Process discovery is the secret ingredient to better DevOps

DevOps

The most overlooked step in any modernization process is process discovery. Corners get cut to conserve time and resources which, often limits the business impact of modernization efforts ultimately resulting in limited productivity improvements.

Process discovery is the key to fine-tuning modernization projects, including testing and deployment, to drive the most value from both the application itself and the work to modernize it. It enables visibility across application workflows -- including exceptions -- allowing organizations to prioritize modernizing the tasks that are most frequent and time-consuming. This extends into DevOps testing.

Process discovery creates clear guidelines about what testing needs to happen and sets up the business to easily automate those tests. Combined, these benefits help companies increase productivity across the DevOps workflow. Teams can release application updates faster, thereby responding more quickly to employee, customer, and market needs while driving results to the organization’s bottom line. 

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Modernization misnomers can doom process discovery efforts

Failure to understand the importance of process discovery often starts with misguided approaches to modernization projects. Modernization -- including automation -- is not a "one and done" journey. It’s continuous. As businesses finalize their initial automation and modernization projects, they often find themselves making ongoing changes; for instance, altering the application UI to align with the current UI trends, or building new RPA robots because of an update to a regulatory requirement, or integrating new technology or a new ERP application.

In this scenario, refactoring becomes a critical concern. Refactoring is the process of taking big monolithic applications and breaking them into modular pieces. APIs make it possible for enterprises to evolve how they engage and leverage an application. APIs can be combined in ways that are slightly different than they are in the original application without having to build applications from scratch. Imagine refactoring a legacy CRM platform. APIs have become so specific to applications that a CRM platform can be refactored into several smaller components, such as customer maintenance, supplier maintenance, and invoice maintenance.

Process discovery drills into the granularity of each of those components. In the example of customer maintenance, it answers the crucial questions -- how the function is used, who uses it, what does it do -- to ensure that, at the end of the day there is clear visibility into the component engagement to ultimately drive team productivity. Processes need to be prioritized in order of impact to the business. Then they need to be measured, reviewed, and tested. Process discovery ensures the process has been broken down into the right parts and that it functions properly.

The process discovery process is not easy or cheap -- which is why so many take short cuts. It involves multiple players -- including users, analysts, developers, and QAs -- that all play a role in pulling together the new process and ensuring it works properly. Agility needs to be built into the process and broken into manageable chunks.

Doing this manually is complex and error-prone, but the good news is companies can use technology to automate most of it today. Twenty years ago, process discovery was an analyst spending 4 months shadowing a user and doing due diligence on how an application works or how a workflow happens, the exceptions, and what happens in the background. Companies can’t afford that today because of the complexity of the systems and the sheer volume of processes -- and data -- that exist, not to mention ever-shrinking project budgets and shortened timelines, so they take their best guesses. But, without the right tools for automated testing and process discovery, the return on modernization efforts is limited.

Testing coverage is critical because two processes need to be tested, the original process to get a baseline and the new process for comparison. Automated testing informed with process discovery is key to speed and delivery. Without it, modernization efforts can be set on a path to failure. In addition to the well-known costs of bug discovery in production, the earlier teams can catch bugs, the more time and effort can be spent working on innovative, competitive development work.

The business drivers that benefit from process discovery

Organizations see tremendous benefits when they marry process discovery with DevOps. Among them:

  • Innovate quickly and smartly. Total workflow visibility provides high-level information captured at scale within a short time. This offers in-depth insights into common workflows and the daily challenges employees face. It helps organizations make smart modernization decisions highlighting the most time-consuming and frequently executed tasks.
  • Retain valuable talent. Process discovery ensures modernization efforts are focused on making a positive difference for the user. You can’t improve the user experience without really understanding through process discovery how to make it more intuitive. Detecting and removing the bottlenecks can help alleviate productivity lags, improve workflow, and most importantly, eliminate a big chunk of employee dissatisfaction.
  • Boost productivity. Green screens and 1:1 modernized UIs are known to cause productivity issues, slowing down employees, causing frustration, and delaying their response time to customers. A bird’s eye view of your IBM i System can help you pinpoint the areas holding your employees back and make essential modernization decisions that give them more time and space to work more efficiently.
  • Better customer experience. Improving customer experience is a key concern of every business. Still, when employees are forced to navigate so many obstacles, the quality of service they provide to customers suffers. To improve customer experience and do so quickly and well, businesses need to remove barriers that box in employees. We’ve all experienced this: when a customer service rep takes 10 minutes to help us, we get frustrated – and in some instances, we take our business elsewhere. Process discovery is an important steppingstone to customer-centricity.
  • Achieve higher ROI. Most business stakeholders will understand the need for modernization and automation, but whether those projects get continued support depends on the speed and impact. Modernization projects, automation projects specifically, can drive significant ROI for the business very quickly if they leverage the visibility of process discovery with both their approach to the modernization project, as well as the execution.

It’s easy to overlook process discovery because it’s time-consuming and difficult work -- but don’t. with a strong framework for DevOps modernization projects that include process discovery and refactoring, companies will see the organizational impact in efficiency, productivity and, ultimately, cost savings.

Image Credit: Sergey Nivens / Shutterstock

Chris White is Principal Product Manager, Rocket Software.

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