process model

"A process model differs from a software method (often called a methodology) in that a method's primary focus is on how to navigate through each phase (determining data, control, or "uses" hierarchies; partitioning functions; allocating requirements) and how to represent phase products (structure charts; stimulus-response therads; state transition diagrams)."

By contrast, a process model can "provide guidance on the order (phases, increments, prototypes, validation tasks, etc.) in which a project should carry out its major tasks." - Barry Boehm, 1988, in his advocacy of a spiral model of software development, which has since become "standard".

The spread of process models to other industries has been a slow process. "Amassing institutional knowledge that is not supported by the technology to take full advantage of it is like getting prescription medication and not following the instructions. The resource is there, but the desired effect won't be achieved." There is a trend among brokers, underwriters and systems manufacturers, to business process management: "to use technology to disseminate knowledge, information and data according to the way work flows through an organization and links to business partners. The objective is to increase the accuracy, quality and efficiency of decision making and business processes by providing each person involved with all the right information at the right time." The extreme version of which is called knowledge management, and the most pompous versions, collective intelligence.

BPM is supposed to "integrate best practices into the system, capture data to measure performance and maintain an audit trail for internal and external purposes." A best practice exchange is the usual mechanism to achieve this transparently.

Brokers and insurers for instance see BPM as "the marriage of workflow and software tools that model the workflow,'' - Jann McCully, chief information officer and senior vp for broker ABD Insurance & Financial Services Inc. in Redwood City, Calif.

The company's knowledge, workflow and technology have to be integrated, e.g. into a reflexive intranet. The technological support then guides brokers and underwriters through the business processes, "making them more efficient and enhancing consistency,'' Ms. McCully said of this process in her company.

"The industry is ripe for knowledge management and business process management," Ms. McCully said. An "improperly underwritten, inadequately managed risk to insurers that are not interested in that business or don't serve the market," she said, is the likely result of seeking "efficiency" without this knowledge.

Perhaps because of the need to meld corporate knowledge into efficiency-boosting technology, the concepts of knowledge management and business process management have begun to merge in the past few years, claims Don Himes, senior consultant for Dallas-based Robert E. Nolan Co. Inc., a management consultant that serves the insurance industry. Himes notes that business process management is more dynamic. "You are building knowledge into processes as work passes through workflow,'' he said. And the technology is using a process-centered approach, he added.

BPM usually includes "centralizing information related to a single transaction, wrapping data so that different software systems can speak to each other, implementing rules engines to ensure consistency and promote best practices, and linking front-office and back-office systems."