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The IoT and BPM: what’s chicken, and what’s egg?

4 4 min
m2m bpm brmSource: iStock/lensman888

The Internet of Things (IoT) offers great opportunity for organizations who want to take advantage of the digital world and of new and advanced interactions with their existing and potential constituent communities. While there is great potential for effective interactions that can yield revenue, speed, and savings with ease and satisfaction, there is an underlying complexity and number of people, things and enterprises that must be enabled in contexts and situations dynamically in real time. This means introducing new methods, techniques, technologies and positioning existing systems and technologies in new ways.

There are several areas of technologies that must be working together effectively in new success patterns. This will require taking a journey that puts the IoT first and foremost and pulling many key technologies with you to accomplish new and exciting operational outcomes: Everybody in the IoT space agrees that device connectivity is a central element. Machine-to-machine (M2M) is a well established concept in this area, covering both mobile M2M networks as well as M2M device integration middleware for software developers. Big data is a key element in the backend to help manage and analyze the continuous data streams from the devices. Sometimes overlooked is the importance of business rules / constraints management (BRM), which helps analyzing critical event and other data coming from devices. And finally, BPM (Business Process Management) is important to help reacting to events from devices in an efficient and highly automated manner.

As an industry analyst, with near 20 years with Gartner, I have seen the early application of IoT, processes, business rules, big data and machine interactions. From robotic farms that deliver increased yields through auto watering and fertilization solutions to advanced fleet management for plug-in electric fleets. This is a very exciting time in the area of applying smart machines, intelligent advisors and networks of agents collaborating on emerging conditions, expected or not. As an early pioneer with artificial intelligence being applied to specific business roles and role based work spaces, I find the IoT as driver to enabling people, software and machines to work together in an optimized way.

BPM takes on additional new roles

BPM is normally acting as a central control mechanism that manages the process from a holistic “end to end” perspective. While interactions with the IoT can still work that way by asking for an assist from a sensor, a combo package of smart/collaborating sensors or a sensor clusters. With the advent of IoT, now BPM can be triggered to play out specific set of prescribed of actions often called a process snippet (a portion of an end to end process). Also human collaboration can be requested for knowledge assists, collaborations and authorizations. BPM can also be embedded into an intelligent and complex physical device like a lawn cutting robot. The result for BPM is more utilization; not less, but this will require a different mindset in the leverage of BPM.

BRM takes on additional new roles

BRM is normally acting as a local decision mechanism in the context of an overall process or application. While these kind of interactive decisions will still be leveraged, rules will be combined with events/data to recognize patterns and notify or collaborate with humans, systems, sensor packets and complex physical devices. In addition, rules will be combined with additional search and analytical mechanisms to produce more cognitive problem solving. Like BPM, BRM will be also embedded complex physical devices to guide the sensing, thinking and actions of said devices. In additions rules can be stated in terms of constraints that can act as boundaries of free ranging devices, processes, systems and human interactions. The result for BRM is more utilization, but this again will require a different mindset in the utilization of BRM.

M2M introduces new standard collaborations

Flexible options will be needed in the configuration, collaboration and communication of physical devices that can range from simple sensor nodes to complex agent based controllers. This will require the local integration of various sensors, actuators and other devices with communication security. Additionally there needs to be back end support for data, asset and UI management assisted by big data driven analytics.

These machine collaborations are dependent on information models that separate the uniqueness of the device from the uniqueness of another device. In other words, there needs to be a standard meta-model of the communication and collaboration of the devices by describing their properties and capabilities. This creates a data hand shake that can be understood in a universal model for any communication. It is important also to have level of abstractions (meta data) to speed development and execution of these communications and collaborations. The best example of this is the Eclipse Vorto Proposal.

Other technology combinations and impacts

By combining in memory big data, in real time, with various other applications and technologies in addition to M2M, BRM & BPM, there will be a rising movement to interact and support the IoT. In order to facilitate the leverage of the fast growing IoT, there will be an emphasis on emerging patterns of the leverage of BPM, BRM & M2M supported by standards on leveraging big data analytics. This means linking of these contributing technologies to sense patterns, make decisions and act in concert to reach goals that change with emerging situations. The successful digital organizations will figure out how to leverage these approaches and technologies in their business models, services and products.

Conclusion

The IoT is leading the drive towards aiming multiple methods and technologies in new operational directions. This will be an incremental transformation with benefits tasted all along the multiple paths of this journey. I have found that this is one of the most exciting times in my nearly five decade career in and around technologies.

For players in the BPM space like Bosch, the question is if IoT is big enough an opportunity to justify an exclusive focus on this topic. Should IoT be a part of a BPM suite, or should the BPM suite be an integral part of an IoT suite? For a company like Bosch, one of the largest device manufacturers in the world, the answer seems obvious…

4 Comments

  • 20. January 2015 at 14:54

    My take? Neither. Both BPM and IoT platform(s) have standalone value, and many IT organizations have already selected their enterprise-level BPM solution. There may be elements of BPM embedded in IoT platforms, but bundling one into an IoT platform can create sales and adoption friction, since many companies are trying to reduce the amount of enterprise infrastructure they need to support, rather than increase it. In short, both BPM and IoT platforms bring value, and can bring more value when combined, but it is important for an IoT platform to embrace *any* BPM solution and not just offer an embedded option.

    Reply
    • 27. January 2015 at 22:59

      While I agree that a shared and simple architecture would be best, but in the light of great benefits most companies will buy similar technologies despite the TCO consolidation issues. I saw this over and over when I was at Gartner

      Reply
  • 3. December 2014 at 11:11

    Great post Jim! Totally agree on the usefulness of BPM tech with regards to e.g. factory automation and the coordination of shop floor processes automatically.

    How do you see the role of BPM as a methodology in the context of IoT? (currently writing on this and EA at http://mikkomakirahkola.wordpress.com/2014/11/13/what-makes-a-smart-factory-part-1/, I’ll also slightly cover BPM+BRM in a post or two)

    Reply
    • 4. December 2014 at 17:03

      Mikko, BPM methods work when there is a central control approach to the process. If there is strong M2M collaboration, then an agent based method would work better as control is pushed to the edge. My hope is these two approaches merge over time. If BPM methods start to make processes goal directed, then this is likely to evolve.

      Reply

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