An interesting article on Business Process Management (BPM) caught my eye this morning - Business Intelligence Pipeline | IT Detours On the Road To BPM. It has a great quote - "Automating your business processes can increase productivity, but it can be counterproductive if the automation takes control away from the process owners". Lori MacVittie is aboslutely correct in pointing this out. I would add one thing to her list of capabilities required to avoid this problem - business rules.
She correctly identifies modeling, analysis and simulation as critical, but if one is going to automate a business process to the point where one achieves straight through processing or STP then one needs to automate decision steps within the process. Here too it is essential that you leave control in the hands of the process owners. This requires the use of a serious business rules management system - one that allows the business rules for the decision point to be described, managed and edited by the process owner. Without this the decision points become black boxes that the process owner cannot change without intensive involvement from IT. This in turn means that if the analysis and simulation say that the problem is in how a decision is made within the process then the process owner cannot fix the problem. That, clearly, is unacceptable and so those keen to give process owners control of automated processes should think about how to also give them control over the decision points within that automated process by using business rules.