Rumours of the death of BPM are very much exaggerated . .

A recent post by Steve Towers posits that BPM is heading the way of the old BPR and potentially self destructing. I don't see it that way.

Steve thinks that inter-factional fighting threatens to destroy what Research and Markets describes as a $32 bn industry by 2012. He sites the following factors in his argument:

  • A decline in the number of Google searches on Business Process Management - down 45% from 5 years ago - although, funnily enough, 'BPM' as a search trend has remained pretty constant over the same 5 years and 'BPMN' is up almost 150%.
  • A specific training and certification organisation is behind its own schedule for producing BPM training
  • Steve's own organisation has identified 3 different 'flavours' of BPM, the existence of which could cause confusion and lack of understanding.
  • A large number of LinkedIn groups focused on BPM, many of which are vendor led

Well, call me old fashioned, but a selective search statistic, a lack-lustre (or maybe just thorough and detailed, ergo 'slow-moving') trade organisation and some biased internal research do not convince me that this draws parallels with the old BPR and is likely to suffer the same fate.

Having said that, I don't want to dismiss Steve's comments completely out of hand because I think at there is a potential for confusion and misunderstanding with BPM that we cannot ignore. It isn't based on search statistics, or on self promoting 'research' but it does go back to a key underlying human trait:

People don't like change.

BPM is a capability which every company should be looking at implementing in some way, shape or form. It doesn't have to be a huge vendor-led implementation with third party implementers and system integrators, but it should be something which is recognised and focused on within the organisation. The benefits have been detailed elsewhere. But doing this is something that a lot of organisations will pull back from doing. The business case for BPM has not been sufficiently well defined in terms of actual impartial results (rather than some vendor case study showing a particular project that has been successful), but more important than that is the fact that there doesn't seem to be a single, commonly-accepted definition of BPM as a discipline, a capability and a skill that everyone - vendors and customers alike - can discuss and work with on a level playing field. "Business Process Management" means many things to many people. I think even Steve - who apparently coined the phrase BPM back in the 1990's - would be hard pressed to produce a definition which is all encompassing and widely accepted.

Many small vendors are now producing software packages for 'BPM' which are little more than discovery tools. Some niche vendors are focusing on a particular aspect of managing a process such as business rules engines and decision management. But at the end of the day it all boils down to the fact that 'BPM' is something still relatively new in the IT world and there is fear, uncertainty, and doubt about what it is, what it does, and what the benefit is of it. This fear is the fear of change and is a contributing factor why a large number of BPM (and other) projects fail.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that BPM projects are doomed to fail. Nor am I saying that I don't think BPM is well understood. What I am saying is that it isn't widely understood and this lack of comprehension is a factor in a numer of project failures.

So what can we do? Well Steve mentions The BPM Nexus in his post which is an initiative I am part of to help define a BPM Accord. This Accord will, hopefully, seek to address a numer of the issues and problems that BPM is facing today as well as creating a non-partisan, wide ranging community space to help define and refine the BPM capability. Hopefully we will get vendor and practitioner alike involved in this and I hope my readers will step over and have a look at the site itself. With over 200 members in a little over 5 days it is starting off with some excellent support.

My thanks to Steve for his original post but, with all due respect Mr. Towers, the rumours of the death of BPM are very much exaggerated.

Reminder: 'The Perfect Process Project' is still available. Don't miss the chance to get this valuable insight into how to make business processes work for you.

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