Software Engineering-Business Process Engineering

The goal of business process engineering (BPE) is to define architectures that will enable a business to use information effectively. Michael Guttman describes the challenge when he states:

Today's computing environment consists of computing power that's distributed over an enterprise-wide array of heterogeneous processing units, scaled and configured for a wide variety of tasks. Variously known as client-server computing, distributed processing, and enterprise networking (to name just a few overused terms), this new environment promised businesses the greater functionality and flexibility they demanded.

However, the price for this change is largely borne by the IT [information technology] organizations that must support this polyglot configuration. Today, each IT organization must become, in effect, its own systems integrator and architect. It must design, implement, and support its own unique configuration of heterogeneous computing resources, distributed logically and geographically throughout the enterprise, and connected by an appropriate enterprise-wide networking scheme.

Moreover, this configuration can be expected to change continuously, but unevenly, across the enterprise, due to changes in business requirements and in computing technology. These diverse and incremental changes must be coordinated across a distributed environment consisting of hardware and software supplied by dozens, if not hundreds, of vendors. And, of course, we expect these changes to be seamlessly incorporated without disrupting normal operations and to scale gracefully as those operations expand.

When taking a world view of a company’s information technology needs, there is little doubt that system engineering is required. Not only is the specification of the appropriate computing architecture required, but the software architecture that populates the “unique configuration of heterogeneous computing resources” must be developed. Business process engineering is one approach for creating an overall plan for implementing the computing architecture .

Three different architectures must be analyzed and designed within the context of business objectives and goals:
data architecture
applications architecture
technology infrastructure

The data architecture provides a framework for the information needs of a business or business function. The individual building blocks of the architecture are the data objects that are used by the business. A data object contains a set of attributes that define some aspect, quality, characteristic, or descriptor of the data that are being described. For example, an information engineer might define the data object customer.

To more fully describe customer, the following attributes are defined:

 Object: Customer
                    company name
                    job classification and purchase authority
                    business address and contact information
                    product interest(s)
                    past purchase(s)
                    date of last contact
                    status of contact

Once a set of data objects is defined, their relationships are identified. A relationship indicates how objects are connected to one another. As an example, consider the objects: customer, and product A. The two objects can be connected by the relationship purchases; that is, a customer purchases product A or product A is purchased by a customer. The data objects (there may be hundreds or even thousands for a major business activity) flow between business functions, are organized within a database, and are transformed to provide information that serves the needs of the business.

The application architecture encompasses those elements of a system that transform objects within the data architecture for some business purpose.We consider the application architecture to be the system of programs (software) that performs this transformation. However, in a broader context, the application architecture might incorporate the role of people (who are information transformers and users) and business procedures that have not been automated.

The technology infrastructure provides the foundation for the data and application architectures. The infrastructure encompasses the hardware and software that are used to support the application and data. This includes computers, operating systems, networks, telecommunication links, storage technologies, and the architecture (e.g., client/server) that has been designed to implement these technologies.

To model the system architectures described earlier, a hierarchy of business process engineering activities is defined.The world view is achieved through information strategy planning (ISP). ISP views the entire business as an entity and isolates the domains of the business (e.g., engineering, manufacturing, marketing, finance, sales) that are important to the overall enterprise. ISP defines the data objects that are visible at the enterprise level, their relationships, and how they flow
between the business domains .

The domain view is addressed with a BPE activity called business area analysis (BAA). Hares [HAR93] describes BAA in the following manner:

BAA is concerned with identifying in detail data (in the form of entity [data object] types) and function requirements (in the form of processes) of selected business areas [domains] identified during ISP and ascertaining their interactions (in the form of matrices). It is only concerned with specifying what is required in a business area. 

As the system engineer begins BAA, the focus narrows to a specific business domain. BAA views the business area as an entity and isolates the business functions and procedures that enable the business area to meet its objectives and goals. BAA, like ISP, defines data objects, their relationships, and how data flow. But at this level, these characteristics are all bounded by the business area being analyzed. The outcome of BAA is to isolate areas of opportunity in which information systems may support the business area.

Once an information system has been isolated for further development, BPE makes a transition into software engineering. By invoking a business system design (BSD) step, the basic requirements of a specific information system are modeled and these requirements are translated into data architecture, applications architecture, and technology infrastructure.

The final BPE step—construction and integration focuses on implementation detail. The architecture and infrastructure are implemented by constructing an appropriate database and internal data structures, by building applications using software components, and by selecting appropriate elements of a technology infrastructure to support the design created during BSD. Each of these system components must then be integrated to form a complete information system or application. The integration activity also places the new information system into the business area context, performing all user training and logistics support to achieve a smooth transition.
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