BPM Milan: Paul Harmon keynote

After a few brief introductions from the various conference organizers (in which we learned that next year’s conference is in Ulm, Germany), we had a keynote from Paul Harmon on the current state and future of BPM. It covered a lot of the past, too: from the origins of quality management and process improvement through every technique used in the past 100 years to the current methods and best practices. A reasonable summary of how we got to where we are.

His “future promise”, however, isn’t all that future: he talks about orchestrating ERP processes with a BPMS, something that’s already a well-understood functionality, if not widely implemented. He points out (and I agree) that many uses of BPMS today are not that innovative: they’re being used the same way as the workflow and EAI systems of 5 years ago, namely, as better programming tools to automate a process. He sees the value of today’s BPMS as helping managers to manage processes, both in terms of visibility and agility; of course, it’s hard to do that unless you have the first part in place, it’s just that a lot of companies spend too much effort on the first level of just automating the processes, and never get to the management part of BPM.

He discussed the importance of BPMN in moving BPMS into the hands of managers and business analysts, in that a basic — but still standards-compliant — BPMN diagram can be created without adornment by someone on the business side without having to consider many of the exception flows or technical implementation details: this “happy path” process will execute as it is, but won’t handle all situations. The exceptions and technical details can be added at a second modeling/design phase while still maintaining the core process as originally designed by the business person.

He also showed a different view of a business process: instead of modeling the internal processes, model the customer processes — what the customer goes through in order to achieve their goals — and align that with what goes on internally and what could be done to improve the customer experience. Since the focus is on the customer process and not the internal process, the need for change to internal process can become more evident: a variation on walking a mile in their shoes.

His definition of BPM is very broad, encompassing not just the core processes, but performance management, people, technology, facilities, management and suppliers/partners: an integration of quality, management and IT. Because of the broad involvement of people across an organization, it’s key to find a common language about process that spans IT and business management.

Although they’re not there yet, you can find a copy of his slides later this week by searching for BPM2008HarmonKeynote at BPtrends.com.

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