How agile are we?

I’m finally getting caught up on the emails, blogs and webinars that I missed while on vacation. One of the webinars that came up last week was Redefining Human-Centric BPM on eBizq. Sponsored by Adobe so very document-centric, but Beth Gold-Bernstein, the eBizq speaker, nicely categorized the benefits of human-centric BPM: improved quality, improved security, enforcement of business rules, and reduced cycle time. There’s a few others that I would add in, but this is a pretty good list to start with if you’re looking for ROI on human-centric BPM.

She also made a point early in the presentation that BPM is essential to delivering business agility, that is, the ability to change your business processes easily to meet changing conditions. I would have nodded my head right along with that one, except for this piece in Intelligent Enterprise last week about how companies implement one BPM project then consider their process work to be “done” rather than actually getting into that whole agility thing that they were sold by the vendor. It’s clear that agility is a both a key marketing point for BPM vendors and a key driver for the purchase of BPM systems — in other words, the vendors claim and the customers believe that business agility is important, and that BPM will help to deliver it — but the customer organizations may not be following through on the agility promise, and the vendors (having made the sale) have already moved on to the next prospect.

Process/business agility isn’t going to come about just by buying a hot BPM product (or any other product, for that matter): as usual, the technology is an enabler, it’s not the solution. Organizations need to embrace a philosophy of business agility at all levels, and not be squeamish when someone points out that “agility” is just “change” with good PR. Yes, jobs change, and that’s scary for some people. But customers (and their expectations) change, forcing the business to change, which forces the jobs to change. In order for an organization to be agile, the worker bees must also be willing to be agile and learn not just new tools (like BPM) but new ways of doing business. Just tell them that it will look great on their CV.

More on ancient engineering

Good to see that I’m not the only blogger slacking off by taking European vacations these days, and trying to compensate by blogging about ancient engineering feats: John Reynolds ponders Pisa’s leaning tower by exploring the bond between Renaissance engineers and all of us implementing IT systems these days:

  • Renaissance engineers were asked (or forced) to build on foundations that they knew were flawed
  • Renaissance engineers had to deal with “legacy systems”
  • Renaissance engineers had to implement “quick-fixes” that made the original problem worse
  • Renaissance engineers had to expend great effort over many years to patch and maintain defective projects (instead of starting over)

He echoes my sentiment somewhat by hoping that something of his will become as significant as Pisa’s tower someday.

Inevitably, the vendors start to blog

While wading through a month of email and RSS feeds this week, I came across a BPM blog by CommerceQuest which is actually quite good. You have to skim by the blatant self-promotion (“I am pleased to see the market and industry experts beginning to talk more and more about the overall benefits of what we, at CommerceQuest, call Enterprise BPM”) as well as the more subtle bias towards the CQ way of life, and I could have done without the CEO’s folksy comments in his inaugural blog (“I never dreamt I’d be typing for the blogosphere when I started out more than 40 years ago at IBM” — no kidding?). However, it does contain some good reference entries that point to other blogs/articles of interest such as these ones on BPM at financial institutions, BPM and ERP, and BPM RFPs; there are also some “BPM basics” that I imagine are repurposed from their white papers or other technical marketing material. Worth a browse.

Different strokes

Coming back to the deluge of email, a slightly smaller torrent of postal mail and a soupçon of voice mail after 3-1/2 weeks in southern France and northern Italy is a bit disorienting. I’m still thinking about strolling over to the Rialto market in Venice to buy some fresh fish for dinner…

Travelling (although for vacation this time) always makes me ponder on cultural differences. Although I work primarily in Canada and the US these days, I’ve spent a great deal of time working in other countries in the past, and one of the things that I like most about business travel is seeing how different cultures do business differently. For example, only in France would a prospective client, upon meeting me, bow over my hand while shaking it and murmur “Enchanté, Madame”. And only in the Middle East would I need to wait until a man extended his hand to me before offering to shake hands, since I wouldn’t want to offend someone by suggesting that they violate their religious sanctions against touching a non-related female when I’m on their turf. [When I returned to my office in California and related this latter incident, I was asked “Doesn’t the discrimination bother you?” to which I replied “Well, at least they’re overt about it.” That resulted in a few stony glares.]

Aside from the greetings, there are other differences in how things work: I remember a BPM system that I designed in Germany several years back where the management wanted a supervisor to review each piece of work and decide who it went to, instead of using automated work assignment. With some foresight into how these things work in practice, we implemented a system configuration setting that caused that step to be either visited or bypassed, so that two days into production when the customer’s need for efficiency overcame their need for control, the supervisor review step was removed in about five minutes.

As an outsider coming into organizations and helping them to design their processes, or develop a strategy for application architecture, I’m always a bit of a foreigner, even in my own country: I have to quickly learn a new language and a new culture so that I look like less of a tourist wandering around with my camera and guidebook. In business, as on vacation, I’ve always found it best to just dive in and act like the natives.

Thoughts on BPM and blogging from Provence

It’s a bit hard to think about the real world when I’m wandering around a market in small-town Provence, but I did see something yesterday that gave me pause. While hiking around the Pont du Gard (a really spectacular piece of Roman acqueduct to the west of Avignon), I was struck by the notion that this is engineering — what could we build today that would still be around in 2000 years? Certainly not our software…

Also had a nice mention of Column 2 on the ebizQ Blog Watch — check it out for other BPM and related blogs.

Gartner’s BPM trends and forecasts

Another webinar going on right now, Gartner BPM Roundtable: Business Process Management Trends and Forecasts, hosted by Global 360 and featuring Jim Sinur of Gartner (yes, this turned out to be “webinar day”, I have a third one after this if I’m not burned out).

The usual webinar format is the “expert” talks to his slides for 30-40 minutes, then some marketing geek from the vendor talks about their product for 10 minutes. Not this one: it’s a very dynamic conversation between Mr. Sinur and Michael Crosno, President of Global 360, and both of these guys are really smart about BPM. Yes, Mr. Crosno talks about Global 360 product features, but it’s used as a springboard for Mr. Sinur to talk about the importance of specific functionality in the current and future BPM suites marketplace.

A few really great insights. The first one is was that legacy BPM deployments are more likely to have been for the purpose of reducing paper, whereas the new deployments are all about streamlining processes and improving productivity, with a new and increasingly important focus on extending the enterprise. Although this is something that we all know by gut feel, it’s good to see some real numbers behind it:

The second insight is that customer requirements are evolving from enterprise content management (ECM) to enterprise process management: a shift from information lifecycles to process lifecycles. As a “column 2” advocate, I’m really glad to see Gartner recognizing the shift in focus from content to process. Mr. Sinur showed a scale that started with image management and went all the way through to business optimization, with the crossover from ECM to EPM happening between portals and process execution. He puts “workflow” in the ECM space, that is, the subset of BPM that is used for content lifecycle management.

Another point was the trend for CRM vendors to integrate BPM with their products, usually by buying or OEM’ing in a third-party product, because they see it as an essential part of managing the customer relationship. I’ve been seeing this trend lately as well, such as with Onyx‘s acquisition of a BPM product and their current push to integrate it into their mainstream CRM product.

By far the best webinar that I’ve listened to in months. The slides and the audio playback will be available tomorrow on Global 360’s site.

BPM in compliance

I’m listening in on a Ziff Davis webinar “The State of Business Integration: An Overview of Patterns and Best Practices”, featuring Ajay Patel, VP of of Server Technology for Oracle. In the course of the webinar, they’ve been doing a few listener polls, and this one was particularly interesting:

In other words, 27% of the webinar listeners consider BPM to be the most important technology for their compliance efforts, second only to corporate reporting/BI at 33%.

Minimalist view in IE

Just noticed that this blog (and my wine blog) are not visible in Internet Explorer: just an empty page. Fine in Firefox, so it took me a while to notice that something is wrong in IE. Both blogs are published via FTP, and a test blog that I did on blogspot works fine, so I suspect that it’s something in the publishing. Any ideas on how to repair this are welcome!

Update: I stripped out all the formatting to an external CSS file a few days ago, which appears to be causing the problem. When I re-included the contents of the CSS file in my blogger template, all is well again. Not the expected behaviour.