You want me to pay for what?!

I’ve been putting together some ideas for a presentation at FileNet‘s annual user conference, UserNet, on how to make the link between business process models (such as those that form part of an enterprise architecture set, modelled with a notation such as BPMN) and the implementation of those models in a specific product (in this case, FileNet BPM). I’m interested in exploring the BPMN/BPEL link between modelling and implementation using various products, since it represents the transformation from Zachman’s Row 2 to Row 3; however, for UserNet, where BPEL is not yet in play, I’d choose to focus on the conceptual (business) view of how this works specifically with FileNet BPM.

I’ve spoken at UserNet many times, first as the chief architect of a FileNet partner, then later as FileNet’s Director of eBusiness Evangelism, and I always enjoy it because of the focus on user/business issues instead of just technology, and the interaction with business users of BPM products. But today, as I was looking at the conference dates to make sure that my calendar is clear, I had a flashback to my earlier post on vendors charging exorbitant rates to their “partners” for training. Sure enough, according to the conference presentation guidelines:

One customer presenter per presentation will receive a free registration but they must be the primary speaker. Partner presenters will register for the regular conference fee.

Excuse me, I thought that I just read that FileNet wants me to spend my time creating an educational presentation that will be of benefit to their user community, but then wants me to pay to deliver it.

Just like with the training issue, this cuts out a lot of the highly-skilled smaller partners, because the conference fee on top of a week of lost revenue, travel expenses and the time invested in creating the presentation just isn’t worth it. Instead, count on seeing presentations submitted from partners based on their marketing budgets rather than their abilities.

The attendees should be hoping that the conference selection committee uses a more appropriate assessment tool than a partner’s amount of loose change.

BIJ online edition

Business Integration Journal (formerly EAI Journal) now makes their magazine available via free email subscription, for those of us who are not in the U.S. and therefore not eligible for a free paper subscription. A lot of the content is “advertorial” written by vendors, but there are a few gems in there, such as this month‘s article on process-centric business intelligence by Keith Gile at Forrester Research, wherein he tackles the problem of out-of-context BI data by looking at ways for BI platforms to associate data with processes in order to deliver decision-making capability to the operational level.

Given BIJ’s policy of not publishing PDF copies of the current edition’s articles on their website until the next month’s edition is available, this e-subscription is the only way to get the content in electronic format at the time of publication, and I actually prefer an electronic copy of these “read and toss” magazines anyway. I think that I was sent an invitation for the subscription, but have no idea why; poke around on their site and you’ll probably find something. They also have issues back to January 2000 online, some of which are really a blast from the past.

My only complaint is that the e-subscription issue is hosted on Olive Software‘s “ActiveMagazine”, which is really not a nice way to read online. It also doesn’t produce very readable copies if I print to PDF, so if I want to save a copy of an article or send it to a client, I have to either put up with the poor quality or wait until next month for it to come available on the BIJ website.

Putting the “business” back in BPM

Yesterday’s article on Coors in Intelligent Enterprise piqued my interest by combining beer and BPM, although I confess that I am highly unlikely to drink an American beer regardless of how efficiently it is delivered.

What I found particularly interesting is the description of how they first approached their BPM efforts, starting in 2000. They have a Director of Business Process Management, who by their own description was “spearheading an IT-led supply chain improvement project, but the team wasn’t collaborating with business users”. Did someone make a mistake about this guy’s title by using the word “business” in it, when he was actually an IT person working on an IT project with little or no business interaction? At the same time, they hired a business architect to do process modelling, but with no coordination with the related IT project.

The story has a happy ending: boy meets girl and they share business process models to great success. However, this same story is playing out in organizations everywhere, and many are far from a happy ending. Due to the inclusion of all manner of application integration and middleware products under the global BPM naming umbrella, many “BPM” projects start as IT-only EAI, with little or no communication with the business side of the organization, and allow IT to seize control of all subsequent BPM projects. BPM products are selected based on IT’s criteria, then “business process management” projects are built purely by IT, with sufficient arrogance to believe that they understand enough about the business that they don’t need interaction with the business units.

These organizations inevitably end up wondering why the success rate of their BPM projects is so low. It’s simple: they need to put the “business” back in BPM.

SOA and process designers

A post last week on the problem of the economics of process change by Christopher Koch at CIO.com states the problem succinctly:

IT is in a mess because we have business processes that are locked into source code that is difficult to change or modify?that?s the real issue underlying the argument. That makes customization a dirty, expensive word.

Although he admits to possibly being “drunk on the Service Oriented Architecture Kool-Aid” that’s around, he sees SOA as a potential solution to the problem:

There needs to be a separate layer in the architecture for integration and business process change and coordination. Though web services aren?t always at the core of the layer, the concept of services is.

“Services” as a concept is interesting in this context, although I believe that SOA is just the flavour of the month in terms of naming. We did things like this years ago through appropriate encapsulation of functionality, and although our tools were a bit cruder than what is available now, we were essentially building services — when we did it correctly. Web services, WSDL and UDDI certainly make it easier to share these services, and I completely advocate their use for services to be shared within or between organizations.

The basic issue is that process designers shouldn’t need to understand the internals of the applications that they are orchestrating: they need to see applications such as ERP as a set of properly encapsulated, business-oriented functions that they can call at any point in a process. That means that the relevant functions within “legacy” applications (for lack of a better word) need to be exposed as discrete operations, and that an appropriate process orchestration tool be used to tie them all together.

And in another article of Mr. Koch’s that he links to from the above-mentioned post, he wraps the whole issue together with enterprise architecture, a concept that I also mentioned in a post last week. As more companies recognize the flexibility and business alignment that EA brings, process orchestration will take a more central role since it allows the IT assets that are enumerated through EA to be combined in new ways to serve the business needs.

BPTrends Report on Enterprise Architecture, Process Modeling & Simulation Tools

BPTrends today released The 2005 Enterprise Architecture, Process Modeling & Simulation Tools Report, downloadable for free. They review 10 products:

Like their 2005 BPM Suites Report that I reviewed here, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. The first 26 pages contain some great background information including their view of the business process software market (a reasonable representation), plus detailed definitions of enterprise architecture, process modeling and simulation tools, whereas the product sections appear to be technical marketing info provided by vendors. As with the BPM suites report, a caveat at the beginning states that the vendors paid to be part of the report, and that BPTrends did no independent product testing: my same assessment holds true that the product sections, although well organized and well written, don’t provide anything that you couldn’t get from the vendors’ websites.

What I find really interesting about this report is the categorization of enterprise architecture (EA) tools together with process modeling and simulation:

This report focuses on tools that companies use to analyze and modify business processes. The core tool for this task is a tool that lets business managers or analysts create a diagram or model of a business process and then change that diagram to explore how the process could be improved or redesigned.

Tools that provide support for organization analysis and modeling are, today, usually termed Enterprise Architecture tools. Tools that focus entirely on simulation are termed Simulation Tools. Increasingly, however, companies are using business process modeling tools that also incorporate support for enterprise modeling and simulation. Thus, we decided to include all the tools that can be used for Enterprise Architecture, Business Process Modeling, and Process Simulation in the same report.

I have spent a good part of the last few years talking to customers about how EA and process fit together, but a lot of people are still hung up on limiting EA either to content (that is, Zachman‘s column 1, Data) or to what I sometimes jokingly refer to as “implementation details” (that is, Zachman’s rows 4 and 5, Technology Model and Detailed Representations). By grouping EA together with process modeling and simulation, BPTrends has highlighted the fact that processes are critical to the enterprise, and any EA exercise had better include processes. Unlike content, which is restricted to the Data column, processes in an enterprise impact several of Zachman’s columns: Function, Network, People and Time. And, unlike the focus of many IT departments, processes in an enterprise are most effectively modeled in the top three of Zachman’s rows: the Scope, Business Model and System Model.

Lots more to write but no time due to a looming deadline and yesterday’s failed router that put my network out of commission for most of the day — just one of the joys of working for myself. Read the report (or at least the first 26 pages) and talk amongst yourselves.

Biz blogging

These past few weeks have seen an incredible focus on corporate blogging in the mainstream press, culminating in the May 2nd cover story of BusinessWeek, “Blogs will change your business”. (Given the topic is in part about the immediacy of press via blogging, and is coordinated with their (faux?) blog, the irony of a weekly magazine publishing their May 2nd edition more than a week before that date is not lost on me.) The print-based press is jostling for position in a world where blogs provide news and analysis ahead of them, and many are struggling with subscription models for news. Hugh MacLeod’s recent post about Les Blogs conference this week in Paris was spot on:

There a was session there where journalists were asking a lot of questions. I came away thinking, “Dinosaurs don’t like meteors”.

Although the dinosaur/meteor analogy may prove to be overly dramatic — TV was supposed to kill print media, remember? — plenty of others are also tolling the death knell for print.

More interesting blog fodder, however, is about blogging as a corporate marketing tool, especially for small businesses: we can make a serious marketing impact by blogging about our unique abilities, that is, the work that we love to do and that we do best. I quote an earlier gaping void post:

As a marketing tool, my gut instinct tells me that with blogs, the more expensive, molecular, “niche” and/or “bespoke” your product is, the better.

Although Hugh runs a Savile Row bespoke tailoring firm and I do strategic IT planning and architecture, his comment rings true for me: I deal with technologies and concepts (BPM, EA, BI/BAM) that are still considered niche in many of the large players in my target market (financial services); everything that I do for a customer is bespoke, because I fill in the gaps between the technology and their specific business. And in order to maintain visibility as an expert and an evangelist while keeping committments to my paid customers, I need to do this on my own publication schedule. What better place to do that than a blog?

Consider this my calling card.

Clearly…good customer service

Since I am often involved in helping my customers improve their business processes and their customers’ experience, I’m always on the lookout for examples of good and bad customer service in any industry. I deal with a lot of suppliers for business and personal items, mostly online, and rarely does one jump up and surprise me with their fabulous customer service. Recently, however, ClearlyContacts.ca has done just that.

Buying contact lenses online in Canada is a relatively new phenomenon, unless you order from the US and pay extra for shipping, duties and border clearance. When I lived in California, I ordered from 1800Contacts.com, so I recently decided to take my optometrist’s prescription in hand and order from them again, border crossing be damned. I went to the 1800Contacts site…only to find that they don’t carry my type of lens any more. Damn. I googled around and found another site, CoastalContacts.com, that did carry them; I filled my online shopping cart and was ready to check out when I saw that icon at the top of the screen, filling my heart with joy: the letters “CA” in a circle, right beside other circles: “US”, “UK”, “EUR” and “AU”. I clicked on the CA icon in trepidation, expecting it all to be some sort of dream, and was redirected to ClearlyContacts.ca, which appears to be Coastal Contacts’ Canadian-based shipping point.

I ordered on Thursday, but when I tried to check the order on their website the next day, I got Java/SQL barf all over the screen. To give them credit, the barf screen included a mailto: link to the site administrator, so I clicked and complained. Within a couple of hours, I had a response that explained that they were having trouble with the site, but that my lenses had shipped that day and gave me a Canada Post package tracking number. The email included a great tagline in the signature block:

Passionately committed to making every experience with Coastal Contacts positive and highly satisfying. For everyone. Every time.

The lenses arrived on Monday afternoon, all the way from Vancouver, days before I expected them. The best part? On the side of the ClearlyContacts packing box was printed a motto to live by:

Dance, Sing, Floss and Travel

The fact that they serviced my order correctly and efficiently may be considered a given (although this was a new supplier for me so not pre-supposed), but there’s some great customer service lessons to be learned from this:

  1. If one of your customer interface channels has problems, be able to respond to the issues via another channel. This requires proper integration of information and processes behind the scenes.
  2. In today’s market, it’s not enough to be committed to servicing your customers’ needs, you have to let them know that you’re passionate about it. That requires, of course, that you are passionate about it.
  3. Once you’re absolutely sure that you’ve served your customer well, leave them with a smile on their face.

Treating your partners right

I’m spending a few days going through some “virtual lab” FileNet training courses. Although I’ve worked with their BPM software with my own customers for over 10 years, and even worked for FileNet for a brief (but very informative in terms of corporate politics) period, it’s always a good idea to keep on top of the new versions. The virtual labs are a huge improvement over classroom training for me: not that I don’t want a trip to California, but hey, I’m the one paying for it, and I can’t just walk away from my real life for a couple of weeks. These are really well done, too: full classroom materials and notes, lab exercise books, canned (Flash) demos of how to complete the exercises, online access to a FileNet P8 system, and very responsive technical support. Since I already know a great deal of what’s in the course material (I think that I wrote some of it!), I can zip through pretty quickly without being bogged down by newbies in a classroom.

The cost of FileNet — and other vendor — classroom training just doesn’t make sense for the small incremental value that I would get from it: to become certified in a product via classroom training would cost me thousands of dollars in course fees alone, plus travel expenses and lost revenue opportunities. Considering that no single product is more than a small part of my current business, the cost-benefit analysis just doesn’t fly. FileNet has made it hugely attractive to partners to take the virtual lab courses right now, probably because there’s a lot of other partners out there running the same numbers and coming to the same conclusion: for occasional business, and especially for small/one-person shops like me, this stuff is way too expensive. Most of what I do with my customers, even on a FileNet-related gig, has nothing to do with FileNet: I’m a strategic IT planner/architect, so it’s about developing a strategy for selecting and applying technology to business, high-level business process redesign, enterprise architecture and a host of other things. When we do get down to the planning and design of the FileNet-based solution, I need to know portions of the product well, but it’s usually a small part of my engagement and you can be sure that by then, there’ll be people around with the full installation, administration and developer certifications.

For those of us who make it our business to know multiple vendors well and who have been involved in actually implementing (as opposed to just selling) systems, we bring value to our customers not because we’re certified with any particular vendor, but because we understand how the rubber hits the road. In other words, I want all (or most) of the training that I would need to be certified by the vendors, but the vendor certification itself means very little to me or my customers. I’m selling my expertise and experience, not reselling my investment in vendor classroom training.

Message to vendors, #1: Stop trying to make money on partner training: it should be a loss leader and considered a cost of sales development. I have a big problem with paying you thousands of training dollars to give you a knowledgeable player (me) in the field that helps you sell more software, when I’m doing consulting that is often quite peripheral to your product. If I meet the requirements of your partner program, give me your software and train me for free, or for very cheap. That goes for conferences as well: if I’m good enough to be in your partner program, don’t charge me thousands of dollars to attend your partner conference, because by the time that I add my travel expenses and lost revenue for the week, it’s not worth it.

Message to vendors, #2: Plan your certification programs to include people like me, who do strategy, planning and design, but don’t do coding or installs. Although I’ve done it in the past, I’m very unlikely to be writing code or installing systems any time soon. I use the term “BPM solution architect” to describe what I do on a BPM project, but that term has somehow been perverted to mean either a pre-sales technical consultant (by FileNet, for example) or a programmer (by wishful-thinking customers who believe that one person has the experience to do the design and architecture, but still has a low enough price point and is not too rusty to do the coding).

Sure, if you make the training free, then you’ll spend some time fending off people who aren’t serious about your product or even capable of understanding it. However, charging a large fee for training definitely means that you cut out the small, very capable players (because we can do something unrelated to your product equally well), and based on my experience with large, well-funded systems integrators and consultancies, there’s no guarantee that the ability to pay is accompanied by the ability to do something good with your product.

Caution: rogue TLAs

I was listening to a presentation on IBM WebSphere today when the speaker, Deon Newman, IBM’s Director of WebSphere Marketing and Communications, made what I consider to be an excruciating misappropriation of a TLA. (I know, two consecutive posts about IBM: consider it a statistical anomaly)

First of all, the presentation was supposed to be about using WebSphere to automate business processes, that is, business process management, or what most people who have anything to do with process-based technology would abbreviate as BPM. However, it was very narrowly focussed on using WebSphere MQ V6 for the EAI (system-to-system) portion of BPM, in spite of a nice boilerplate slide on integrating people, processes, information and applications. Fair enough, still some interesting information, but if these MQ guys are going to join the party, they have to realize that MQ-type EAI is part of a larger BPM picture.

To confuse things further, there is a field of business intelligence and analytics called business performance monitoring — also abbreviated as BPM — which is what we used to call executive information systems (EIS) or decision support systems (DSS). Within the process world, the monitoring of business processes and performance is referred to as “business activity monitoring” (BAM), probably to distinguish it from the “real” BPM, and because it can include raw activity data as well as aggregate performance measures. The upshot is that for process-centric players, BPM means business process management, and monitoring of the processes and other performance measures is BAM. Gartner published an interesting report on the convergence of BPM and BAM last year, but they still classify them separately, and under those names. To clarify the overlap, a BPM system may include “BAM Lite” capabilities for monitoring the processes that it models and executes, but a full-on BAM system allows for inputs from several systems, including BPM systems, to create an overall view of the business activities. Of course, there’s also another BPM, business process modelling, although that is widely accepted as part of business process analysis (BPA) because of the round-trip nature of modelling and simulation.

Anyway, at the end of the presentation, Mr. Newman was asked a question about whether WebSphere MQ included BAM. He started his response by re-labelling BAM as “business process monitoring” and stating “We use the moniker ‘BPM’.” Huh? A third, slightly different meaning for an already overloaded TLA? Tsk, tsk. I was left with the feeling that either IBM doesn’t really have a clue where WebSphere MQ fits into the world of BPM (that’s business process management), or they’re not paying attention to anything that anyone else is saying, or they’re attempting some creative marketing spin.

I’m not beating up on IBM specifically, I’m beating up on the marketing department of all vendors who misuse commonly-understood terms or invent completely new ones, to the detriment of the businessperson who is trying to wade through all of the doublespeak. Although some part of what I do with any customer is to sort out vendor terminology and product taxonomy, it’s not always a very exciting part (for me), and I wish that the vendors could just follow some basic guidelines for not confusing the customers. Like agreeing on their TLAs.