Pivot on a dime with BPM: see me on Process Pioneers

In case you miss listening to me blather on about process while waving my hands around to illustrate a point, here’s a video that Daniel Rayner recorded for his Process Pioneers YouTube channel of a conversation that we had recently.

We chatted about challenges that organizations face when implementing BPM (both documentation/management and full automation projects), and some of the wins possible. The “pivot on a dime” quote was about how having insights into your business processes, and possibly also automation of those processes, allows you to change your business model and direction quickly in the face of disruption.

My post on the @Trisotech blog: Designing Processes for Agility

In my continuing series over on the Trisotech blog, I’ve just published a post on issues to consider when designing processes for agility, especially the tradeoffs between what goes in a process model versus a decision model. I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about this in the past when working with enterprise customers on their processes, and a conversation after a conference presentation last year really brought some of the ideas into focus. From that post:

Assuming that you’re using model-driven process and decision management systems (BPMN and DMN, respectively) for design and implementation, you might assume that it doesn’t really matter how you design your applications, since either could be quickly changed to accommodate changing business needs. It’s true that model-driven process and decision management systems give you agility in that they can be changed relatively quickly with little or no coding, then tested and redeployed in a matter of hours or days. But your design choices can impact understandability of the models as well as agility of the resulting application, and it’s important to have both.

Head on over to their blog to read the entire post.

If you have comments or questions about the post, feel free to engage in the comments on this post, since Trisotech doesn’t allow commenting on their blog.

Forrester Day 1: Rich Phillips, Maritz Travel

Rich Phillips, the COO of Maritz Travel, was up next to talk about creating consistency and customer value through IT. Although not a part of his presentation, he opened with a great thought about the importance of people in the process: “If you don’t think about the people, you’re not going to get the change.”

His central topic is about BPM: he sees it not just as a different class of software or a different way to manage, but as a breakthrough tool for transforming a business. In a post-9/11 world, they found their business changed drastically, due to shifting customer requirements, supply and demand issues, and regulatory compliance. Instead of just logistics management, they need to expand their systems to cover a number of other key factors, such as compliance management and data management. They undertook some strategic analysis and value stream analysis, and chose Lombardi BPM as a way to achieve some of the benefits that they were targetting. Phillips feels that it provides benefits in the area of reuse of existing systems and processes (through end-to-end process orchestration of existing services) as well as permitting collaborative development involving business, IT and the customer, and enforcing business rules as part of the process. It’s also provided an easier-to-learn user interface, allowing for user training in days instead of months — critical when they need to quickly ramp up for a spike in business.

He talked about a key issue that I see in many companies: the business is motivated to provide what the customer used to want, not what they want now. They’ve expanded their focus on logistics management to provide a more complete suite of services to their customer.

Another issue is that the business tended to abdicate their responsibility for stating what they need to IT, so IT had to just make some guesses about it (which never works out all that well). Now, much like Connie Moore’s earlier comments on how business and IT need to be blended, not aligned, Phillips said much the same thing about breaking down the barriers between business and IT.

Critical success factors that he identified:

  • Business leadership commitment
  • Strategic roadmap: 2-3 years of future view, but with small-enough iterative steps
  • Process definition through mapping
  • Alignment to and support of value proposition
  • Measures of success, macro and micro
  • Iterative refinement
    • Continuous improvement
    • Agile development
  • Embedded process ownership throughout the business areas

He pointed out that they did their first BPM project in 90 days after signing the contract with Lombardi, in contrast to the 2- to 4-year development cycle that they used to have. I’ve seen equally fast implementations with other BPM vendors; in many cases, the key is not the specific BPMS, but the approach that’s taken to implementing it.

The results have been pretty amazing: reversals of their declining revenues, margins and productivity figures, and ability to fine-tune the business process control through the business rules embedded within the process (he didn’t mention another BRE, so I assume that he means the rules functionality within Lombardi). Obviously, a big part of this is the strategic and value chain planning that they’ve done, but BPM is definitely a contributor to their success. They’re now looking at correlating process results to the hard ROI numbers in their business results, such as cycle time, cost per transaction, etc.; this will help them to decide where to focus their efforts in the future.

He went on to discuss a transformation framework, first listing “big bang re-engineering” and “fixing pockets of processes” as flawed approaches. In the big bang approach, it’s mostly a problem in that people can’t make that degree of change without it being massively disruptive to the business; in the subprocesses approach, it’s not enough to make a significant difference. Like the story of the three bears, you have to find that middle approach that’s just right.

Now in their sights for future development is what he calls the real power of BPM: expanding the envelope of the process-managed domain to include revenue generation opportunities, not just cost reduction and productivity opportunities. Although productivity and ROI are important, the C-level executives are usually much more focussed on growth and revenue generation, so it’s critical to look at product development and product/solution delivery processes as well as risk and compliance processes.

Enabling the Agile Enterprise

An interesting post on Rambling Thoughts about enabling the agile enterprise, particularly the benefits:

Through improved, more accurate, and timely reporting mechanisms an agile enterprise will be able to perceive the potential impact of events quicker. Alternate strategies can be rapidly assessed as relevant data will be more easily accessed. Agile enterprises can then react by implementing the required operational processes and IT systems with equal speed and ease. This will allow the results to be realized sooner and with less reduction in enterprise performance.

However, I disagree with his statement that “In contrast to pure workflow tools, that simply model existing business processes, BPM tools provide an execution environment for these workflows.” We’ve been executing business processes for many years with “workflow” tools; maybe he’s thinking of business modelling tools? He exhibits a bit of confusion about the definitions of workflow, BPM and EAI, but then considering the state of the marketplace, that’s not unusual.

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.