Industry Templates and Process Re-use

In most BPM RFP’s there is a request for access to industry templates to allow for re-use and to get a head start.  Most BPM vendors have some offering.  The question is: are these of any value at all?

The Risk of Re-Use

One thing we learn in software is that it is easy to add things to software, but it is very hard to remove things.  When you add a new variable, a new class, a new module, you know that there are no existing references to it, and you can add in exactly what you need.   But if you find an existing module and want to change it, you have to find all the calls to that module, and analyze that code to determine which of the various promises that the API makes are being depended on.  This analysis of all the places that use a module can take more time and effort than just writing a new module from scratch.  Or put another way: the risk of causing a bug is far lower if you write a new module.

Extending this same concept to a process template:  no organization has the same process as any other organization.  The processes you take from one organization will surely have to be modified.  When modifying, you will always find extra things that are probably not needed for the new organization, but for which is it very hard to tell whether you can remove them or not.  If you remove something that is actually called elsewhere, it might cause problems that appear later when you are in testing.  It is most often safest to start from scratch, and only add the pieces that are actually needed.

As a system architect, I would always recommend making a new, clean design based on the needs of the specific organization, because any savings due to re-use would be dwarfed by the effort and risk of having to carry a lot of unnecessary costly baggage along.

The Process Handbook

I remember in the 1990’s Tom Malone from MIT ran a project called “The Process Handbook” where he got a grant from the government to simply go and map out all of the processes for all the industries.  The idea was, once all the processes were known, they would be made available to everyone for free, and this would enhance the general capability of all industries.  Sounds like a good investment.  But it never worked!  This site is still there, but is looks like it has not been updated since 2003.

Could it be that the cost of re-using a process exceeds the cost of creating one from scratch! 

Any Success Stories?

One question I would like to know is whether ANYONE has seen a process model developed for one organization successfully re-used at a different organization?

How would you measure the value of this?  Did it save a lot of effort, or not?

Beyond “perceived value” of having a head start in a process project, is there really any real value in the “industry templates?”

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5 Responses to Industry Templates and Process Re-use

  1. I agree that re-use of an “outside” process is likely to exceed the cost of creating one from scratch (most of the time).

  2. Hey Keith – we are doing it and it is a key differentiator of our business model. But we do not re-use end-to-end processes, only fragments that have been previously isolated (and heavily tested) into independent worklets (consisting of BPMN models + Java classes + data model + interface portlets + REST services).
    Here’s an example: we replicated an O2C and contract management process from one real-estate services company to a private school with relatively minimal intervention (couple of weeks of 2 devs’ time). The contract worklet works the same, the invoicing planning worklet works the same, the sales invoice worklet works the same, the dunning worklet works the same.
    But the end-to-end processes look and act completely differently by just configuring these worklets differently and by sprinkling some customization.
    It’s super hard to build something like this and we are always tempted to refactor as we uncover new patterns. Also, no one can escape customization, there is no magic bullet. We just want to keep the customization effort to an economically and technically viable level. And that’s ambitious enough.

    • keith says:

      Good to hear that reuse works at some level. I would be interested in knowing how complex this worklet is. Is it more than a data/document format with an approval cycle?

  3. E.g. approval itself is a configurable worklet (basically a small voting engine), where you could configure type of approvals (serial, parallel), number of approvers, if approvals are mandatory, if there is a negative confirmation pattern, if there is a decision expiry strategy etc

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