During our recent webinar, Overcoming Obstacles to Automation Challenges, we recently discussed our third annual State of Process Orchestration report. The report surveyed 755 IT professionals who manage process automation and orchestration across North America, Germany, the UK, and France.
Before we get any further, let’s define what we mean by process orchestration. In our Process Orchestration Handbook, we use this definition:
Process orchestration coordinates the various moving parts (endpoints) of a business process, and sometimes even ties multiple processes together. Process orchestration helps you work with the people, systems, and devices you already have – while achieving even the most ambitious goals around end-to-end process automation.
The key here is that process orchestration enables true end-to-end digital transformation by weaving together the various people, systems, and devices involved in a process. Through process orchestration, organizations can reimagine operations to increase efficiency, enable business agility, and improve customer experiences.
IT leaders (still) see automation as critical
Despite recent economic challenges, the survey found that organizations are investing in process automation at a greater rate than last year. For the third year in a row, we continue to see an overwhelming majority (96%) of IT decision-makers describe process automation as a vital element of digital transformation.
However, achieving true end-to-end automation can be difficult for some organizations, especially with complex processes and legacy systems. Survey respondents cited a series of issues that are getting in their way. Roadblocks included: integration issues (44%), lack of resources (28%), working in silos (26%), not having enough budget (25%), and not ranking digital transformation as a high enough priority in the organization (15%).
The integration issues mentioned speak volumes about the challenges organizations face and highlight the importance of a process orchestration platform to weave together every element of your workflow.
Quick-win technologies slow down true digital transformation
Automation isn’t a new concept by any means, but lockdowns during the pandemic, volatile economic times, and the increasing consumerization of all industries have made it top of mind for IT leaders. This trend also exposed some false promises made by technologies like Robotic Process Automation (RPA) that failed to deliver true digital transformation.
While those initial quick automation wins helped alleviate some pressures on a siloed business process, they couldn’t handle complex, long-running processes that most organizations rely on. Because many of these simple automation technologies are so brittle and challenging to understand and maintain, many organizations found that early quick wins became roadblocks for their digital transformation projects.
Since technology changes so rapidly, it’s also no surprise that 54% of IT leaders say their process automation is beginning to become outdated, according to our survey. It’s also important to recognize that digital transformation is a continuous process. You may achieve your initial business goals, but those gains can help you continue improving your process as needs change.
Automation brings great opportunity – with some challenges
While mission-critical business processes are incredibly complex — contrary to popular belief — they are not static and do change over time. While some processes change due to external forces like new competitors, other times, it’s more internally driven, such as adding new technologies like AI and machine learning. Our survey supported this finding, with 72% of respondents agreeing that real-world, mission-critical processes are becoming more complex to maintain.
The crucial element here is understanding how a process is currently implemented so that various stakeholders can discuss a path for improvement. Without that foundational understanding, there’s little hope for knowing the current state of a process, let alone agreeing on how to improve it.
Relief for this challenge can be found through discoverability and governance. It’s essential to centralize so everyone can find the right artifacts for their project. However, you don’t want to over-engineer governance so that every attempt at innovation comes with a tax. You must balance team freedom to support an agile working method with minimal weight.
Desjardins, a Canadian financial institution, highlighted this in their hyperautomation in banking presentation at CamundaCon 2022. They replaced a monolithic BPM system that no longer served their needs. The CEO mandated that all processes become visible, and they now have a way to centralize and share process knowledge using BPMN.
Aligning diverse teams eludes IT and business leaders
It’s essential to have diverse teams represented when designing or redesigning a business process. Having different perspectives and specialties together help to uncover the optimal solution, but it can also be challenging when seeking alignment.
Our survey echoed this thought, with 79% of respondents saying that designing and agreeing upon process changes is a bottleneck. Additionally, 69% said that it’s hard to visualize end-to-end processes, further reinforcing the need for a tool for collaboratively designing a business process.
A standards-based approach to diagramming processes with a notation such as BPMN and DMN can quickly pay off. The notation provides a graphical representation of complex processes so technical and non-technical people can understand them. This ensures that you have the proper expertise — from both a business and IT perspective — to align on the best possible solution.
Because BPMN 2.0 is executable, there’s an added benefit that what’s collaboratively designed will be executed by the process engine. That means you won’t have any “wishful thinking” Visio diagrams that can’t be technically accomplished. It can also be the backbone for other aspects of process operations, such as monitoring and handling technical incidents or performance and optimization visualizations.
Complex business processes require diverse endpoints
Our 2023 report showed that organizations average 5.68 different endpoint types in a process flow. This isn’t surprising given the rise of customer expectations and advances in technology we’ve already mentioned. It’s important to note that organizations want — and need — to have the flexibility to use the right technology to solve the challenge.
In the past, automation was typically siloed to a specific system like an enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution. Massive efforts would be spent customizing the tool to meet the organization’s needs, but the costs were high and change was slow. Now, more and more functionality — especially things that differentiate an organization — is no longer inside the ERP, but instead connected with other services and business processes. This is why it’s so important to eliminate silos and fragmented automation efforts to truly transform a process from end to end.
Ultimately, what’s required is a modern toolset that can weave together diverse endpoints, handle complex process logic, and scale to meet performance requirements. Forrester refers to this as the “automation fabric,” a term to describe an orchestration layer that weaves together the technology used in an end-to-end process. Our report reinforced this notion with 86% saying they need to have better tools to manage how their processes all intersect.
Digital transformation is a journey — not a destination
Our 2023 report highlighted the need for continuously improving a process to maintain your competitive edge and resilience. As technology and customer expectations continue to evolve, having a flexible way to break down silos, integrate any technology, and keep improving your critical business processes will help you to stay ahead of change.