The Business Value of BPM

It's the one question the C-suite will always want to have an answer for: "What is the business value of BPM?"

But what are they really asking? The answer is simple. They want to know - at the very lowest level - "If I spend $xm implementing this thing you call BPM - what will it do to my bottom line? Or, more precisely,  how will it increase my profits/ value/ shareholder return?"

It's an exceedingly simple question. But one which does not have an easy answer.

In the big scheme of things I believe that there are very few organisations in the world who would not benefit from having their processes reviewed - whether this is a simple as documenting what they do so that they know where the problems are, or as complex as redesigning the whole operation to be more customer-centric (or 'Outside-In'). History has indicated that any organisation which that has been operating for more than a very short time will have process inefficiencies. These will have built up over a period of time as a result of laziness, people taking short-cuts or even changes which were made legitimately to deal with changing market conditions. The business has worked these changes into its day-to-day operations and everything is running admirably.

But it's very similar to a car. My car is a very reliable, locally built hatchback. It always starts on time, never lets me down and carries me and my things from A to B with no hassle, no complaints and no troubles. It just works. But over the few years that I have had it the tyres have started to wear down, the brake pads are wearing down and - more importantly - the engine is not as finely tuned as it was. I don't notice this, though, because I drive it everyday and the tiny changse in performance etc. are negligible on that basis.

But, being the good car owner that I am, I take the care in to be serviced. The service centre will take all the replaceable bits and replace them. It will put new tyres on them, check the pressures, clean the air filter and - most importantly - tune up the engine. When I get it back it will look like the old car I had (it may even be cleaner as they tend to give it a valet as well), it will feel like the old car I had but it will be completely different. It will run more efficiently, it will brake quicker, it will do more miles to the gallon.

The big question, though, is what is this worth to me as a driver? Will the reduced fuel consumption pay for the cost of the service? Probably not. Is the whole experience worth it? Absolutely! The car becomes a better machine. It does less harm to the environment. It is a safer vehicle all round.

But could I justify this to someone who had to pay for it? Of course I could - but probably not in monetary terms. The return on investment is probably not going to be good. However the other tangibles - and the intangibles - are going to be.

It's oftentimes the same with BPM projects. The benefit they give to your organisation in terms of improving efficiency and the ability to do the job better are more intangible than tangible.

Of course you can always fudge the figures. I worked for an organisation that justified the huge cost of a project by extrapolating the additional income that would be raised 20 years in the future by getting a product to market 2 years earlier in the patent cycle - blatantly unjustifiable numbers - and yet the project was approved on that basis. But I would encourage you not to fall into that trap. Look at your organisation and determine what you feel the benefit of the project is going to be rather than what you feel the monetary improvement of the project is going to be. With any well scoped BPM project your ROI is going to be 15% according to Gartner, so take this as a starting point and then add in all the intengibles that relate to it.

It makes sense.


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The distraction of BPM

(In the style of Seth Godin)

For many project people the tools and associated detritus around BPM are what makes the project interesting: Get a good tool, implement it, either with your SI or internally, roll it out and watch the users flock to this brand new way of doing thngs.

Except that's not what happens.

Your user base couldn't care less about a new tool, or some new way of doing things. All they want is to be able to finish their work in the quickest, easiest way possible and go home.

Anything you put in the way of that will meet resistance

(And everything you do is in the way of that!)

Reminder: 'The Perfect Process Project Second Edition' is now available. Don't miss the chance to get this valuable insight into how to make business processes work for you. Click this link and follow the instructions to get this book.

All information is Copyright (C) G Comerford  
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ABPMP Members - Is litigation the way to go? (A bit of a rant)

I don't usually use this forum to put together a rant - normally I leave that to my personal blog. However something came to my attention recently that, I think, warranted this.

Sandy Kemsley - respected BPM professional, blogger and thought leader in the BPM arena - is part of an initiative to put together an open-source body of knowledge for process. This is something that has been mooted for a while and the PKI initiative who are running this have started a wiki to form the basis of the document.

At that point the ABPMP (The Association of Business Process Management Professionals) has weighed in threatening legal action against the PKI for copyright infringement against their document 'The BPM BOK'. This is despite the fact that the PKI has not used BPM POK in their documentation and have, instead, created a document called PKBoK.

So far so good. Now comes the interesting part. Sandy blogged about the PKBoK, the ABPMP's legal action and her thoughts on this last week and one of the comments to that entry came from Tony Benedict the President of ABPMP International. It starts with "I’ll try to address your misdirected rant one by one." and ends with "Your blog seems like a desperate attempt for attention in a BPM market where you have no reputation as a practitioner, only a “criticizer".

Strong words.

And also, quite inaccurate and unnecessary.

Sandy - to her credit - has replied with factual statements without resorting to ad-hominem attacks.

But I find the whole thing disturbing.

It doesn't matter whether you agree with the PKI's efforts to put together such a document (and The Process Ninja is critical of their efforts so far). It doesn't matter whether you think that this is something that should be done (or indeed can be done). It doesn't matter whether there is a legal issue with the proposed PKI document (and as far as I can tell the legal complaint that has been raised does not appear to have foundation in fact - although I am not a lawyer). What matters is that the President of an international industry body feels it appropriate to comment on a public forum with a personal attack on an individual.

I have been in the Business Process world now for about ten years and I am fully aware of who Sandy Kemsley is. She and I have had conversations over social media and through blogs and I know of the work she does and the effort she puts into her work. In those ten years of BPM work I have never heard of Tony Benedict. I have never seen or read anything written by him (other than the ad-hominem attack on Sandy), and I certainly haven't heard anything about his reputation - good or otherwise - within the BPM field. In fact a quick search on the internet reveals that the only link I can find to him outside the ABPMP is the Amazon link to the book he is co-author of called (surprise, surprise) "Business Process Management Common Body Of Knowledge".

Maybe that's a failing of mine. Maybe I am not reading the right blogs, going to the right conferences or attending the right webcasts. But when somebody I don't know places himself above another person by referring to that person (a member of my blogging BPM Black List) as having no reputation as a practitioner, only a criticiser, I have to wonder.

I have to wonder why this individual feels the need to make a personal attack. I have to wonder what insecurities he is trying to hide and I have to wonder whether he is fulfilling his obligations as the president of an industry body by making attacks such as these. If I were a member of the ABPMP I would cancel that membership immediately.

Let me be absolutely clear here about a few facts as well. I have no problem with anyone trying to protect their intellectual property. If I had co-authored a book and somebody else ripped that off I would attempt legal actions to stop that too. But the PKI is not ripping off that book. As far as I know they are not plagiarising anything from the ABPMP, nor are they even producing anything with the same name. They are merely taking the underlying idea (which is not copyrightable) and interpreting it a different way. As Scott Francis says on the BP3 blog "PKI have their sights set on an open collaboration around a body of knowledge for BPM that is transparent and freely available, to advance a common understanding of the state of the art." and "I think ABPMP is in the unenviable position of trying to fight the future.". I agree. But fighting it by trying to belittle the people who are involved in it is not the right way to do it.

Comments on Sandy's blog also indicate that Mr Benedict is doing more harm than good to the ABPMP.

Hopefully he will read these comments and understand the meaning of them.

UPDATE: I have deliberately removed commenting from this post because I think that anyone who wishes to comment should visit Sandy's blog and comment there instead. I note that several of my respected BPM  bloggers have already done so. Please add your $0.02 worth

Reminder: 'The Perfect Process Project Second Edition' is now available. Don't miss the chance to get this valuable insight into how to make business processes work for you. Click this link and follow the instructions to get this book.

All information is Copyright (C) G Comerford See related info below

The No. 1 Success Factor for BPM Projects

In the style of Seth Godin

I recently asked The $64m question about BPM and the answers I received were many and diverse.

So it got me thinking "What is the number one success factor you need to have for BPM projects".

  • Is it training?
  • Is it C-Suite buy-in?
  • Is it an understanding of the benefits?
  • Is it dealing with the hottest burning issue?

The answer is "Yes". It's all of those.

And none of those.

What is most important to your organisation is the factor that will get BPM implemented quicker and easier.

It might be getting C-suite buy-in. It might be getting people trained. It might be making sure everyone understands the benefits of BPM. It might be finding a burning issue that you need to solve.

One thing's for sure: There is always a key success factor in each project.

The next time you're starting a BPM project, consider that the reason the last one failed might be because you had the wrong factor identified. Your challenge is to identify what the right one is and make sure everyone is aligned.

Reminder: 'The Perfect Process Project Second Edition' is now available. Don't miss the chance to get this valuable insight into how to make business processes work for you. Click this link and follow the instructions to get this book.

All information is Copyright (C) G Comerford
  See related info below

The State of BPM Part 3

This is the third and final of three articles discussing the state of BPM today. In the first article we discussed the current state of the BPM capability and covered items such as training, project failure and the definition (or lack thereof) of BPM. In the second article we looked at the state of the technology surrounding BPM. In particular we looked at the vendor segment and try to understand the impact of the consolidation occurring there.

The third and final part of this series will attempt to summarise the last two posts and also try and foresee where we are with the whole capability and what the future will be. Sure, it's a bit of crystal-ball gazing, but I think something like this is useful to try and work out where the whole market is going and what they key areas to focus on are.

If you want an official view on this then our friends at Gartner will be all to eager to give you their version of BPM based on extensive market research and discussions with both vendors and customers. My view is slightly different. I'm looking at this through a lens of social media. And by that I mean I'm reading the posts, tweets and similar updates that have occurred to try and make sense of where BPM is as a topic, what the hot buttons are within it, and where these are going to lead.

Primarily I will be talking about three things.

  • The evolution of BPM as a concept.
  • The introduction of Social Media to BPM.
  • The future for BPM technology.

The Evolution of BPM as a concept.
In part one of this series I talked about the fact that there is little common understanding of the definition of BPM. I mentioned the fact that this fuzzy definition is being further clouded by the introduction of alternate aspects of BPM such as ACM, Agile BPM, Adaptive BPM,  etc (and some people are trying to differentiate what is what). All of these are totally legitimate aspects of the craft. My personal opinion is that they will continue to evolve a little further and - in a couple of years time - the market will fragment to such a point that there will be a marked distinction in the different types of "BPM".

One of the key areas of discussion at the moment is that of workflow documentation matched against unstructured processes. In today's world (as, indeed throughout history) the work that people do has fallen into two camps: The work that is repetitive - and can be documented, improved and automated - versus the unstructured work - which in reality is where the bulk of the innovation and associated work occurs. For example a call centre process can be analysed, documented and - to a certain degree - automated (think Interactive Voice Response and call routing systems), but the solution of a customer problem is something that depends on a lot of items, not all of which can be appropriately defined. The unstructured part of a call centre is that part where the true value of the process is found, but it is also the part where the BPM aspect is least sufficient. I can see as we progress that more companies will start to look at the unstructured part with a closer eye and want tools and methodologies to help them appropriately manage this. Any company which can provide that toolset and methodology will have a head start in this market.

I have written in the past about Outside-in processing. There are the usual proponents of this style who swear by it and say they have the case studies to back this up, pointing to companies such as Southwest Airlines, Apple and Best Buy as prime examples. But they then turn round in the following breath and tell us that a lot of these companies don't call it 'outside-in' but refer to it under some other name. I have another name for it too: Common sense. In my view Outside-in is just merely sense under another guise. Companies who have used common sense when defining their process  have determined that the customer needs to be at the heart of everything they do, and have redesigned their methods to enable that to happen. The lack of a defined methodology for Outside-in coupled with the lack of firm case-studies identifying customers who have moved from a non common-sense approach to one with common sense but without a compelling underlying product (iPhone or iPad, anyone?) does make me nervous about fully endorsing this.

The Introduction of Social media to BPM
Is this a passing fad? Will social media have a dramatic effect on BPM? I think yes - in certain cases. If we are talking about passing status updates of process steps - or even reviewing and managing unstructured processes - then 'yes'. If we are talking about using Twitter, Facebook and similar tools to help define processes then I see a key problem: As with a lot of the current vendors, once you lock into a particular toolset it will inhibit your ability to be as flexible as you wish. With Facebook's current predilection for changing security settings on an almost weekly basis I can see this being an issue within the BPM sphere. After all you wouldn't want key process data for your organisation suddenly being passed to third party organisations, would you? As one of Facebook's privacy officers said recently "If you don't want your private information used by Facebook, don't put private information on Facebook". Such a move - like having a BPM vendor change their current functionality - will impact your ability to appropriately manage your process through social media. If you have gone down a route whereby you are heavily invested in social media and BPM, this could have a severe detrimental impact on your business.

The Future for Technology
Technology is - and always has been for me - the least important part of BPM. It is a tool in the same way as a hammer is a tool. If you are not trying to hammer in a nail but are wanting to paint a wall instead, then a hammer isn't very much use. This is the same with BPM tools. The plethora of tools available is starting to bewilder the market. The inclusion of a number of bits of functionality from various aspects of BPM is starting to make Vendor offerings into BPM 'Swiss-Army' Suites. i.e they can do all sorts of everything. But it also means they can't always do them all very well. Take simulation, for example. This is a key function of BPM and process design and yet there isn't a single vendor on the market that has produced a good, fully functioned process simulation tool. By that I mean a tool that will load a process and determine, for example, the optimum staffing level for each step according to various user-defined parameters. Sure, there are simulation suites in many tools - my personal favourite is the Proforma/Metastorm tool which is both visually well designed and produces good output- but it is still an add-on to a larger suite and one which cannot answer the type of question I have just raised.

In the previous post I talked about the potential consolidation of the market as companies start to buy out competitors and produce larger and larger BPM vendors. In some ways this is good for the end customer because it means that a given vendor will have more integrated offerings including increased functionality that may have been lacking prior to the merger. But the flip side of this is that it will reduce competition in the marketplace and automatically inflate prices (After all this is more or less what happened with the petroleum market and - as far as I can see - my gallon of petrol costs about the same price regardless of where I buy it from. Surely this is a market that is ripe for competition?). It will stifle the ability of the end customer to guide the direction in which the tools can emerge and leave the vendors in complete control. Do you want your company processes controlled by some vendor CEO outside your company?

However, what this will do then is open the field up for more and more niche vendors to provide their wares targeted at specific markets. Smaller vendors will be more open to listening to their customers and will provide software to plug gaps in the market that the larger vendors do not want to fill. They will also offer increased competition and a good price point.

This short series of posts has been aimed at helping you understand the current state of BPM as a concept, a toolset and a future direction. A lot of the opinions here are my own and do not always reflect the current market reality. For that I make no apology. I believe that the BPM market is due for a good shake-up soon. We must get to the stage where we fully understand what me mean by BPM, what we want to do to support and it where we want to take it in future. If we - as customers and consultants - don't take this step then we will be at the mercy of the vendors who will not always produce a future state that we agree with.

Hopefully you have found something of interest in this series of posts to help you understand BPM and where I, in particular, stand with it.

Reminder: 'The Perfect Process Project Second Edition' is now available. Don't miss the chance to get this valuable insight into how to make business processes work for you. Click this link and follow the instructions to get this book.

All information is Copyright (C) G Comerford
  See related info below

Why BPM Won't Work In Your Organization

In the style of Seth Godin

Because it's hard work. Because it involves change. Because you don't know what you don't know about the project.

Your BPM project will take longer, cost more and hurt more people than you imagine. Make sure you know this in advance and work through it.

The world is full of BPM projects that didn't achieve their potential.

Don't let yours be one of them.

Reminder: 'The Perfect Process Project Second Edition' is now available. Don't miss the chance to get this valuable insight into how to make business processes work for you. Click this link and follow the instructions to get this book.

All information is Copyright (C) G Comerford
  See related info below