Gartner Keynote at Appian World: From Operational Excellence To Operational Resilience

The analysts are on the move this week: earlier in the week, we were all in Las Vegas for IBM Impact, now we’re all in DC for Appian World. I presented a BPM 101 session yesterday in the workshop day, and this morning Janelle Hill of Gartner is giving the opening keynote. I’ll be at the Gartner BPM Summit in Baltimore in a few weeks, so I might be seeing this talk again soon.

She’s talking about an upcoming BPM revolution (although it seems more evolutionary than revolutionary, but the R word allowed her to invoke some nice Egypt images) where we move towards resilient processes. By 2020, we’ll see more and more of unstructured processes, dynamic BPM, social BPM, context-aware processes and intelligent operations.

BPM is raising the bar for operational excellence; their basic definition “BPM is a management discipline that treats processes as assets that directly contribute to enterprise performance by driving operational excellence and agility” points to the required attributes of visibility, accountability and adaptability. Gartner predicts that by 2014, business process defects will topple 10 Global 2000 companies; these seems a bit too much like end-of-time predictions, but if you cast the net wide enough, there will sure to be some business failures that can be attributed in part to defective processes. What I do whole-heartedly agree with is that the biggest opportunity for improvements and differentiation are in unstructured processes: these are the ones currently live in email and spreadsheets, and contribute to non-compliance.

There are a number of factors that contribute to operational resilience:

  • Visibility into the pipeline of work allows a front-line worker to dynamically reroute work in order to achieve service goals. I would argue that some of this could be done with automated load balancing, not just manual rerouting, although the concept of visibility would cover that as well.
  • Dynamic BPM allows workers to change or create the process required in order to achieve a goal in a manner that was not envisioned by the process designer. This allows us to consider eliminating requirements (I could so get on board with that) since the creation, prototyping and productionizing of processes can happen so quickly; if this approach scares you, consider that the requirements and design can be a much more collaborative process that allows for continuous change. In fact, she characterizes the requirements-less approach as “fantasy”, whereas I characterize it as “Agile”. I don’t think that Gartner goes far enough here: fully dynamic BPM is possible in some scenarios (excuse me while I dig out my “Process for the People” t-shirt); Phil Gilbert of IBM/Lombardi has stated that we should just put process design in everyone’s hands. Obviously, this is going to be dependent on the types of processes and your corporate culture.
  • Social BPM, including both design-time and runtime, which is something that I’ve been writing and presenting on for 5 years now, brings enterprise social software concepts to BPM – good to see Gartner finally recognizing these ideas front and center. I think that they formerly had a lot of social collaboration ideas tied up in dynamic BPM, which are adjacent but slightly different concepts, but now seem to have split this out.

Her focus is really on challenging the audience on how they define BPM, and how they use it within their own organizations. This means building in resiliency, embracing dynamic processes, figuring out cloud strategy, and harnessing the social interaction that is already going on between people. To quote her closing point, “acceptance of the collective will determine your future”.

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