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.

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