Litigating Your Way To BPM Notoriety

I’m a firm believer in free and open information exchange – not always a popular view amongst independents like myself who make our living selling our knowledge and experience to organizations – and that principle is why I became involved in the Process Knowledge Initiative and its creation of an open-source body of knowledge for process information. The idea of the PKI’s BoK (or PKBoK as we’ve come to call it, much to the amusement of pedants who love to point out that two of the five letters in the acronym stand for “Knowledge”) is that the BPM community needs a body of knowledge that is freely available to all, and where everyone in the community can contribute. To that end, we’ve launched a public wiki that contains some starting framework pieces for the BoK, and are starting to accept community contributions in the form of public comments. Soon, I hope, we will have enough in place to open this up for community editing; in order to do that, we need to have some safeguards in place to make sure that special interests don’t hijack the conversation.

The idea for this was first launched in September 2010, based on a paper by Wasana Bandara, Paul Harmon and Michael Rosemann on the need for an open, comprehensive process body of knowledge in order to further professionalize BPM. In that paper, the authors discussed the ABPMP BPM CBOK as “the closest BPM BoK the discipline has to date” in terms of completeness, extendibility, understandability, application and utility, and identified a number of core limitations that need to be addressed:

First, the process of deriving and maintaining the BoK should be more systematic and transparent. This will assist the perceived validity and adoption of it. Secondly, the content that forms the BoK needs to be defined and scoped, and most of all, checked for completeness, correctness and relevance to the field. Also, consensus definition of the content of a BoK is needed for it to be accepted as industry standard. Thirdly, the structure of the BoK should be carefully thought about and documented; this will assist in the correct interpretation of the BoK by its adapters and will also support sustainability and growth of the BoK.

They categorized the ABPMP CBOK as “a good starting point”, and proposed initiatives for an ontology-based approach to developing more comprehensive content, and a community approach to populating and maintaining the content.

The ABPMP, however, doesn’t like the idea of an open and freely-available process BoK, since they make money from selling the content ($49.95 from their store, although Amazon discounts it to $39.17) as well as offering certification programs. Attempts by PKI members, many of whom have long-time memberships with the ABPMP, to involve the ABPMP in the PKI were generally rebuffed. In short, for all of you wondering why we aren’t just working with the ABPMP on their BoK: we think the content should be free and community-created, and they don’t.

I’ve been an ABPMP member in the past, and rejoined last year when I was invited to be on the executive of the fledgling ABPMP Toronto chapter. I don’t see that as being in conflict with my PKI involvement: they’re both helping to educate people on BPM, and that’s a good thing for the industry. At PKI, we could even envision a day when ABPMP offered certification courses and exams for the content in the PKI BoK, either in addition to or as a replacement for their own BoK. Imagine my disappointment, then, at two recent developments:

  • The ABPMP “Presidents Annual Report 2010” provided a financial and legal update that included the statement “Due to the increase in trademark filings, our legal costs will be an ongoing fixed cost of doing business going forward and will be budgeted on an annual basis to align our trademark filings with our growth strategies outside the US.” In other words, they’re using my membership fees to pay their lawyers to sue others who attempt to create bodies of knowledge in the BPM space where the name might possibly be confused with the ABPMP BPM CBOK. Tony Benedict, president of ABPMP International, already fired a warning shot at the PKI with an email stating “You cannot use BPM BOK in any of your publications, digital or otherwise as it violates our trademark.  Please refrain from doing so or ABPMP will take legal action.” This is not how I want my ABPMP membership fees spent. Also, we never used the term “BPM BoK”.
  • The president of the Toronto ABPMP chapter was told by ABPMP International that they can’t help us with our chapter startup costs (which are mostly just incorporation and initial marketing to draw in members), and that we would need to obtain money from sponsors, or incorporate as a for-profit organization and take capital contributions from the shareholders – in spite of the fact that less than 15% of the local members’ fees actually flow to the local chapter. Considering that our startup costs are likely worth about 1 hour of ABPMP International’s trademark lawyers’ fees, I would rather that a bit of that money be directed here so that we can get a local chapter started to promote BPM in Toronto, rather than focusing on suing other people.

I’m just not okay with the idea that you can litigate your way to fame and fortune when you’re trying to create something like the body of knowledge. I know it’s the American way, but I’m Canadian, eh?

27 thoughts on “Litigating Your Way To BPM Notoriety”

  1. Sandy,

    I’ll try to address your misdirected rant one by one. After reading your blog for the first time, it became very clear to me that you completely misunderstand the purpose of professional organizations and were totally misinformed by Paul Harmon, who apparently shared an email exchange between he and I – and it was taken completely out of context.

    First, we are a non-profit and based on the United States, which means that we only can financially support US based chapters. Other professional organizations which have international operations (chapters) have different business models to support their organizations. We chose a model similar to IIBA, which is surprisingly a Canadian organization. In fact, they do the same in the US with their chapters that we do outside the US with our chapters. You should spend a little time to understand what non-profit means – it doesnt’ mean socialism.

    There are many non-profit professional organizations who charge dues and help support the growth of their organization by starting chapters. We in fact do like having a BPM Body of Knowledge, much like the Project Management Institute likes having their Project Management Body of Knowledge. PMI’s PMBOK is not open, and not free, and it is the standard for those wanting to learn project management and eventually, to become certified as a Project Manager. Since we are a practitioner organization, we do the same with BPM. The BPM CBOK was started in 2003 by me and several other practitioners, who were members of ABPMP. It took us a long time to develop the knowledge areas and structure, we had a global team of practitioners and academics writing and editing the content. We have openly invited many people to join our effort, some have and some have not. Paul Harmon was invited and declined.

    Our original name for our body of knowledge was BPM BOK, but PMI threatened to sue us because it was too close to PM BOK. Protecting copyrights and trademarks is part and parcel of publishing and building a global brand – even non-profits do it. Our membership fees are used for general operations, especially to support our certification initiatives globally, inclusive of legal fees to protect our copyrights and trademarks. PMI does the same, so does IIBA, DAMA and others.

    Your blog seems like a desperate attempt for attention in a BPM market where you have no reputation as a practitioner, only a “criticizer”.

    I think that you set a poor example for people who really have an interest in BPM and look to professional organizations, like ABPMP for community and collaboration.

    Tony Benedict
    President, ABPMP International

  2. Hi Tony, thanks for weighing in with your opinions. I agree that what I wrote was a rant — in fact, your comment prompted me to add that as a category on this post — but I don’t agree that it is misdirected.

    The comment from you came directly from what you entered on our Call For Action form on September 18th, 2010, just 3 days after we went live with our announcement about the PKI. In that form, you entered “Publisher of BPM CBOK®” as your primary area of interest (not really in keeping with the general idea of what we were looking for in that field), and your comment in its entirety was “I have already talked to Paul Harmon about the legal implication of your use of BPM BOK. I’m making a courtesy effort here to inform you that you cannot use BPM BOK in any of your publications, digital or otherwise as it violates our trademark. Please refrain from doing so or ABPMP will take legal action. Tony Benedict, President, ABPMP International”.

    In other words, your threat of legal action did not come from an email exchange that you had with Paul, it came directly from you in response to our request to find community members interested in participating in PKI’s BoK.

  3. Tony, I’m not sure your handling of this discussion, or the PKI in general, is doing your association any favors. Even if you think you’re in the right, ad hominem disparagement isn’t going to help. And neither is threatening litigation without just having a polite conversation.

  4. There are sea changes coming in the way information is authored and shared, and Open Source is the new IP. We’ll look back someday at closely guarding IP like we now look at the long, spiral telephone cord.

  5. Chris, I completely agree. As Scott wrote in his related post (trackback below), “ABPMP is in the unenviable position of trying to fight the future”. Credible sources of free and open BPM information is essential to the success of the industry.

  6. And do not fear that people will learn what you know.
    I’ll give you an example. As a tennis coach – is it better for your business if more people play tennis or fewer? If fewer, there will be fewer “pros” to compete with you… but there will also be fewer people to coach, who want to learn.

    And yet, the very best professional players still have coaches. There is always a need for outside objective help. Always a need for introspection and improvement. at a personal level, at a professional level, at an organizational level.

  7. Scott, unfortunately not everyone subscribes to the “a rising tide lifts all boats” philosophy: they believe that information scarcity is better for their business than information abundance.

  8. Sandy,
    Sadly that is all too true.
    Some people feel that life, and business, are zero-sum-games. But many things in life are not zero-sum-games. Good idea to understand how someone else thinks before you go into business with them ; )


  9. I’m currently reading Steven Johnson’s “Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation”, and a quote from it really rained with this discussion:

    “We are often better served by connecting ideas than we are by protecting them. Like the free market itself, the case for restricting the flow of innovation has long been buttressed by appeals to the ‘natural’ order of things. But the truth is, when one looks at innovation in nature and in culture, environments that build walls around good ideas tend to be less innovative in the long run than open-ended environments.”

  10. Dear Mr. Benedict,

    While the “American-Canadian” factor was not necessary from Sandy, it does not take away focus from the real context – Knowledge for the Community.

    Away from the action zones of North America and Europe, an aspiring BPM professional from the Middle East like myself gains more from the PKI initiatives than from “not-for-profit-but-for-royalty” associations.

    If it weren’t for the articles and blogs of my esteemed peers such as Sandy, I would have to be reliant on what is imposed on us from Vendors and their resellers and not necessarily what is recommended by Best Practices.

    We would have to learn by error and expense than by education and experience. We would also like to contribute as much as we would like to gain. One of the biggest challenges we face is that by restraining to a country-specific chapter sponsorship, people like me are alienated.

    With ABPMP, I would have to be a “Member-at-large”. What are we? Lost refugees in BPM looking for a roof above our head? A proposed UAE-chapter is still on the drawing board because ABPMP only supports “American” chapters. My email to become a part of it still remains unanswered!

    I was still seriously considering becoming a member of ABPMP, but Mr. Benedict, with your response to Sandy, you just managed to lose American Dollars 150/- from a BPM practitioner miles away.

    Thank you.

    P.S. When I was a kid and stole chocolates from the neighborhood store, my dad scolded me and I told him all my friends do the same. He told me, just because they do it, it is not always the right thing to do. PMI, IIBA, DAMA may all do it their way. That doesn’t mean ABPMP had to. You could have made a difference, you chose the other way, sadly.

  11. Whoa! Not the best way to handle this, Tony! Your last comments made me wonder if you’re in the same market as everyone else (which is BPM BTW), or are you really in the market…

    I didn’t have an opinion on ABPMP eitherway, disinterested could it be. But, now, your comments have not helped. I do see the point that you’re trying to make, but whether I agree or disagree is not the point. The disparaging language has pushed me on the other side of the fence straightaway – you can blame me on my being biased in having tremendous respect for Sandy.

    I’m one of those proponents of sharing of knowledge, we all take stances in the overall benefit of the community through constructive debates. But, this, didn’t help the cause, mate! Don’t take it personally.


  12. Tony:

    As someone that does not believe in reference BOK as expressed previously and thus I have 100% unbiased opinion what the best BOK is, I would like to express my full support to Sandy that is always contributing to share, deepen and take BPM to the next level, among the BPM community.

    I had in the past, and I will have in the future important discussions with some peers that left here a message, fully disagreeing with their opinions about a BPM concept, but this contributed to bring some insights to the BPM community how to apply or act when facing a challenge, meaning that is best to share knowledge rather that kept to ourselves, loosing the opportunity to evolve our beliefs.


    Alberto Manuel

  13. Thanks to all for the support.

    Sanooj, I particularly like your phrase “We would also like to contribute as much as we would like to gain” – this echoes the sentiments of many people and organizations who feel that they have valid viewpoints to contribute. We aim to be as inclusive as possible with PKI, which is why I am driving to have the wiki opened up for general content editing rather than just commenting. In the meantime, your contributions are extremely welcome.

    Alberto, I agree that open discussion — and even arguments — are what drives knowledge and understanding forward for all of us, and we all have better ideas for being involved in these discussions.

  14. Sandy, I am completely in line with the idea of a shared body of knowledge. Wikipedia is the future as much as many professionals don’t consider it a reliable source (in most cases because they want to be the source). But IP laws are not doing humanity a favor, especially when you look at the way Monsanto and others are patenting natural substances and gene sequences. And yes, litigation is a way of doing business in the US.

    I really take issue with the practitioners and their methodologies. I see ‘practitioner’ as an insult. Yes, experience is important but not when it is tied to a methodology that stops innovation. I hardly ever see proof beyond that. BTW, there is no long-term, vendor independent study of BPM as well. They should read ‘The Black Swan’ and go and unlearn all the stuff they are teaching. Each and every future step that we take is different where the human element is involved. Process knowledge is relevant in physical and chemical manufacturing and even there we go wrong all the time. (do I need to say ‘Fukushima’?)

    I have blogged about many of my visions and concepts openly and know from my subscription logs that all BPM vendors are tied to my lips (blog). And so are most analysts who cover the related markets. My ideas are showing up in both their presentations without any reference to where they came from. But that is fine … and not all my ideas are good ones.

    I am utterly surprised to hear that you are being called a ‘criticizer’. But you shouldn’t be bothered by that at all. I am proud to be called a (violent) criticizer of BPM and I have good reasons not to practice it the way it is being promoted. While seeing processes as a great way to organize a business, I am sure to have many grievances with the any body of knowledge for BPM. But personal attacks are uncalled for. I too have been attacked personally by a number of people and in all cases it was a matter of last resort. It usually shows that they are running out of good arguments.

    And yes, it is fine to rant. We are humans and humans get emotional. If you hide your emotions you are not being yourself and most probably not honest. Emotions are power and not weakness. The worst things in the world are done by people who use reason over emotion. And that by the way is my biggest criticism of the current BPM body of knowledge, as it leaves the human element (a.k.a. complex adaptive systems) out of the approach and tries to control it.

    Sandy, keep it up. You are one of the best!

  15. Hi Max, thanks for your comment and support.

    We want to be more inclusive with the PKI’s body of knowledge, since we all realize that adaptive systems are part of business processes. We are building a process body of knowledge, not a structured BPM body of knowledge.

  16. Hi Sandy, that’s good to hear that adaptive processes will be considered. What can I do to support the PKI? Max

  17. Sorry Tony, you’ve made yourself look like a clown. Not just because of your personal attack on a well respected member of the BPM community, but by your dinosaur approach to BPM. You’ve never read Sandy’s blog before now? Shows how out-of-touch you really are.

  18. Max, you can head over to the wiki and sign up. I’ve convinced the other stewards that it’s in our best interests to open more of it up for general content editing sooner, and I’ll be publishing more about that today.

  19. And there’s little old me thinking that the “I’m the only one who’s seen the light and therefore I own it” attitude was limited to vendors. Ah well..

    Suddenly I feel very lucky to have been able to share and exchange information without having to get permission to do so. Let’s stick to that.

    BTW, isn’t there a conflict looming what with all this talk about social BPM? Or has that not made it into the various BoK’s yet? 🙂


  20. Social BPM and other newer concepts are definitely something that we need to start seeing in the BoKs.

  21. Now, Now – I am a little fretted about the discussion. Two kids fighting over a toy. I do support open and free, but remember TAAFL (There aint no free lunch). Nobody does anything for free. It may not neccessarily be for short-term financial gain, but rather for long-term public recognition which in turn may result in financial gain. So, what’s the fuss? Lets rather focus on BPM and its Field of Knowledge (FOK-may I also protect that) and not get distracted by little intrigues.
    Have fun

  22. Claus, we all get involved in these things for different reasons. I got involved with the PKI initiative because I think that the industry needs it, and that end customers would greatly benefit from having a ready source of information. I already have quite a bit of public recognition in the BPM field, which I’m using to help raise the profile of PKI, rather than the other way around at this point. Will it help me in the long run? Undoubtedly, but in a “rising tide lifts all boats” fashion, where better awareness and information about BPM generates more business for everyone.

  23. First crossed swords with the ABMPM in 2009 when I was with Nexus.

    In 2010 I tried to get the Lombardi University (for one since they had a viable education program already, other vendors were approached too) and the ABPMP together for a discussion on combining both a vendor based and ‘community’ led body of work for a more comprehensive view of the world.

    It’s now 2011 and nothing really has changed other than the financial reporting and the bottom line.

    It’s such a sad statement to find commercialism is still the forethought rather than the after thought of trying to pull together a cohesive and community based knowledge pool.

    Glad folks like Sandy are still flying the flag.

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