Marrying Lean BPM with the Internet of Things

Josh Yeager is Director of Operations for JobTraQ.

Lean BPM (Business Process Management) and IoT (the Internet of Things) are two hot buzzwords that are rarely seen together. To my mind, this is strange, because they support and reinforce each other very well.

The Internet of Things is the idea that traditionally unconnected physical objects can be networked together to enable easy monitoring, reporting, and dynamic coordination. Examples range from dishwashers that text their owners when a cycle is done, to environmental monitors that detect problems in large systems, to industrial devices connected for central control and coordination.

Product Lifecycle Management
Lean BPM systems make it easy to automate, integrate, and continually improve an organization’s business processes. Using flexible data models and visual design tools, managers and business analysts can streamline the work of whole teams without needing help from programmers.

The benefits of IoT are central control, coordination, and reporting for scattered devices. But they need a master system to perform that coordination, and a Lean BPM tool such as JobTraQ, is ideal.

The power of Lean BPM is in easy process automation and improvement, but it needs to connect to the real world or those processes are useless. Lean BPM effectively manages human-to-human processes. When coupled with IoT, it can also manage processes that touch the physical world.

Industrial control traditionally relies on complex and brittle SCADA systems, which are hard to change and often have security vulnerabilities. But the benefits of central control for manufacturing, chemical processes, energy systems, and other industrial applications were considered worth the difficulties of SCADA. A well-architected IoT deployment can achieve those same benefits with better security and more flexible deployment. And a Lean BPM system can react to events from the IoT devices, trigger processes to inform the appropriate people and gather their responses, send commands back to the physical devices, and report on the results. This combination provides faster, more flexible control and reporting as well as greatly improved security.

Inventory and logistics have long relied on barcode scanners or RFID tags with custom tracking software. Each station or reader is a full PC or handheld computer, which makes maintenance difficult and limits mobility and/or battery life. Using IoT techniques can make the scanners and sensors much smaller and simpler. And replacing the custom software with a Lean BPM system makes it more robust, more reliable, and much easier to design and change. With constant awareness of inventory levels, flow rates, and item locations, processes in a Lean BPM system can detect problems and opportunities and notify the correct people quickly to resolve or take advantage of them.

IoT and Lean BPM are both still young technologies. They have not realized their full potential. As they mature, they will become part of the normal way of doing business and fade into the background. But for now they represent two great opportunities for efficiency and consistency improvements. And together they can be even more powerful.

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