One of the key assets underpinning enterprise value is its processes. Business processes emerge from experience born of operating in the context of constraints, regulations, and defined roles and relationships. However, the ability of an organization to mobilize to improve key business processes by rooting out inefficiencies that incur unnecessary cost and waste should be an essential business strategy for delivering its value proposition to customers, supply chain participants and channel partners while maintaining competitive advantage and relevance in today’s marketplace.
To achieve the highest measure of success business process automation (BPA) technology should offer proven capabilities that make people more effective in the way they perform work, entailing a range of other capabilities that include but are not limited to:
- The ability to automate processes end-to-end and to seamlessly incorporate communications associated with those processes
- Location independence that enables employees to participate in a business process from any location
- The minimization of human latency by “pushing” work to the most qualified readily available resource, including those located at dispersed office locations or on the road
- Visibility into the work pipeline by way of realtime monitoring of process activity
- The ability to capture and track work, as well as customer dialog that are part of a business process
Interaction Process Automation, of which the latest version IPA 4.0 SU1 (Service Update 1) was just announced, meets these requirements. IPA is a software-based solution, and is installed as an extension of an existing Customer Interaction Center (CIC) all-in-one contact center (CC) solution, enabled by activating licenses. IPA is fully communications-aware, allowing organizations to capture, prioritize, route, escalate and track work throughout any process. Processes can involve employees along with customers, supply chain participants and channel partners. It can orchestrate the whole process or it can just be one player in that orchestra. Another product such as a business process management suite (BPMS) could be the orchestrator of the whole process.
Automating a business process has the same basic requirements as automating multichannel communications in a CC. Contact centers use core UC application functions such as routing, presence and collaboration to direct customers to the right agent with the right skill-set. In the same way that this technology prioritizes routes, escalates and tracks interactions in the CC, it can be used to automate and move work through each step of a business process.
New SU1 Solution Components
Database Actions for Configurable Access to ODBC-Compliant Databases
IPA offers multiple options for integration to core business systems. Baseline options prior to SU1 included:
- Web Services – A process flow can invoke internal or external Web Services to perform automated actions or to access other business applications
- Standard Email platform integrations (Exchange, Lotus Domino, etc.)
- Handlers – which in CIC are ways to build custom flows so you can integrate with other systems
- Browser-Based applications and insertion of links in work items
Database Actions, the new value add in SU1, permits business analysts, without recourse to IT developer resources, to build a more powerful process flow utilizing data from other apps with ODBC-compliant databases such as CRM packages, financial management apps, and other back-end business systems simply by configuring the data source. Any data provider already set up in Interaction Administrator may be used. There is no custom code needed. This is simple “point and click” integration. Analysts can now insert, update, delete and query database records directly from IPA. This approach reduces the need for handlers to access databases.
The SharePoint integration permits access of SharePoint content from any IPA work item, allows placement of a document update in SharePoint to automatically trigger an IPA process, and gives the ability to view SharePoint content in IPA work items. Bottom line: SharePoint integration makes it much easier for an organization to utilize SharePoint as its content management or document management solution in conjunction with IPA to manage, what we might call, a more complex business process that was simply too difficult to build in SharePoint alone.
Search (Process Automation Designer)
New search tools within IPA’s design interface make it easier for the business analyst to develop the process flow such as searching text that appears in actions, variables, controls, notes, etc. For example, the IPA Process Automation Designer command “Show Usage” shows where a variable or type is used in a process.
Custom Data Types
Custom Data Types essentially simplifies the development of a process flow. Currently, a “box” (data definition) can only contain simple data types – text strings, numbers, dates, etc. With custom data types, the business analyst can define a structured set of data (e.g. Address = Street + City + State + Postal Code + Country) and re-use it in different process data definitions. Essentially different types of boxes can now be created within the main box.
What this Means to Customers
Initiatives to improve key business processes by rooting out inefficiencies that can incur unnecessary cost and waste and negatively impact competitive advantage is an ongoing necessity in today’s interconnected, always on, mobile world. Interaction Process Automation by Interactive Intelligence (ININ) offers a well-built platform for meeting this objective. IPA’s main competitive differentiator from Workflow and BPM suites is its focus on CC-style push-routing of work based on skills and presence.
Interactive Intelligence sells into midsize and large organizations. The sweet spot for IPA appears to be with enterprises having multi-step, repeatable processes with key verticals being insurance, financial services, healthcare, collections, utilities, and retail. This is a solution designed to strictly appeal to customers of ININ’s Customer Interaction Center as described above.
As with any project, prospective customers should scrutinize and carefully compare IPA to the many different workflow and BPM solutions on the market today for the right fit – no one size fits all – in terms of the risk-adjusted benefits and TCO. These benefit/cost assessments of alternative systems need to consider the impact of push vs. pull-based resource assignment on productivity improvement and the costs of training time and demand by business analysts on IT resources. Risk considerations need to cover such items as: the impact of the new system on competitive differentiation; ability to scale to meet demand in alternative geographies; and alignment of future business requirements with currently offered feature/functionality and a solution’s technology roadmap. Both IBM and Software AG have competitive solutions that you might want to compare with IPA.