Package Model and Notation, which provides a way of wrapping models with processes, cases, decisions, data, pedigrees, and provenance into a package;
- Shared Data Model and Notation, which standardizes the content and structure of a shared data model; and
- Pedigree and Provenance Model and Notation, which standardizes a description of the trustworthiness and authenticity of physical and virtual things and entities.
Donncha Carroll, partner in the revenue growth practice of Axiom Consulting Partners and head of the firm's data science center of excellence, said it is helpful to think about how these new standards can enhance business capabilities.
For example, CMMN provides the flexibility to support adaptive process execution. Adaptive processes are cases composed of activities performed in an order that varies depending on circumstances. CMMN makes it easier to describe these cases, in turn making it easier for executives to communicate how such processes might change and to execute simulations of how they could play out under different circumstances.
BPM+ formalizes 'gut feeling' about business, facilitates use of new technology
The more expressive tools around the BPM+ ecosystem listed above should help promote a common understanding about changes in compliance policies, the reliability of data involved in a particular decision, or the comparative merits of similar business models.
That common understanding, when derived from multiple viewpoints and concerns, can improve analysis, simulation and prediction to optimize specific processes or even transform the organization while mitigating risk.
In the long run, Smith hopes that innovations within the BPM+ ecosystem will make it easier to connect the dots between intuitive, gut-level understanding of how the business works and formal process maps required to drive consistency.
He observed that the discipline of business process management in the general sense is about capturing the concepts and abstractions around an organization's structure, communication channels, data flows and decision-making to improve every aspect of operating or optimizing a business.
"The most effective leaders and managers have an innate sense of these concepts and relationships, then make choices and form strategies around them," he said.
If a leader is extremely self-aware of their mental processes, they may be able to communicate that mental model to others, but it takes a rare person to achieve that. Formal modeling techniques and tools have an advantage over informal gut feel approaches for communication.
Smith said BPM+ also helps enterprises take advantage of advancements in the machine learning, process mining, RPA and other business process automation tools offered by multiple vendors.
"BPM+ allows the vendors to innovate on top of the foundation that the [BPM+] standards provide … while preserving the user's investment in the data," Smith explained.
Enterprises can then use various manual and automated approaches like process mining to automatically generate BPMN diagram data and reuse that data across tools from many vendors.
BPM+ applied to new domains
BPM+ is increasingly being used in areas outside of business and enterprise applications. For example, one of the newest and most vibrant communities is BPM+Health. It was formed to apply BPM+ modeling techniques to both business and medical practices within the healthcare industry. This allows healthcare experts to model clinical pathways of care using BPM+. They can also use the standard to communicate, compare and curate these healthcare processes, creating a discipline of shared best practices that promises to improve patient care and outcomes.
"This is an incredibly exciting possibility and an application that I don't think the original authors of BPMN could have imagined in quite this way," Smith said, adding that BPMN's use in healthcare will no doubt enrich and refine the standard. "Every time an expansion of use case occurs, it cannot help but feed back into the core, benefiting all involved.
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