I have advocated that the concept and potential value of business process simulation is easy to understand. Yet, if simulation makes so much sense intellectually, why aren’t business managers using simulation all the time? I’ve outlined the deficiencies of simulation, and the Sim4BPM effort is meant to help address these. In the current state of business process simulation, what managers ideally want is to do something as simple as click a button and automatically simulate their business processes. What they actually get is a rather non trivial exercise, requiring specific skills sets, to create and maintain meaningful simulation models.
If you step back, what one realizes is that managers don’t actually want a simpler way to simulate their process. Nor, I suspect, do they want a simpler was to automate their processes. What the really want, quite simply, is answers. How do I process this item at the least cost? How much staff do I need to manage the workload and meet my deadlines? What is the best way to order or schedule the work? Could I operate with less equipment, and if so, how much less? Etc.
Simulation, even if it was dead simple, is only a means to an end. So is BPM in general. Managers don’t actually want either of these. They want the easiest way to get answers to the specific problems and challenges of running their business. Failing that, they want the analytics capability to find those answers. Failing that, they’ll implement the tools to generate the data to get the analytics to get at the answers…
Simulation is but one tool, albeit a useful and powerful one, that generates the kind of data required to perform the analytics required to provide the answers business managers need. It’s kind of low on the food chain. It doesn’t mean it’s not important or useful, because it is both. It’s just that managers don’t want simulation, they want answers. They might need to use simulation (or job scheduling software, or statistical forecasts, or…), but they are a means to an end. Something to keep in mind.
Tools and technologies that provide business process answers and not just analytics can often be characterized by optimization methods that identify a best (optimal) configuration. Simulation, in and of itself, is not an optimization tool. Instead it measures how changes in a business process’ parameters affect the behavior of the process over time. However, simulation technology can be used as an input to optimization methods. For example, Meta Software aims to answer the question what is the optimal set of staff schedules given the business process and staffing constraints? This is accomplished by using simulation technology to model and predict workloads that are input into workforce management technology that optimizes scheduling against those workloads. Robert Shapiro and Hartmann Genrich have developed technology that can optimize process structure. Simulation as an enabler of their solution. In both cases, simulation is very important and useful, but it’s not really about the simulation.
For the purposes of full disclosure, you should know that I currently work for Meta Software. If you or your company is also using simulation as an input to optimization technology to provide answers as opposed to analytics, let me know and I’ll make sure it gets mentioned.
Photo Credit: Caro’s Lines.