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Mapping the Changing Face of BPM

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Mapping the Changing Face of BPM

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Anyone who’s been following me and this blog for some time will have seen me rail against those who say “BPM is dead”. (You might even be a bit bored of me now.)

As I say in our recent BPM in 2014 report:

Many of the largest enterprises in developed economies are now years into their BPM journeys, which means that BPM technology sales mega-deals are not as easy for vendors to uncover as they once were – but to equate that with a death-knell is lazy.

There’s also no doubt that the initial hype around BPM from a decade ago – which sold the dream that large enterprises would transform their management cultures, organisations and systems so they were completely process-oriented, and that they would then use BPM technology to automate portfolios of business processes end-to-end – was overcooked. Some enterprises have carried out the modeling piece; but when it comes to automation or digitisation the scope of adoption has been more constrained. Still, though, there are myriad examples of large enterprises that have delivered process efficiency returns of 30-40% at a departmental/functional level, and there are also many examples of mid-sized organisations that have achieved similar results.

I’ve used the picture below a couple of times in presentations recently to try and illustrate some of the shift that’s gone on over the past decade as BPM has evolved.


BPM technology started out being sold as enabling a holistic capability that could unite the domains of enterprise strategy, management and execution. Businesses would use BPM Suites to manage business processes in the same way that they used DBMSs to manage relational data, so the theory went.

As BPM technology has evolved and become more of a mainstream concern, its application has become more pragmatic than visionary, and the simplistic one-size-fits-all BPMS proposition as initially fleshed out by Gartner has come apart at the seams. It turns out that although many companies want to use technology to help them co-ordinate work more efficiently and effectively, monitor the performance of their business processes and manage change, they don’t all want or need precisely the same mix of tools.

And as the BPMS box has started to crack open a bit, we’re also seeing other adjacent process-improvement-supporting technologies enter the mix: data management layers and composite application builders that make some technology platforms into more full-blown application development platforms; case management (CM) frameworks that enable more dynamic, expert-driven work scenarios to be supported with software; operational intelligence (OI) frameworks that enable end-to-end business process metrics to be monitored in real-time and performance (or problems) to be predicted in advance.

At the same time, we’ve also seen the focus of application of BPM technologies start to shift – beyond primarily administrative processes, to cover more and more of the domain of customer interaction, as customer interactions have become more digital, software-driven and integrated. Put simply: businesses are starting to realise that new modes of customer interaction have to be hooked up to administrative and operational processes – really driving customer experience means you have to be able to create platforms that enable people to coordinate work and share knowledge right the way across marketing, sales, operations and service domains.

I’m hearing some vendors say they’re getting pushback from customers about BPM – with customers saying they’ve heard it all before and they don’t believe the hype. My answer is: if you’re getting pushback you need to do more to sell solutions to customers’ process-related problems, and try to avoid simplistically pushing the concept of “BPM as solution” to everyone, everywhere.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the technology set available to help businesses improve and co-ordinate how work gets done is evolving and maturing. The need for BPM as a capability is something that hasn’t gone away and will never go away. What’s more there’s a whole heap of innovation and experimentation going on in how technology can help businesses co-ordinate work in sophisticated ways – there’s a lot to be excited about!

Next week I’ll be at the second bpmNEXT conference, in California. It’s a conference chock-full of presentations from vendors’  software development labs, and there will be sessions covering (among other things):

  • Use of Analytics/recommendations
  • Self-organising work and ad hoc work
  • Mobile technology and its impact on business processes
  • Work management
  • Cloud-based workflow platforms
  • Synthetic APIs
  • New model notations
  • Event-driven work modelling
  • Process intelligence

There’s still a lot going on in this world, no doubt about it.

Whether we (or you) call this “BPM”, though, is perhaps another matter.

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