NOVO BANCO delivers radical business digitisation with BPM innovation

This report explores the widespread and innovative implementation of BPM technology at Portugal’s NOVO BANCO. By building a specialised but highly easy-to-use process platform on top of general-purpose BPM technology tools, and then giving this to business users to develop and deploy their own process applications, NOVO BANCO has been able to deliver a radical program of process digitisation with very impressive results.

Case study key facts

Organisation NOVO BANCO – A Portuguese banking group providing retail banking, corporate and investment banking, and insurance (life and non-life) services.
Industry Financial services
Current BPM goals Continue to support the bank’s radical NOVO BANCO Digital program, which aims to transform all business processes to an all-digital operating model, thereby maximising operating efficiency for the bank while also supporting the bank’s aim to deliver excellent and innovative customer service.
Current approach NOVO BANCO has implemented BPM strategically throughout its business, and BPM is the core foundation for its NOVO BANCO Digital program. The company has introduced major BPM-based technology innovation by creating a software framework, called Generics, on top of a standard BPM technology platform that allows business people to define their own simple workflow applications without assistance from IT. When new demand for process digitisation surfaces, the default approach is for business people to use Generics to get the process under control, and start to learn ‘what works’.

Generics isn’t just a way for business people to quickly get business processes digitised, though; it also provides performance monitoring and auditing functionality (for regulatory compliance purposes).

Outcome NOVO BANCO has delivered remarkable results in its BPM program, thanks largely to the power of Generics and the extent to which business people have adopted it. Over 1,200 processes have now been digitised across the bank; around 70% of NOVO BANCO employees are regular participants in BPM-powered processes; and NOVO BANCO has achieved this while reducing IT involvement in BPM work by over 70%.

NOVO BANCO’s business outcomes have driven major efficiencies for the bank, but it’s also been able to significantly improve the effectiveness of its compliance regime.

BPM tools and suppliers used IBM Business Process Manager; QPR ProcessDesigner; professional services from IBM and Glintt.

Company background

Headquartered in Lisbon, NOVO BANCO is a leading institution in the Portuguese financial system, recognised for its high service quality standards and a dynamic commercial approach.

NOVO BANCO provides a wide range of financial services to cover the financial needs of its clients, including retail and private banking, corporate banking, investment banking, asset management, and insurance.

In Portugal NOVO BANCO has a network of over 600 retail branches, 24 Corporate Centres, and one of the most innovative electronic banking systems. The Group’s wide international network, with a direct presence in more than 20 countries, allows it to provide an all-inclusive service to its clients: Portuguese exporters and the country’s emigrant community.

Project background

One of NOVO BANCO’s key business goals is to be seen as an international leader in terms of both operational efficiency and customer service. Its IT function is seen as a critical enabler of improving efficiency while maintaining customer service. As a result, NOVO BANCO has a heritage of investing aggressively in IT.

The company’s BPM journey started in 1999 with a number of pilot projects using Staffware technology. In 2000-01 it conducted full projects, this time using Lotus Notes – together with IBM’s FlowMark technology – to automate aspects of its mortgage administration processes. However, the program progressed slowly; using this technology approach, only four business processes were addressed in the period to 2006.

In 2007, with the onset of the global financial crisis, the bank’s CEO realised that NOVO BANCO had to make a radical shift to reduce costs, while at the same time improving the bank’s competitive position through a focus on better customer service. It decided to digitise as many of its product and service administration processes as possible, to as great an extent as possible. The result of this was a major change program called NOVO BANCO Digital.

Despite its earlier BPM project challenges, the IT team realised that a combination of the right BPM and Content Management (ECM) technologies had the potential to enable NOVO BANCO to eliminate paper from processes, and increase process efficiency and flexibility – while at the same time improving the bank’s ability to demonstrate regulatory compliance and improve service quality.

After carrying out in-depth industry research, the team realised that a modern BPM platform could enable it to pursue a radically different approach in order to make significant headway – an approach that emphasised collaboration between IT people and line-of-business people, with the BPM implementation work creating a bridge between the two constituencies. Furthermore, with the right technology, it could empower business people to participate actively and directly in implementation work.

Implementation characteristics and status

After some initial project successes in 2007-08 with its new BPM platform – from specialist vendor Lombardi (since acquired by IBM) – the NOVO BANCO IT team realised that even though its new approach enabled much closer collaboration between business and IT specialists, project velocity wasn’t anywhere near fast enough for the aggressive NOVO BANCO Digital program. The IT group was receiving far too many requests for new implementations and implementation changes, and it couldn’t handle the demand.

The CIO realised that IT was the bottleneck, and decided to see if IT could be ‘taken out of the equation’. So a team of analysts and architects, led by Pedro Inacio (Executive Manager in charge of development of distributed systems) and Jorge Soares (Senior Manager in charge of NOVO BANCO’s ‘digitalisation unit’) started to think about the domain differently, asking: “what are the processes you currently work through using email or fax, and which you would like more control over?”

On analysing the results of this survey, the team realised that the vast majority of the processes carried out in this way had a relatively small set of common elements. For example, each process started with some kind of initiation request that would come from an external party; input and reference material would be gathered; some kind of ‘decision circuit’ would be traversed; and then an action would be approved and taken. This pattern was repeated over and over, for relatively simple processes. The team realised it had uncovered a ‘long tail’ improvement opportunity that – if addressed well – could make a major difference to business performance.

Having uncovered this repeated pattern of common process elements, the team worked with local consulting partners to build a productivity framework on top of a technology foundation comprising Lombardi Teamworks (now IBM Business Process Manager). This framework – now known as Generics, or Gx – enables non-specialists to configure and deploy their own simple workflows with little to no involvement from IT.

Crucially, Generics applications do not specify hard-coded models of process flow; instead they specify allowed process behaviours through constraints (a set of tasks which are available within the application, and a set of people who have permission to carry out those tasks). At runtime, process participants carrying out tasks in Generics shape the flow of work by specifying (within those constraints) which action should be taken next and by whom. Generics is now used extremely widely across NOVO BANCO: there are over 1,200 processes now handled through Generics, and business teams commonly design and deploy new processes in under a day.

The approach


BPM is seen as the core element of NOVO BANCO Digital and as a strategic weapon by NOVO BANCO, and is central to the business’s IT strategy – a position sponsored by NOVO BANCO’s CEO and CIO. Senior managers see BPM as enabling the organisation to:

  • Manage and execute change in an increasingly competitive environment.
  • Efficiently align the organisation with customers’ wants and needs.
  • Continuously improve business processes.

BPM isn’t just seen as a strategic weapon; BPM activity itself is pursued according to a clear strategy. NOVO BANCO’s work with IBM BPM technology isn’t limited to the simple process implementations that business people drive using Generics. The IT team responsible for process governance (see below) splits business demand into three types, and pursues different implementation approaches for each type:

  • Simple processes. For these, the team requires requesters to use Generics in the first instance. For some time now, business teams have been implementing simple processes using Generics at the rate of around 50 each calendar quarter.
  • Medium-complexity processes. For these, the team creates collaborative business-IT projects where trained business specialists take responsibility for defining process models, business rules and Coaches (task user interfaces); IT specialists take responsibility for implementing integration services. NOVO BANCO currently implements around ten of these projects each year.
  • Complex processes. For these, business specialists define the requirements, and IT specialists use IBM tools to implement those requirements. However, even for these more ‘traditional’ projects, teams deliver iteratively to 30-day cycles and work hand-in-hand with business people to get feedback and prioritise features. NOVO BANCO currently implements one or two of these projects each year.

Crucially, NOVO BANCO enforces its high-impact BPM strategy by requiring that all business process improvement projects start with an implementation using the ‘simple process’ Generics approach – where processes are not exhaustively designed up-front. Only once the team in question has used Generics as a vehicle to enact the relevant processes, will the centre of excellence (COE) consider taking things further and implement a more rigorous process application using its standard medium-complexity or complex implementation framework/approach.

Jorge Soares highlights five key pillars of success that form the foundation of NOVO BANCO’s BPM strategy:

  • Start small. Focus primarily on the parts of processes that are obviously broken, and then discover new opportunities for improvement over time in subsequent implementation cycles. Each cycle can take no longer than three months.
  • Think process. Look at the end-to-end business process in question; don’t think in terms of software applications. Don’t let individual teams or departments push for their own processes or process applications.
  • Focus on creating technical and business patterns, and use those across as many processes as possible to minimise cost and maximise efficiency. Reusing assets isn’t just about development efficiency; if pursued correctly, it’s also a way to make it easy for ordinary process participants with little specialist knowledge to work across many topics or processes, by presenting familiar interfaces and methods of working.
  • Empower business users. Give people the tools and knowledge they need so they can have autonomy and avoid relying on IT specialists as far as possible.
  • Create a clear and comprehensive mechanism to link results of BPM work to the bank’s business strategy and objectives.


NOVO BANCO has implemented a solid architectural approach to complement its BPM work, with a particular focus on SOA to enable efficient integration of process applications with external applications, systems and resources, and to enable reuse of common infrastructure services within applications. An Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) provides a common service integration bus, and presents infrastructure services to process applications.

Further to this, NOVO BANCO has carried out detailed service architecture work in the context of process applications themselves:

  • When using the ‘complex’ application implementation framework, a set of well-defined and reusable ‘base services’ that handle integration with the bank’s core systems and other infrastructure services are made available within each project as IBM BPM Toolkits. These base services are maintained according to rules and directions set by the BPM COE (see Governance below).
  • When using the ‘medium complexity’ implementation framework, a smaller set of base services is made available to designers to use, and these services are further abstracted from low-level implementation detail to make it possible for non-technical analysts to configure them. Again, these services are maintained according to rules and directions set by the BPM COE.

Organisation and people

Collaboration between business and technical specialists is absolutely at the heart of NOVO BANCO’s success with BPM – whether a project requires a ‘simple’ implementation pursued using Generics, or a medium-complexity or complex implementation using IBM BPM technology.

For implementations of medium complexity, business analysts design and specify process models, information models and forms; they use libraries of pre-built base services – built by IT – to carry out common technical tasks (such as storing or updating data). In these projects, business and technology specialists work together, taking existing simple Generics-powered implementations as the starting point for design, and ‘mining’ these to uncover the common flow patterns that need to be more formally modeled. For complex implementations, IT specialists work in a more ‘traditional’ mode with business people – collaborating via requirements workshops to develop concrete project requirements, then implementing iteratively (again, in three-month cycles) and gathering user feedback through each cycle.

When it comes to sustaining and broadening the success of its BPM work, NOVO BANCO has a well-established centre of excellence (COE) in place, which has a remarkably high-profile within the bank: it reports directly to the bank’s management board. IT is represented on the COE, as are all business areas actively involved in implementing business process improvements.

The COE takes responsibility for three main things:

  • Managing the governance framework that drives NOVO BANCO’s BPM initiative forward and its objectives, rules and constraints.
  • Ensuring that business process improvement projects are categorised correctly (simple, medium, complex) and then implemented accordingly.
  • Managing the pipeline of implementation work and ensuring that implementations follow standard guidelines, reusing as many assets and as much practice knowledge as possible.

NOVO BANCO’s partnerships have played a critical role in its success, too. When the bank started working with Lombardi Teamworks in 2007, there were no implementation partners for the technology outside of the UK and US. As a result, NOVO BANCO had to choose partners based on their potential and willingness to assist with something new, and then had to collaborate with those partners to build up their implementation skills from scratch. It’s found that working with local partners is a great way to get strong results without high costs.


As we’ve already signposted through this report, NOVO BANCO has a very clear understanding of the importance of governance to its BPM initiative; this understanding is a natural reflection of how seriously the bank takes its BPM commitment.

The BPM COE (see Organisation and People above) takes responsibility for managing and shaping demand for BPM implementations, and helps ensure that projects are as aligned as possible to the bank’s BPM strategy – majoring on asset reuse, iterative development cycles, leveraging simple approaches first, measuring performance, and so on.

Demand for new work, together with the progress of all ongoing BPM initiatives, is analysed on a quarterly basis. The NOVO BANCO management board, based on input from the BPM COE, decides which new process digitisation projects should be prioritised.

Separately to the COE, NOVO BANCO also runs a dedicated Process Department that’s responsible for an enterprise-wide Process Catalogue – a central database of reference business process definitions for the bank. The Process Catalogue is maintained using QPR’s ProcessDesigner, and contains ‘descriptive’ models (rather than ‘execution’ models). Although NOVO BANCO explored the possibility of maintaining some kind of system for linking these descriptive models and their corresponding execution models (where processes are automated using Generics or IBM’s BPM platform), ultimately it was felt that such a system wouldn’t give a satisfactory return on the bank’s investment. The Process Department does make use of the operational data that the BPM platform generates from the processes it orchestrates, which helps the team maintain up-to-date descriptive models and look for further improvement opportunities.

As outlined in Strategy above, reuse is one of the key driving principles of NOVO BANCO’s BPM strategy, and so not surprisingly the bank has a very mature initiative in place to define and manage reusable assets. Of course the biggest ‘reusable asset’ in NOVO BANCO’s BPM program is Generics itself; but beyond that, for both its medium-complexity and complex implementation frameworks, NOVO BANCO makes heavy use of reusable services – surfaced within IBM BPM through Toolkits. The COE ensures that all projects using the medium-complexity or complex implementation framework use these reusable assets, and use them correctly – as well as taking responsibility for harvesting newly-created assets for reuse by other future projects.

Technology and infrastructure

IBM technology is core to the NOVO BANCO Digital program, making heavy use of IBM Business Process Manager and IBM Content Manager. As well as these platforms, the company also uses IBM Operational Decision Management (ODM), Kofax Capture (for document and image capture), Adobe Lifecycle (for automated contract and form generation), SAS and Microstrategy platforms (for analytics and Business Intelligence reports and dashboards), QPR ProcessDesigner (for its Process Catalog), and Google’s Search appliance (for internal document indexing and search).

As mentioned above, Generics is built on IBM Business Process Manager. It has three main components:

  • A Generic Process Engine. This is the runtime part of the framework that interprets task and information definitions, presents tasks to users, and allows users to complete tasks and specify next steps (in line with constraints defined by designers). The engine itself is an IBM BPM process application, where the core process model in the application is a kind of ‘meta process’ that defines how the engine should create, assign and present task definitions.
  • A supporting database. This stores the task and information definitions that are interpreted by the Generic Process Engine.
  • A configuration utility. This is a very simple and focused application design tool that enables non-technical staff to very quickly define simple processes in terms of tasks required, information to be managed through tasks, and roles and individuals who can be assigned to carry out tasks.

Crucially, Generics isn’t just a process automation platform; it also monitors and measures process behaviour and performance – and makes historical information available. Historical information from Generics enables NOVO BANCO not only to evaluate whether defined SLAs are being met, but also to power the process of transforming Generics-based processes into ‘medium-complexity’ process implementations. NOVO BANCO teams can mine this historical process data to understand the most common process flows through Generics applications, and therefore identify the process flows that should be modeled explicitly using IBM BPM.

All the NOVO BANCO BPM technology implementations (including Generics) are deployed to one shared BPM platform, which is centrally monitored and managed by the NOVO BANCO IT organisation.

The results

NOVO BANCO demonstrates a high level of BPM capability maturity, and it has been active in BPM in some form or other for over a decade (though its initiative only began to bear fruit in about 2008). Nevertheless, what the bank has achieved with its NOVO BANCO Digital program, powered by BPM, has been very impressive indeed.

With the help of its Generics framework, NOVO BANCO has reached the point where only 27 of the total 1,200+ forms that used to be used across the bank are still paper-based – and the processes that deal with these forms are all digitised, too. Well over 1,100 business processes have been deployed; 8,000 NOVO BANCO employees use BPM-powered applications. NOVO BANCO manages over 1,000,000 live process instances on its BPM platform; and manages over 1bn documents in its archive. Crucially, all this has been achieved with a 71% reduction in IT effort during the period 2009-14.

It should be obvious by now that Generics has radically altered the dynamic between the bank’s business teams and its IT organisation; being able to implement and deploy business process in a single day without any direct assistance from IT has revolutionised the art of the possible for NOVO BANCO.

But there’s more to it than that. Because Generics is based on a full-featured BPM technology platform, all the monitoring and auditing we expect from BPM technology is available for all the processes enacted through Generics – so the hundreds of business processes that NOVO BANCO Digital has shifted away from the operating mode of ‘spreadsheets sent over email’ are now auditable for compliance purposes and monitored against SLAs. Furthermore, because use of Generics is the default first option for any business process implementation project, the fact that Generics keeps historical execution records means that later projects to further formalise a business process means any design time has Generics process history information to use as a source for process design intelligence.

NOVO BANCO believes that some very significant business outcomes have only been made possible because of the NOVO BANCO Digital program and its work to improve efficiency and flexibility in the bank’s operations – and these outcomes haven’t just been about efficiency, but also about customer service and compliance:

  • According to a banking quality-of-service market study carried out by ECSI, NOVO BANCO improved its position from last place (in 2004) to first place (in 2013).
  • When the crisis hit in the banking sector in 2007 and capital requirements were raised for banks, NOVO BANCO was the only Portuguese bank able to meet the more stringent requirements without any government assistance.
  • The account opening process was improved so that 70% of accounts are now opened same day, with 70% of that portion being opened while the client is still in-branch.
  • NOVO BANCO spent around EUR 1.5m building Generics in the period since 2009. From that investment, business users have been able to design and deploy more than 1,200 processes and have made more than 7,000 changes to those processes. The team estimates that had those projects been carried out in a ‘traditional’ manner, it would have cost NOVO BANCO over EUR 30m – and required three years’ worth of continuous effort from 19 BPM project teams working in parallel.

Recommendations for adopters

In carrying out this case study, we asked Jorge Soares, NOVO BANCO IT Senior Manager in charge of Digitalisation, to share any recommendations he would offer to other organisations embarking on transformations of similar scope and scale. Soares offered the following points as particularly important:

  • Remember that BPM is about business transformation – so approach it with this mindset. You will use technology to enable your transformation, but it won’t be technology changing your business landscape – it’ll be people.
  • It’s fundamental to empower business users and to focus IT people on using their skills optimally. Business users can be, and should be responsible for all discovery phases and even the design and deployment of process that have no application integration requirements. This is 98% of all process of the majority of companies.
  • Transformation is disruptive, and governance is a major challenge on a large change program. To drive transformation at scale you have to have sponsorship from a very high level. NOVO BANCO has succeeded in its efforts because the bank’s CEO and CIO sponsor the NOVO BANCO Digital
  • Other big causes of failure are very big and long projects that adopt the traditional waterfall approach to development. BPM means agility! Define a timeframe and an amount of money per phase and do it in several small development life cycles. Learn and move with the feedback.
  • When working on a large program, an architectural approach focused on reuse drives cost-savings in development – but done right, it also results in process applications that decreases the learning curve for process users, reduces user mistakes and risks, and makes people more effective (therefore saving on staffing costs).

Best practice insights

Through the implementation of the NOVO BANCO Digital transformation program and the Generics platform, NOVO BANCO has demonstrated three particular aspects of best practice that you should think about in the context of your own implementation that hold true regardless of your own industry or business domain.

When embarking on a large program of work digitisation, look for patterns in the work that reveal the value of a reusable ‘toolkit’ approach to implementation. If you find patterns of work that are repeated across or within business processes, find ways to create solutions to those challenges once, and then reuse those solutions as much as possible. NOVO BANCO created Generics as a response to this realisation, and reaped huge benefits.

Find ways to empower business people to create their own process implementations to the greatest degree appropriate. Develop a categorisation model for business processes that makes it easy to decide which business process candidates need what level of IT implementation support, and follow different tailored delivery methods accordingly. NOVO BANCO has a categorisation model with three process implementation types: simple, medium and complex.

Take measurement seriously. Don’t wait until a BPM implementation project is over before starting to think about how you’ll measure process health and performance; start thinking about measurement right from the very start of your initiative, and create a measurement framework that clearly links the outcomes of individual projects to well-understood corporate performance measures and objectives.