BPM case study: BNP Paribas

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BNP Paribas’ BPM Competency Centre provides a range of free and paid- for services to project teams in multiple countries, helping projects with both technical and practical issues. The BPM Competency Centre has been operating since 2006, and has had business impacts across BNP Paribas in a number of areas – not only in minimising project development and technology operations costs for BPM projects, but also in minimising software costs by taking a role in contract negotiations with technology suppliers, and by providing BPM training internally (thus avoiding the higher costs of external providers).

Case study key facts

Organisation BNP Paribas – a European bank with 2009 revenues of over EUR 41 billion, providing retail banking, corporate and investment banking, and asset management and services to clients worldwide.
Industry Financial services
Current BPM goals Continue development of a BPM Competency Centre to guide implementation of BPM projects across BNP Paribas – an organisation with 30-40 IT departments, over 200,000 personnel and operations in 84 countries – and minimise development and operations costs.
Process scenarios
  • Sequential workflow
  • Straight-through processing
  • Case management
  • Content lifecycle management
  • Collaborative process work
  • Value chain participation
Current approach BNP Paribas’ BPM Competency Centre provides a range of free and paid-for services to project teams in multiple countries, helping projects with both technical and practical issues. Because the BPM Competency Centre is very lightly staffed, it works in collaboration with other teams that have governance roles, and uses them as ‘channels’ to take its experience and guidance to project teams. It also maintains a close working relationship with key personnel from BNP Paribas’ strategic BPM technology provider, which among other things helps the BPM Competency Centre get advance notice of new and potential BPM projects.
Outcome The BPM Competency Centre has been operating since 2006, and has had business impacts across BNP Paribas in a number of areas – not only in minimising project development and technology operations costs for BPM projects, but also in minimising software costs by taking a role in contract negotiations with technology suppliers, and by providing BPM training internally (thus avoiding the higher costs of external providers).
BPM tools and suppliers used TIBCO’siProcess Suite

Company background

Headquartered in Paris, BNP Paribas is a major European bank with offices in 84 countries worldwide. Following the addition of Fortis Bank to the BNP Paribas family in May 2009, the bank now employs over 200,000 staff, of whom nearly 160,000 are based in Europe. It’s now the leader in the Euro zone in terms of deposits held, with more than EUR 540 billion on deposit.

The company operates in three core business areas: retail banking, corporate and investment banking, and asset management and services. It has grown organically and through the execution of a merger and acquisition strategy over the last ten years that has included companies such as Paribas, BNL banca commerciale, and latterly Fortis Bank. The company’s total revenue for the 2009 financial year was over EUR 40 billion, an increase of 47% on the previous year.

Project background

BNP Paribas has been an active implementer of BPM for some years, and currently has 30-35 process applications in operation, both within BNP Paribas headquarters and across individual lines of business. BPM implementations range in their focus from core operational processes to administrative and management processes.

The company set up a BPM Competency Centre within its central Corporate IT department in 2006 as a way to drive some consistency as it began to implement more and more process applications.

The scope of the BPM Competency Centre’s mission spans both technical and non-technical issues. Importantly, it’s been set up to maximise the quality of BPM outcomes across BNP Paribas, rather than simply improving consistency of technology implementations.

The motto of the BPM Competency Centre is “consistency, sharing, cost saving”. Specifically, there are four elements to its mission:

  • Cultivating a best practice knowledge-sharing community within BNP Paribas. This is a free-of-charge service, and there are currently around 130 active members in the community.
  • Setting technology and architecture standards and encouraging consistent use of those standards in projects and getting the best commercial conditions from software vendors and service providers. This is a free-of-charge service; the BPM Competency Centre works with the central purchasing department and with project teams on an as-needed basis.
  • Providing technical support to individual BPM projects across the company. Again, this is a free-of-charge service.
  • Providing shared service centres which projects across the company can tap into in order to obtain BNP Paribas-specific BPM training and project consulting, as well as specific assistance with process and business modelling using Software AG’s ARIS toolset or TIBCO’s BPM suite.

All of these elements are founded on a “volunteer basis” which means that there is no obligation to use the free-of-charge or paid-for services.

The approach

Strategy

BNP Paribas is an organisation that has made a significant commitment to process improvement. To date, nearly 900 employees have been trained in Lean and Six Sigma techniques. However the BPM Competency Centre itself is very lightly staffed; it resides in the Central IT department at BNP Paribas’s headquarters – which is just one department among 30-40 IT departments overall across the BNP Paribas organisation.

What this means is that the BPM Competency Centre has to be smart in how it works to deliver its mission: it can’t hope to get directly involved in every project where it could potentially add value.

One key area where this constraint is apparent is in guiding IT project teams across BNP Paribas about the applicability of BPM (in other words, would a particular project benefit from having BPM techniques and technology applied to it?). When it comes to the question of helping project teams understand whether to go down the BPM route when looking at improving a business activity, the BPM Competency Centre isn’t automatically included. The steering committees that help guide business and IT change aren’t currently integrated with the BPM Competency Centre, and what’s more, with over 200,000 staff it can be difficult to keep track of every potential BPM opportunity across the organisation!

As a result, a key skill of the BPM Competency Centre is influencing and diplomacy. Because there’s no formalised link or dependency between project teams and the BPM Competency Centre, it’s entirely possible for individual project teams to ignore the guidance of the BPM Competency Centre and develop its own path without recourse to best practice. BPM Competency Centre staff have to find ways to influence teams to consider BPM when it’s appropriate, and avoid it when it’s not, and to look at the ‘best way’ to do BPM within BNP Paribas when BPM is considered.

Another way that the BPM Competency Centre maximises its visibility and influence is to work closely with BNP Paribas’s preferred BPM technology provider, TIBCO.

The BPM Competency Centre leverages BNP Paribas’s deep supplier relationship with TIBCO very effectively, to help it maintain visibility of the changing project landscape within the BNP Paribas organisation. As we’ve already said, BNP Paribas is such a large organisation that the BPM Competency Centre couldn’t hope to monitor all relevant project work with only its own resources. So the BPM Competency Centre works with TIBCO field personnel developing new project opportunities within BNP Paribas to understand where potential projects needing BPM Competency Centre help are likely to arise. In return, the BPM Competency Centre informs TIBCO of potential new projects to help it engage with project sponsors at the right time. Both parties have a vested interest in seeing the other involved in BPM activity at BNP Paribas as far as possible: the more the BPM Competency Centre is involved in TIBCO-based projects, the better the outcome is likely to be and the more shareable resources are likely to be developed; and as the preferred BPM technology supplier to BNP Paribas, the more TIBCO is involved in projects, the more the BPM Competency Centre can offer tailored training and consulting through its shared services.

The advice that the BPM Competency Centre provides individual projects varies considerably based on the nature of the process under consideration for improvement. For example, when the requirement is to improve regulatory compliance, standard advice is to implement a relatively ‘lightweight’ process application that is optimised for the needs of relatively few people. When the requirement is more operational, the BPM Competency Centre’s guidance correspondingly shifts to considering the appropriate audience(s), and so on.

In some instances, the BPM Competency Centre’s role is to help identify and prioritise objectives, before those objectives can be used to shape the kinds of applications that get delivered. This role has arisen because some teams, particularly historically, would decide to ‘do BPM’ before getting a clear idea of the business objective to focus on.

Architecture

BNP Paribas’s BPM Competency Centre provides project teams with solution architecture advice relating to implementation of the TIBCO iProcess Suite platform, with the twin aims of minimising cost and risk in development (by leveraging best practices) and also minimising cost and risk in operation (by creating as much of a ‘standard’ set of implementation patterns as possible, so support personnel are able to more quickly understand potential problems and resolve them).

There’s one piece of architectural work that the BPM Competency Centre has done that’s particularly noteworthy: it’s done significant analysis work on a multi-level process architecture model, based around the concept of “Operational Translation of Business Processes”. The model helps BPM practitioners understand at what level of detail, and with what kind of tool and notation, modellers need to work in order to capture the important concepts for a particular situation. It also helps practitioners understand in what contexts it’s crucial to build models that both technical and non-technical people can understand.

There are five levels in the model:

  • Business level – overall & general view. This is the level at which practitioners should model if the chief concerns being addressed relate to business goals and mission, families of processes, business activity domains, or business strategy. It’s a representation of typical Business Architecture concerns.
  • Business level – process view. This is the level concerned with value chains, end-to-end process views, definition of high-level business events, and is likely to only be focused on identifying ‘happy paths’ in process models. The BPM Competency Centre recommends ARIS Event-Process Chains (EPC) as the ideal notation at this level.
  • Business level – organisation view. This is the level at which you model if you’re describing and analysing departments, current use and integration points between IT applications, roles and responsibilities in enacting high-level processes.
  • Workflow level – translation view. This level is advocated as the natural home for abstract BPMN models that combine organisational aspects (swim lanes, pools) with abstract models of processes and sub-processes.
  • Workflow level – orchestrated physical view. This level is concerned with modelling that’s designed to provide all, or most, of the semantics to drive an actual process application implementation. The BPM Competency Centre advocates full use of BPMN together with implementation attributes, scripts, XML schema definitions, and so on.

To help make this model practical, the BPM Competency Centre worked to develop a partnership with IDS-Scheer that created an export channel to enable EPC diagrams to be translated for import into TIBCO Business Studio as BPMN diagrams, and therefore create a bridge between the business and workflow levels of its model. The BPM Competency Centre considers this bridge a ‘key junction point’, and advises project teams that where this junction point needs to be navigated in projects, collaboration between business and technical personnel is absolutely necessary. People who work at this junction point must have an IT background, but also business expertise and understanding.

Organisation and people

The BPM Competency Centre is clear that collaboration between technical and non-technical staff in BPM initiatives is a key contributor to BPM success. In BNP Paribas’s home country France, though, our case study interviewees indicated that there’s a strong underlying ‘us and them’ culture in many organisations when it comes to IT and non-IT staff; when systems need building or changes need making, business sponsors and analysts are most comfortable creating detailed specifications and then ‘throwing them over the wall’ to technologists to implement against.

Given its observations about the importance of collaboration across the business-IT divide, the BPM Competency Centre seeks to add value in two specific ways:

  • Firstly, it delivers training that aims to bring IT and business staff together. The BPM Competency Centre helps to overcome the natural reticence to collaboration by organising training courses that are attended by business and IT staff together, with cross-functional teams conducting all the training exercises.
  • Secondly, it educates project teams about its “Operational Translation of Business Processes” model, which (among other things, as highlighted in Architecture above) helps BPM practitioners understand in what contexts it is crucial to build models that both technical and non-technical people can understand – and also helps them understand the best tools and techniques to use to create those models.

Governance

Given the very large organisational landscape over which the BPM Competency Centre has to range with very limited resources to hand, the ability for the centre to connect with governance policies – in order to try and influence how BPM technology is implemented to maximise opportunities for reuse and knowledge-sharing – is crucial.

Within BNP Paribas, as we’ve previously highlighted, IT delivery is decentralised. However Production Services, which provide resources to deliver new and changed IT systems into the BNP Paribas production IT environment, is a central point of control. Most projects involving use of TIBCO technology pass through the central Production Services team before going live, and this is the point at which the BPM Competency Centre has an opportunity to get involved. The BPM Competency Centre has worked with the Production Services team to create a set of common technology installation guidelines, development best practices and so on that Production Services can use to validate new developments and changes against.

The Production Services team is also an enforcement point for BNP Paribas’s BPM technology supplier policy: it will only support systems based on TIBCO’s BPM technology in production.

Reusability is one of the key focus areas of the BPM Competency Centre when advising project teams – both within projects and between projects. Reuse opportunities may be focused on technology (in the reuse of a given component, for example) or they may be more practice-focused. Again, though, as in other areas of the BPM Competency Centre’s involvement, project teams have no obligation to follow the BPM Competency Centre’s advice.

Technology and infrastructure

As mentioned above, BNP Paribas’s preferred BPM technology partner is TIBCO. At the moment all BPM projects use the iProcess Suite; the company is currently evaluating the potential of TIBCO’s new ActiveMatrix BPM as an alternative.

Each project has its own specific infrastructure and integration needs, but the BPM Competency Centre advocates consistent approaches to solution architecture across projects wherever possible.

By default, the BPM Competency Centre isn’t directly involved in mandating a particular solution architecture for BPM implementations, but there is one area where it’s pursuing a different line, and that’s in the creation of a shared services platform, currently called ITPOD, that is designed to be offered to business teams across BNP Paribas with lightweight process application requirements.

ITPOD is conceived as a ‘process application in a box’. It is based around a centrally-hosted platform that will run multiple applications for multiple stakeholders, and includes a number of pre-built model elements, integrations (with a lightweight document management system and the BNP Paribas user directories, for example) and component definitions that can be quickly assembled and configured to meet the majority of requirements exhibited by relatively simple projects where online integration with external systems isn’t a significant need. ITPOD is conceived as delivering a platform that can be completed for individual project requirements within around 30 days. Projects will be charged to use ITPOD on a one-time basis.

The results

At the end of 2008, the BPM Competency Centre assessed its own impact within BNP Paribas and through this exercise, it highlighted the following results:

  • Through involvement in a global commercial contract negotiation with TIBCO for enterprise technology licensing, the BPM Competency Centre managed to deliver savings to BNP Paribas. This was principally achieved by highlighting where planned and current BPM projects could be connected together to share resources, and therefore reduce licensing, consulting and support requirements.
  • Within its peer community, the BPM Competency Centre initiated 25 bilateral relationships between project teams across BNP Paribas that helped projects share ideas and experiences, become more productive and, sometimes, not to “reinvent the wheel”.
  • By delivering BPM training internally rather than relying on external providers, the BPM Competency Centre delivers highly customised and adapted information and saved BNP Paribas significant sums – even though the BPM Competency Centre charged for its time in delivering training courses.

Going forward, the BPM Competency Centre also plans to make further business impacts through the delivery of the shared ITPOD BPM platform (as discussed in Technology and infrastructure above).

Recommendations for BPM adopters

In carrying out this case study, we asked representatives from BNP Paribas to share any recommendations they’d offer to other potential adopters of BPM. The following two points were highlighted in particular:

  • It’s vital to have top management involvement and sponsorship in a BPM Competency Centre. Without this, it’s very difficult to make the right connections with other teams and have any meaningful impact.
  • Try and provide advice and services that cross the boundary between technical and non-technical concerns. It’s all very well having the ability to provide technology standards guidelines (for example), but if you can also help people understand the right ways to organise themselves to deliver project success you’ll be able to deliver much more value. The BNP Paribas BPM Competency Centre spends 60-70% of its time focusing on business issues; only 30-40% of its time is spent on technical issues.

Best practice insights

Through the on-going implementation of its BPM Competency Centre BNP Paribas has demonstrated three best practice insights that you should think about if you’re considering setting up a BPM Competency Centre:

  1. Create a strategy for your BPM Competency Centre that takes into account the resources you have and the size of the organisation you’re trying to influence. If you have very limited resources, there’s no point trying to integrate the BPM Competency Centre directly into BPM projects across your organisation; you’ll ‘spread yourself too thinly’ and will fail. In this case, look to work alongside other existing teams that play roles in project setup, change management and so on, and look to influence those teams so they can amplify your own experience and guidance and act as ‘channels’ for you to influence individual projects.
  2. Find ways to measure the impact of your BPM Competency Centre; don’t rely on the value of helping to share best practices and drive standardisation as self-evident. When you do look to measure value, look at all the different services you offer and ‘think out of the box’ about how you can demonstrate how you’re helping the organisation. The easy-to-measure things might not be the core activities you spend every day working on.
  3. Be prepared to forge relationships with the vendor(s) that provide BPM technology into your organisation, even if your organisation isn’t as large and distributed as BNP Paribas. In very large, distributed organisations a good working relationship with key vendor salespeople can provide valuable intelligence to help you understand where to direct your efforts. In any organisation, regardless of size, you will gain internal influence and relevance if you’re ‘ahead of the curve’ when it comes to understanding the technologies that get used in projects.
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