For the next couple of days, I’m at the Gartner BPM Summit in Orlando. Jim Sinur and Janelle Hill gave the opening keynote this morning on BPM in times of rapid change, starting with a view of the global economy: basically, it’s down this year, although not as bad as expected, and the leading economic indicators are starting to trend up.
Gartner did a survey of CEOs in late 2008, and found that their top priority is shifting back from cutting operating costs to increasing revenues, although only by a slim margin. The resulting message: the time to return to business growth is now, and leveraging BPM to assist growth can provide a first-mover advantage if the economy does trend up in 2010 as predicted. BPM still provides assistance in restructuring operations (including mergers and acquisitions) and cutting costs that goes along with a down economy, so you might as well leverage what you’re already using to cut costs, and start looking forward and repositioning for growth. In many cases (in my experience), improving business processes using BPM has the impact of reducing costs of the specific processes, which can either translate to reduced operational costs through reduced headcount, or increased revenues due to the increased capacity of the process to handle new business: these are just two sides of the same process improvement coin.
Going into 2010, most large enterprises have already completed their cutbacks – reduced headcounts, reduced infrastructure, renegotiated contracts and elimination of redundant technologies – but their budgets are going to be pretty flat. If you already have a BPMS in your organization, then this might mean some incremental expansion, but if you don’t, you need to look at how to justify the technology acquisition. Fortunately, that’s getting easier as the capabilities of the BPMS products expand: consider the value of process modeling (reduced redundancy and better use of people in the process) as well as process and application orchestration (automating the linkages between many existing applications) and composite application development environments (bringing together many applications into a single user view).
Focus on improving processes that defend revenue and cash without impacting customer experience, such as order-to-cash, sales processes, and customer service. Depending on your industry, this could also be the time to take some risks in order to gain that first-mover advantage: reconsider institutionalized behaviors and what you might think of as best practices, and see if there’s an innovative way to improve processes that provide a competitive edge. There should be no processes that are immune to change: challenge the status quo. I see this all the time with how companies are embracing social media in addressing customer relationships: the ones that are successful at it are those that throw away all the old ideas about how companies communicate and interact with their customers. These customer-facing processes are no longer about executing transactions, they’re about coordinating social interactions and developing social relationships.
The hot button these days is unstructured processes (which I’m sure that we’ll hear a lot more about this week), and how some new BPMS functionality allows for dynamic collaboration instead of, or within the context of, a structured process. This provides methods for gaining visibility into processes that might exist now only in email or other ad hoc methods, and likely aren’t managed well in their current state.
It’s not good enough, however, to use old-style BPMS/workflow products: you need to be considering products that have model-driven development, composite application development, process discovery and optimization, and customized dashboards for different roles and personas within a process. Otherwise, you’ll just be stuck back in the same old waterfall development methodology, and won’t achieve a lot of benefit from BPM. Interestingly, Sinur and Hill highlighted three specific products to show examples of what they consider BPMS innovation: Vitria’s composite application development, Pallas Athena’s process discovery and simulation, and Global 360’s persona-based user interfaces.
In the recession of the 1980’s, business process reengineering was a high-profile, strategic activity with top executives involved; as the recession eased, the executives’ interest in BPR waned. The same cycle will repeat now: executives are very interested right now in process improvement and BPM, but that’s not going to last when the economy starts to recover, so you may want to take advantage of their interest now and get something going.
You can track the Twitter backchannel for the Gartner BPM summit here.