Survey Says…

Martyn Christian, FileNet’s CMO, is up on stage right now giving the usual rah-rah speech about how great FileNet is doing with their customers, but with a very cool twist: all the customers in the audience (more than 700 of them) have a handheld voting device and can respond to questions that Martyn is asking, with the responses shown live on the screen.

So far (I’m paraphrasing the questions slightly since I couldn’t write them down quickly enough):

Question 1: What % of your projects are using BPM?

25% responded “none”, 49% said that less than a third of their projects used BPM, 13% said about half, 9% said about two-thirds, and 4% said all. Martyn also quoted Gartner (I believe) in stating that 95% of BPM projects are successful these days, which is an amazing number.

Question 2: What’s the primary driver for ECM solutions in your organization?

“Content” scored 27%, “Process” scored 45%, and “Compliance” scored 28%. Interesting results, considering the relatively low usage of BPM indicated in the responses to question 1, and the fact that compliance was a non-issue only two or so years ago.

Question 3: How do you select a FileNet partner to work with on your implementations?

18% already have selected a partner and 30% don’t use one, but the breakdown of the remaining votes was interesting: 32% make their choice based on the partner’s technical knowledge of FileNet and their own environment, whereas 20% select based on industry knowledge. I can certainly validate that from my experiences: although I specialize in financial services and insurance, I end up doing work in other industry verticals because of the value placed on my BPM knowledge. I would guess that this holds true for many products, not just FileNet.

Question 4: Are content and process management part of a larger information management architecture in your organization?

28% said that this is true today, 39% responded that it will be happening in the next 12 months, 28% said that it will be happening but beyond 12 months, and 5% said that it’s just never going to happen. My breakout session this afternoon is on enterprise architecture and BPM, so I’m very encouraged by the fact that about two-thirds of this audience is considering content and process management in the larger EA context.

By the way, please excuse any typos and the lack of links in these posts from the FileNet user conference: there’s no WiFi in the meeting rooms so I’m blogging live from my Blackberry.

Instructional Overload

I’ve just finished two days of teaching “Making BPM Mean Business” to about a dozen FileNet customers at their North American user conference — the first time that I’ve done it in the two-day live format. It’s been a long time since I’ve spent that length of time in front of a classroom, and I had forgotten how exhilerating that it is, and also how exhausting. I had a great group of people in the course who shared their BPM experiences and some of the issues that they have with their business processes, and based on their feedback, the course was useful to them so I’m feeling good about the content that I decided to include as well as the experience of actually teaching it. I especially liked the comment on one evaluation form: “Sandy is great!” (thanks, Mark), since comments like this validate all the work that I put into the course.

Now that the course is over, I can focus on the rest of the conference, although I do have a one-hour breakout session to present this afternoon. It’s a bit like old home week for me, since many of the FileNet sales and marketing people are here, people who I worked with back in 2000-2001 when I was FileNet’s Director of eBusiness Evangelism, as well as a lot of customers who I visited when I was in that capacity. I’m also amazed at the number of other ex-FileNet’ers here who have retained close ties with FileNet, most of them closer than my occasional FileNet-related work as part of my larger BPM practice.

I’m currently sitting in the morning main tent session and have a lot of interesting breakouts to attend over the next three days. Stay posted.

BPTrends BPM Suites Report V1.1

BPTrends has released a new version of their BPM Suites report (free, signup required). I haven’t had time to review it in detail yet, although I’ve noted that it does include information on several new BPMS vendors: Clear Technology, Graham Technology, Handysoft, Oracle and Singularity (some of which prompt the questions “who?” and “why?”). The first 38 pages (which I identified in my post on the V1.0 report as the part that’s really worthwhile) appear identical in the two reports, so unless you’re interested specifically in the new vendors, no need to rush for the new version.

BPM: a moving target

I’m prepping for the 2-day Making BPM Mean Business course that I’ll be delivering this weekend in Las Vegas, and it’s giving me a chance for a complete end-to-end review of a lot of material that I’ve been gathering, thinking about, presenting and rewriting over the past several months. One thing that immediately strikes me is the constant state of change: since I sent these materials for printing three weeks ago, there’s new things that I just have to include. The BPEL for People initiative (IBM-SAP white paper here), for example, which is a critical step to having BPMS products use BPEL more extensively. The ongoing effects of the OMGBPMI merger. New versions of Enterprise Architecture modelling tools such as ProVision, since I position BPM in an EA context in this course.

There’s also a lot of wisdom that I’ve gathered over time that it will be fun to discuss with the course participants: how to do a business walkthrough, analyzing and designing business processes, and ROI calculations for BPM.

I spent this morning sitting in a local café (a good place to get away from all distractions except the Crackberry, which I am unable to detach from my psyche), putting the final touches on the workshop exercises that I’ll be having the participants do during the course. It’s a small class which should result in a lot of interaction amongst the attendees, and since they’re all from different companies, I’ve decided to do individual projects rather than group projects so that they actually have something usable to take home about their own business processes at the end of the two days. It’s sort of like speed-consulting for me, which should be fun all around.

I’m all a-quiver with anticipation.

Neural nets in BPM?

Just saw this article in eWeek about Fuego releasing neural net capabilities in their BPM product.

Neural Network works through a decision activity capability that lets users define a set of variables that can be analyzed for process improvement…Neural Network takes that set of variables and builds a learning activity set that can monitor decisions and suggest behavior to improve the process.

I haven’t heard the term “neural net” much since my days in graduate school when I was slogging through a thesis on pattern recognition; it usually refers to a hardware implementation consisting of a massively-parallel network of simple processors (modelled on the human brain and its highly-connected network of neurons): think grid computing on a very tiny scale. Because these terms are not widely understood, there’s a long history of misuse: in fact, the first company that I worked for after university had the word “perceptron” (a type of neural net) in its name, although we wrote pattern recognition and scientific image analysis software, with nary a neural net in sight.

That being said, I’m assuming that what Fuego is calling “Neural Network” is actually artificial intelligence (AI) or cognitive modelling, although I can understand why the marketing types would avoid the overused “AI”, with its shades of science fiction, and positively run screaming from the overly-geeky “cognitive”. The problem with introducing a functionality that is barely understood in the marketplace (besides having to explain it to your own marketing people) is that the customers have no clue what to do with it, and probably not much time to spend doing the out-of-the-box thinking required to come up with some real business scenarios that have the potential for ROI. If you keep reading the article, you’ll see that the VP of process management at an existing Fuego customer considered “the Neural Network technology” to be “intriguing but not essential”. See the problem? It’s still “technology” in the minds of that customer, not a solution to a business problem.

I think that AI has a great future in BPM, but it’s still very early in the hype cycle. As a natural extension to business activity monitoring (BAM), pushing it into the milieu of semi-automated corporate performance management (CPM), it’s going to be the next “must-do” on BPM vendors’ product plans.

By the way, I wrote this post on my tablet PC (in tablet mode) — the handwriting recognition is really good, although a bit slower than my typing. I would like copy-cut-paste soft keys on the handwriting input panel, however: I had to keep switching from handwriting mode to keyboard mode in order to use Ctrl+C, Ctrl+X and Ctrl+V.

Keeping busy

I’ve been snowed under with finishing the first version of “Making BPM Mean Business“, to be premiered next month at FileNet’s user conference in Las Vegas, as well as a few other presentations and some coursework for a client on enterprise architecture.

I’ve also been spending some time on my new technology acquisitions: an HP tablet PC and a new Blackberry, replacing some ancient stuff from Nokia, RIM and Compaq that steadfastly refuse to die. The new convertible tablet is great and will be very useful for the BPM course and other presentations: I miss the old days of transparencies when I could write on the slides, and being able to annotate in digital ink is the next best thing. I’ve taken it for a few test drives, but the two-day course will be the real challenge. The new Blackberry is a dream: phone and PDA in one, which reduces the electronic clutter to a minimum, and much better geographic coverage for email. Since I use it primarily for email, and only have the phone functionality because one must have a mobile these days, the PDA format (rather than the phone format that RIM also offers) works best for me. My only beef: the holster that comes with it looks like something that Batman would wear on his belt (not my style), and I need something without a clip to slip into my purse; the simple slipcover with the magnet in the right place to allow the device to register itself as “holstered” set me back $40.

Fractured Language

Yesterday, I was finishing off a presentation for a talk that I’ll be giving next month about corporate performance management, including some of the analytics tools that are used to build things like executive dashboards to display the key performance indicators of a company’s operations as charts and dials. Two tools/metaphors are used a lot: dashboards and scorecards, which both do exactly as they sound. Unfortunately, in my research I found at least one vendor of these products who verbs the nouns, and refers to “dashboarding” and “scorecarding” as the activities of creating these things for a company. Blech.

I felt better after this morning’s daily dose of Savage Chickens.

The disappearing blog

I hate it when a blog that I read semi-regularly just vanishes off the face of the ‘net. I commented back in June about vendors starting to blog, and I had my finger on the RSS pulse of CommerceQuest’s blog in spite of some of the blatant self-promotion. Today, however, Metastorm and CommerceQuest have merged under the Metastorm name, the CommerceQuest site is redirected to Metastorm, and the blog is gone. All that I have left are a few crumbs in Bloglines.

Business discontinuity

I’ve been developing something recently for a customer on business continuity planning, and it put me in mind of how a former customer handled a disaster without the benefit of much BCP.

It was the ice storm of 1998, and this small financial company had their main processing site in downtown Montreal. Although the storm started on Monday (and continued for a week), power didn’t start failing until late in the week, and my customer didn’t lose their power until Friday afternoon. It quickly became obvious that the power was not coming back any time soon, which created a problem of unprocessed transactions: since they process mutual fund trades, many trades were already entered in the system, but would not be priced and processed until the overnight batch run. That weekend, the CIO and VP of IT decided to take action. They sneaked into the building (by now, the city was being patrolled by the military to deter looters), climbed 30 floors to their offices, disconnected the main server, and carried it on their backs down the 30 flights of stairs. They returned to one of their own homes, which still had power and telephone service, downloaded the pricing data and did the overnight batch run to process the trades. They then packed up the server in a van, drove it to Toronto — an interesting drive given that the main highways were all closed by now — and installed it in their small sales office there. They arranged for the toll-free customer service lines to be rerouted from their Montreal office to Toronto, added a few temporary and relocated staff to handle the phones, and were up and running by 6am on Monday. They were missing a few pieces, such as that nice imaging and workflow system that I had put in for them, but they were operational with effectively no interruption to their customers.

I remember laughing about this whole scenario when I heard it from the CIO shortly after that, and I definitely thought that these guys were heroes. In retrospect, if that same scenario had gone down today, someone would have been fired for a serious lack of business continuity planning. They suffered from a very common view of continuity planning that exists widely even today: a fatalistic sense that the risks are so low that it’s not worth planning for such a disaster. Given that the last ice storm of that magnitude to hit Montreal was almost 40 years before that, I can understand that view with regards to weather disasters, but there’s other ways to put your business out of commission; for example, Quebec’s history of domestic terrorism can’t be ignored in this post-9/11 world.

In other words, the potential for business discontinuity exists even if you don’t live on a fault line or in the path of major hurricanes: there are enough man-made disasters to keep us all awake at night. It’s no longer possible to ignore BCP, or claim that you can’t plan for something that might never happen. The question to ask yourself when budgeting for business continuity is “how long can we afford to be down?”