Data before Process or Process before Data?

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Here is a silly question, would you put the horse before the cart or the cart before the horse? Of course, only one of these alternatives offers an effective solution. In a similar vein would data come before process or process before data? The answer has important consequences for process design. Getting it wrong may not be an option.

Every process (or action at the minimum) requires some trigger; in any business scenario all such triggers will have some data attached. If your HR department wants to hire a new human resource; the first thing that is created is data describing the skills etc. to be had by the new hire. The hiring process would be a futile exercise without this information. Any business process be it a travel request, an expense claim request, would need data to kickstart its associated process. A process always requires a purpose, and the purpose comes packaged with data. This is true for both back-office and front-office processes, the only difference is that the front-office processes are triggered by clients, for example, call centres and sales.
Although this doesn’t change anything, in the investment industry there is a concept of the middle-office that is the connective tissue between the back-office and front-office, presumably comprising of risk management and compliance departments.

Processes always create data, and in all cases it is actionable data. The only data created by a process that is not immediately actionable is the run time meta data. Although, performance may be considered as actionable with a high immediacy in some cases, such as, certain types of bank processes. One should question actions or processes that do not create any actionable data for the business. Unless you want to emulate the condemned Sisyphus (supposedly the wisest of mortals condemned to do a most useless of tasks), it would be prudent to root out such activity and/or processes.

This would suggest that, “Data before Process” is correct; process does create data (and actionable data at that) but process cannot come before purposeful data. All process design starts with data and the identification of its purposeful trigger. Data at its most usefulness to business is actionable data. It is not simply a question of observing peoples actions, and at some later stage drawing a set of boxes and connected arrows on ones favourite tool.
This is an improvement of the half-hearted response to the forum question at bpm.com.

About KM Mukku

Kick-start, build and manage teams in product development (particularly in the financial domain), and enjoy all in adaptive case management, business process design and business process improvement. Currently holding the position of CTO at coMakeIT.
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