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Using BPMN to Enhance ITIL's Effectiveness

Modeling makes words that much more effective, writes ITSMWatch guest columnist Eddy Peters of CTG.
Jun 15, 2009

Eddy Peters

One of the things that make humans different from animals is the fact that we can communicate via speaking. Communication allowed us to evolve into a very diverse species, one that is spread throughout the world. And still we manage to co-exist.

In IT, we used to be good in communicating, as long as we could do the techno-lingo and preferably between peers in our domain of expertise. However, these days IT is expected not only to talk to everybody in the IT organization, but also to the "other side", the business.

It is always a challenge to understand each other when explaining requirements so everybody perfectly understands them. If you have doubts, try the following test: say a relevant sentence of 15 words to a colleague. Have him or her repeat that sentence to another colleague and so on. The more colleagues involved, the more likely the final sentence will no longer express the initial message.

Everybody interprets what is heard and builds on this perception to give the sentence meaning and purpose. And, as we all know, IT involves many people. To complicate things even more, involved people don’t necessarily speak the same language or are IT agnostic (or worse).

But the human race has an instinct for survival. Inventive as we are, we create answers to questions. If the questions are profound, we translate them into something usable for everyone. ITIL and COBiT are examples. These frameworks introduce a unified language, a way of understanding unambiguously. However, there still are challenges developing concise and supportive documentation.

Let’s take the example of process documentation. One of the challenges faced is to put talking on paper without creating a massive 100-plus page document of activity descriptions and procedures. This result makes the documents hard to maintain, difficult to use and even more difficult to distribute. They also lose the communication value and become another piece of shelf ware.


During the 2006 itSMF conference in the Netherlands, HP’s Jeroen Bronkhorst announced the usage of business process modeling notation (BPMN) to visualize and describe the processes in ITIL v3. As it was new to me, I dived into the BPMN as it appealed very much to me. Why? Because:

  • It is easy to use.
  • It is a simple graphical notation format. 
  • It is an open OMG standard and widely supported. 
  • It evolves―currently version 1.1 is out, and version 2.0 is almost there.
  • There are many tools which use BPMN as a representation layer of processes, both freeware and payable.

Without going into theoretical details, BPMN can be used in three distinctive ways. They are:

  • Descriptive modeling―focusing on the documentation aspect of modeling.
  • Analytical modeling―focusing on the process performance analysis. 
  • Executable modeling―focusing on the application code creation.

Descriptive modeling is ideal for the creation of process documentation, because it uses the basic functionalities of BPMN, yet is rich enough to provide a complete notation set for modeling any process.

Obviously, a supporting tool is needed, but you don’t need to search long to find something that fits your needs. But before you go surfing the web, some ideas to consider. Think of the challenges experienced managing your current processes documentation:

  • Do you have difficulties distributing the material?
  • Do you need a layered approach to structure your processes?
  • Do you find the purchase of tools too expensive in these harsh economical days?
  • Are you fed up consolidating information from numerous sources into one tool, which is time consuming to create and difficult to maintain?
  • Is there a need to simulate processes?

IT certification, IT architecture, ITSM, ITIL v3, BPMN

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