BPM Think Tank Day 1: Paul Harmon

Phil Gilbert kicked off morning with welcome and logistics before turning it over to Paul Harmon, who gave a keynote entitled “Does the OMG have any business getting involved in business process management?” I love a little controversy first thing in the morning.

He started out with a fairly standard view of the history of BPM and process improvement, from Rummler-Brache and TQM in the 80’s to BPR in the 90’s to BPM in the 00’s. He pointed out that BPM has become a somewhat meaningless term, since it means process improvement, the software used to automate processes, a management philosophy of organizing businesses around their processes (the most recent Gartner viewpoint) and a variety of other things.

He broke down BPM into enterprise level, process level and implementation level concerns (with a nice pyramid graphic), and gave some examples of each. For example, at the enterprise level, we have frameworks such as SCOR (for supply chain) and high-level organizational issues such as the Business Process Maturity Model (BPMM); Harmon questions whether OMG should be involved at this level since its primary focus is on technology standards. Process-level concerns are more about modelling, documenting and improving processes, and spreading that process culture throughout the organization. Implementation-level concerns includes the automation of processes, including execution and monitoring, plus the training required to support these new processes.

He made an interesting distinction between stable processes,which need to be efficient and productive, and dynamic processes, which need to be flexible. Processes that are newer or need to be changed frequently are in the dynamic range; in my opinion, these tend to be the processes that are competitive differentiators for an organization. IBM has recently thrown the concept of “value nets” into the mix as an alternative to value chains, but Harmon feels that both are valid concepts: possibly using value chains for stable processes, which might even be candidates for outsourcing, and value nets for more dynamic processes.

He also made a distinction between process improvement, process redesign and process reengineering, a division that I find a bit false since it’s more of a spectrum than he shows.

There was an interesting bit on model-driven architecture (MDA) and how it moves from platform-independent models (in BPMN) to platform-specific models (also in BPMN) to implementation (e.g., J2EE); for example, there may be parts of a process modelled at the platform-independent level that are never automated, hence aren’t directly mapped to the platform-specific level.

He put forward the idea that process is where business mangers and IT meet, and that different organizations may have the implementation level being driven by either the business side or the IT side, and that there’s often poor coordination at this level.

He then discussed BPMS and came up with yet another taxonomy: integration-centric, employee-centric, document-centric, decision-centric and monitoring-centric. Do we need another way to categorize BPMS? Are these divisions all that meaningful, since the vendors all keep jostling for space in the segment that they think that the analysts are presenting as most critical? More importantly, Harmon sees that also the BPM suites vendors (those that combined process execution/automation with modelling, BAM, rules and all the other shiny things) are leading the market now, the platform vendors (IBM, Microsoft, etc.) will grow to dominate the market in years to come. I’m not sure that I agree with that unless those platform vendors seriously improve their offerings, which are currently disjointed and much less functional than the BPM suites.

Harmon’s slides will be available under OMG-BPM on the BPTrends site. There’s definitely some good stuff in here, particularly in the standards and practices that fit into each level of the pyramid.

Good thing that I’m blogging offline in Windows Live Writer, since the T-mobile connectivity keeps dropping, and isn’t smart enough to keep a cookie to stay logged in, but requires a new login each time that its crappy service cuts out. Posting may come in chunks since it will likely require me to dash out to the lobby to get a decent signal.

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