Process 2006 Day 2

I attended many fewer sessions today since I was presenting “Web 2.0 and BPM” just after lunch, and wanted to spend the morning doing some fine-tuning — this is the first time that I’ve done it in this form, although I’ve talked and blogged about the ideas extensively. Although I sat in on Ian Gotts‘ session before lunch, I have to admit that I didn’t absorb a lot.

I ended up making the last changes to my presentation about 8 minutes before show time, and it could certainly use a bit more tuning now that I’ve presented it once straight through and have an idea of what worked and didn’t work. You can find my slides here, and I’m thinking about podcasting some or all of it and making that available as well. I had some nice feedback and I’m looking forward to evolving this presentation over the next few months.

At the end of the day, Terry Schurter gave a presentation on Customer Expectation Management, based on the material in his new book. I reviewed the book for Terry before publication, and it was funny seeing the book in print, finally, with a quote from me on the front flyleaf. Following his presentation was another rather unstructured panel discussion and closing remarks, from which I ducked out early.

The conference seemed slightly less well attended than last year, although I don’t know the actual numbers from either event. I made a couple of good contacts, so definitely worth the trip. I also had a chance to visit (and stay with) my friends in London, where I earned my keep by fixing his computer and teaching them both about Web 2.0 and BPM. 🙂

I’m now off to southern France to see more friends, Nancy and David Wood: she used to be the MD for FileNet in Australia at the same time that I worked for FileNet at their corporate headquarters, then I camped out at her place for a few months when I was bumming around Australia a few years back, and now they’ve moved to the south of France. She was involved in The Process Factory startup last year, an example of BPM offered as SaaS, although she’s on to other things now.

I’ll be offline until next Tuesday when I’m back in Toronto.

Process 2006 Day 1 – Wrapup

The first day ended a bit sluggishly. First, a demonstration of an electronic whiteboard for use in interactive process design, which didn’t seem to offer any benefits over a standard laptop (or tablet PC) plus a projector. Next, a truly uninspiring panel of four vendors hosted by Jon Pyke without any real focus; they each talked about themselves, then there were some questions from Jon and the audience that really didn’t grab the crowd. At 5pm, they started an hour-long (!!) awards session that I can’t believe many people stayed for, unless they were really desperate for the free drinks afterwards. If I were a vendor, I’d be a bit pissed off that the afternoon actually encouraged people to bail out before the evening drinks session, since it was in the vendor demonstration area and intended as a chance to visit the vendor booths. However, I ducked out early from the awards session and found the bar open, so all ended well.

Suggestions to Steve Towers and the BPMG team about what to improve for next time:

  • Free wifi for conference attendees, not just those who are staying at that hotel
  • Session descriptions, rather than just the titles, to assist in making a decision about which session to attend
  • No unstructured panel of vendors talking about themselves
  • No hour-long awards session

Other than that, it was pretty good.

Process 2006 Day 1 – Peter Blatter, Citibank Germany

Peter Blatter took us through what they’ve been doing with BPM at Citibank. He refers to the process improvement and application of BPM as “industrialization” because they’ve borrowed ideas from (assembly line) manufacturing, which didn’t exactly give me a warm fuzzy feeling but it turned out to be some fairly standard techniques of analysis and design, optimizing performance, eliminating paper, increasing profitability and increasing transparency. A bit heavy, especially the process of making process changes, and not at all aligned with the sort of Web 2.0 BPM techniques that I’ll be talking about tomorrow, but fairly typical for a large financial institution.

Surprisingly, he then went on to talk about the emotional aspect of decision-making as it relates to customer centricity: how some decisions are almost purely emotional (like buying a convertible or having plastic surgery) and the financial practicalities of those decisions become less important. Not the argument that I expected from a reason-driven German banking COO, but he posits that being a customer-centric organization is understanding the balance between reason and emotion. Although emotion forms the bigger portion of most purchase decisions, most companies downplay that side and appeal to reason rather than emotion in their product marketing.

A great speaker with lots of amusing anecdotes and analogies.

Process 2006 Day 1 – Networking

I don’t usually blog about my casual lunchtime conversations at conferences, but there were a couple of interesting comments and conversations that came up.

Funniest quote of the day, so far, was when Derek Miers referred to one of the speakers as being a “bullshitter” (you have to know how deep that Derek can shovel it to truly appreciate how funny that is 🙂 ).

Another completely inspired comment was when Peter Fingar (I think) said “SOA is just Simula over IP”, and Keith Harrison-Broninski the other person who I was standing with (help me out, I know that you read this) said “no, SOA is just BASIC over IP”. Geek humour, I know, but I was ROTFL.

I had a couple of conversations about my recent rant about over-customizing BPMS’, and might even have a few converts to that point of view. I had this chat with Keith Harrison-Broninski and he felt (as he said in his presentation earlier) that BPMS’ are not really necessary but could be replaced by a modelling/analysis tool that could translate directly to J2EE/.Net components. My view on this is that if you’re over-customizing your BPMS, then you might as well just build your own, but that there’s a huge potential benefit to using a BPMS if you use it the way that it was intended.

Keith and I went off on a tangent about how much more that people are going to have to know about technology in order to do their job as things progress, and I made the analogy to driving a car now versus 80 years ago. At first, he disagreed, stating that you need to know less about a car now in order to drive it (for example, when’s the last time that you had to find your spark plugs and dry them off to get your car started?), but I eventually won him over to the idea that cars are much more complex now, mostly due to the auxiliary systems such as GPS, stereos, lights and windshield wipers. To make it worse, I don’t own a car but rent when I need one, which means that every time I drive, I have to use my metamodel of automobile functionality to be able to get into a completely unknown car and drive it away within 30 seconds. “Metamodel of automobile functionality”, he he.

Process 2006 Day 1 – David Deeks, Sunderland University

Professor David Deeks talked to us this afternoon about an analysis technique called Process Improvement for Strategic Objectives (PISO), which apparently rose accidentally from his teaching structured analysis techniques to financial and business students. This is definitely the first presentation that I have ever seen, anywhere, that quotes Winnie the Pooh, and gives an example of strategic objectives as illustrated by Christopher Robin and Edward Bear. By the time he got to his main case study, which was the hospital administration process around having a vasectomy, I was wishing that he had been my prof at university.

The key features of PISO can be stated as:

Area requiring improvement
is identified by
Stakeholders
who take ownership and, by consensus, design the improvement through
Strategic objectives
engaging with detailed analysis which is undertaken using
Physical and Logical data flow diagrams

He readily admits that DFDs might seem a bit old-fashioned, but feels that they’ve found new life in PISO.

He pointed out repeatedly that the stakeholders are taught to use the method directly, he doesn’t go into an organization and do PISO for them. That’s the advantage of being a professor rather than a consultant: you can just do the thing that works rather than have to create a mystique around it that requires you to be there for future maintenance. Even better, the money earned from licensing PISO is used to fund graduate students and other related projects.

It’s a bit reminiscent of old-style business process reengineering, but in sort of a good way. I’m still wrapping my head around the DFDs, and it seems like it might be more difficult to train business users on this sort of IT-like notation than, say, BPMN.

Process 2006 Day 1 – Keith Harrison-Broninski

Have you ever noticed that when some people are given a limit, they push the limit? I’m seeing that here, where speakers were instructed to have a maximum of 25 slides, which I find to be generous for a 45-minute talk — mine is currently sitting around 15 slides with a maximum of about 30 words per slide. Keith Harrison-Broninski is obviously from the “more is more” school of slide shows, and has exactly 25 extremely dense slides. For example, the slide that we just looked at contains 114 words; ironically, it ends with a point about how we need to define the aim of BPM in 10 words or less.

His focus, something that I heard briefly in Fingar’s talk earlier, is that current BPMS’ don’t support human-facing processes all that well, and that processes can’t be modified by business users. I have a problem with this basic premise, since I’ve seen lots of cases where BPM has been used to great effect both for standardized, transactional human steps and collaborative processes, and many of the BPMS vendors offer tools that allow for business changes to the process. Certainly, much of the technology is in place, but sometimes corporate culture gets in the way, which is not strictly a problem with the technology. Stay tuned for my presentation tomorrow, which I will eventually blog about, on how Web 2.0 and BPM have the potential to change this landscape.

[OMG, we just hit a slide with 249 words — the print is getting smaller and smaller. Keith, you’re killing me!]

I’ve commented on Human Interaction Management (HIM) previously, and I still don’t see any great benefit of using HIM role-activity diagramming over a standard swimlane style of diagram, especially given the relatively good penetration of swimlane diagrams into businesses. However, there’s some interesting ideas in his patterns for work (interaction between roles) and patterns for work management, as well as inter-enterprise automation. Not surprising, given some of his posts in the past, he states “BPEL is on the way out” and that BPMN will soon map directly to J2EE/.Net components, and proposes HIM as a solution for (inter-enterprise) choreography.

If you’re interested in trying out HIM, Keith is offering a free downloadable beta version of his HIM software available on his site.

Process 2006 Day 1 – Martin Ould

At last year’s conference, I really enjoyed Martin Ould‘s presentation, and bought his book online before I even left the conference. This year, he talked on process architecture as part of the whole “rigourous approach” theme. I felt some amount of repetition with last year, although with enough new material to keep it interesting.

He railed against the tendency to break processes down into discrete steps or subprocesses that can be handled independently, what he calls “the curse of the 5-bite kebab” (picture a 5-step chained linear flow), and discussed a diagramming method, or process architecture, that looks as much at the links between steps as the steps themselves. These relationships between the steps/subprocesses allow for scheduling, monitoring and management of the overall flow by capturing the true dynamics within the business process, not just a simplified flowchart.

He focussed on drafting a process architecture quickly (within a day or two) that will survive changes to the organizational structure and even the processes themselves.

His summary slide says it well:

  • Your organisation is a network of processes
  • As it runs,
    • there is a flux of case processes
    • under the control of a set of case management processes
    • all under the strategic eye of a set of case strategy processes
  • Forget the myth of chains and hierarchies

Process 2006 Day 1 – Peter Fingar Keynote

No free wifi at the conference so posting I’m writing in Windows Live Writer and will post later tonight. Either that, or I have to ask someone else for their room number so that I can access under their account, but questions like that can be taken the wrong way. 🙂

As with other conference live blogging, these posts are really just my initial impressions, without much analysis or even editing, so they’ll see a bit rough.

[A bit of editorial on that last statement, just before I post (12+ hours after writing): at the drinks reception tonight, someone introduced me to Peter Fingar, who, upon hearing my name, narrowed his eyes in thought, then came up with the statement “you wrote negative things about me on your blog.” I find it a bit weird that he would focus on one or two slightly negative comments that I made about him rather than the other neutral or positive comments. Most consultants are happy to have any mention made of them in the press; Keith Harrison-Broninski pretty much laughed off the criticisms that I had made about one of his posts. Maybe Peter should develop a thicker skin if he’s going to put himself forward in public (especially if he’s going to read the rest of this post).]

Anyway, following a welcome by David Lyneham-Brown and Steve Towers, Peter Fingar arrived — in the flesh — for a keynote. At last year’s BPMG conference, he was scheduled to appear but dialed in via Skype, the first time that I’ve seen that in a conference setting but not quite the same as a real speaker.

I was not impressed when he started his presentation with a canned video segment that was an ad for the Women’s FIFA World Cup from 2003 followed by an ad for his current book, Extreme Competition. The football ad was one that was pitting a group of Chinese women against a group of white women, and I think that it was his attempt to make us visualize competition with China. He appears to be against globalization and outsourcing, and paints China and India as a slightly dodgy group of Johnny-come-lately capitalists in a country that he refers to as “Chindia” who are out to steal “our” (read “American”) jobs. Instead of seeing companies in Asia as potential collaborators, he sees them as competitors, and portrayed several examples of outsourcing in an extremely negative light. I’m sure that this protectionist message plays well in the U.S., but I found it slightly off-putting. When he made a big deal about how “mighty America” (his words) is 16th in broadband penetration while South Korea is 1st, I (and likely others who are higher in the ranking) thought “so what?”

His writing is good, and some of his ideas are sound, but his slides are dense with text that he reads, albeit with a very nice speaking voice. I have the sense that many of the phrases that he uses were coined some years ago and he has them as his particular catchphrases, but they don’t always reflect the current vernacular: for example, he talked about Web 2.0 concepts, but called it “the executable Internet”. Huh?

One thing that I really liked was his analogy about BPM: buying MS-Word doesn’t make you a novelist, and buying a BPMS doesn’t make you a process-oriented company.The technology is an important enabler, but there’s much more to it than that.

In closing, a key lesson on how to insult and alienate a non-U.S. audience: mention an American business book that ranks 236 on Amazon’s UK list rather than in the top 10 as it does in the U.S., say, Friedman’s The World is Flat, then ask an early morning crowd how many have read it. When only two people put up their hands, state “Only two people are literate here? It’s a bestseller in the U.S. for two years.” Yeah, that works for me.

BPM and Web 2.0

I’m off to this year’s BPMG conference, Process 2006, where I’ll be giving a presentation on Wednesday about Web 2.0 and BPM. I’m doing some final edits on my slides (I know, I should have had them in to the conference organizers some time ago) and thinking about how I want to focus my talk, and I realize that it will include some elements of a rant against what systems integrators and corporate IT departments do to ruin perfectly good BPMS’.

I come from a systems integration background, having run my own 40-person firm for 13 years, but I was never a big proponent of over-building systems. Of course, back in the old days, you couldn’t just take the BPMS out of the box and make it run, you had to write code just to have any end-user interface at all. Now, however, most BPMS have some sort of user interface out of the box, and even though it isn’t integrated with a company’s line-of-business systems and data, it’s a perfectly respectable way to get started. This is especially true in organizations that are just deploying BPM for the first time, where the users (and IT) really have no idea what it can do for them. My motto is to get something simple into production fast, then start the next round of design in collaboration with the users to figure out where to do the customization and integration that will make things easier for them.

Systems integrators and corporate IT departments may be unmotivated to allow this to happen, although for different reasons:

  • Systems integrators get paid for the amount of work that they do. If they write a from-the-ground-up, all-singing, all-dancing customization on top of the BPMS, they make more money up front, and more money down the road when they are required for changes to the application. Although I was never averse to making money as a systems integrator, I tended to push solutions with less customization because I had limited resources to deploy (I kept my team small and the quality extremely high), and I was easily bored so wanted to get something into production, make the customer happy, and move on to another project. In fact, after I returned to private consulting, a large systems integrator to whom I was subcontracted as the principal architect for a client project had me sidelined on the project because I had the audacity to suggest that we do less customization.
  • Corporate IT departments feel that they need to maintain control over all software in an organization in order to justify their existence. If the users can create what they need themselves, or can get the software that they need via an SaaS model, IT decreases in importance (and, likely, size) and might even be outsourced. Encouraging the development of software that requires a complex collaboration between IT and the systems integrator in order to install or modify it is in the best interest of an empire-building IT department. So is encouraging software that can only be used for pre-determined tasks, rather than allowing the users to modify the functionality to respond to their changing requirements.

Before you totally flame me on this, I readily admit that these are generalizations: not all systems integrators are greedy, and not all corporate IT departments are control freaks. However, when you come across resistance to doing less customization and giving more control to the users, there is often a grain of truth to these hiding in there somewhere.

Getting back to BPM, this has huge ramifications: over-customization of a BPMS has the effect of turning a nascent Web 2.0 application into a big steaming pile of legacy code. I’m not saying that all BPMS’ are Web 2.0 applications, but if you go back to the original O’Reilly definition of Web 2.0, BPMS’ score reasonably well on a number of the points:

  • Web as platform, since almost all BPMS provide their end-user experience on a reasonably lightweight web interface. Many of them still haven’t moved their process designers to a pure web platform yet, which is essential for widespread collaboration on process design, and some use heavy-footprint technologies such as downloaded Java applets, but a zero-footprint web interface seems to be the direction in which most are moving.
  • Harnessing collective intelligence, at least in the BPMS’ that allow for collaborative process design (not just executing of collaborative processes). This implies some sort of universally-available process repository, so that I can create the first draft of a process, and a colleague in another location can make their own modifications. Think “process wiki” as a design paradigm. Harnessing collective intelligence would be hugely improved by allowing for tagging of process instances, too.
  • Data is the next “Intel Inside”, or as Tim O’Reilly puts it, “database management is a core competency of Web 2.0 companies.” Almost without exception, BPMS’ are built on databases, although the focus in the past has been more on the functionality and not so much on the data as a commodity. However, emerging standards are allowing for the exchange of process designs via BPEL or XPDL, and most BPMS’ do some sort of streaming of process execution data to a business intelligence platform where it can be sliced and diced to your heart’s content. In-flight processes are a bit trickier, since that data is usually proprietary to the execution engine, but I think that the designs and the execution data are the key ones.
  • Software above the level of a single device, where the interfaces are suitably advanced to allow not only the Mac or Linux desktops to participate, but mobile devices too. This is trailing somewhat behind the “web as platform” initiatives, since many vendors are still using platform-specific extensions in order to achieve web interfaces, and as I mentioned earlier, many of them also don’t have their process design and management tools fully webified.
  • Rich user experiences for those vendors who have embraced AJAX for their user interface. Those that are lumbering along with downloaded Java applets don’t meet my standard here.

The Web 2.0 areas where I think that most BPMS’ fall down is with lightweight programming models, and in ending the software release cycle. In the case of lightweight programming models, we need a way to mashup process instances with other things in a way that can be done by someone in the business unit, not IT, or even by someone external to an organization if the process has external exposure. We also need RSS feeds from processes, which could easily replace/supplement email alerts and management dashboards for monitoring processes, and put the control of the monitoring process squarely in the hands of a user who wants to monitor for a particular condition.

In the case of ending the software release cycle, this is based in part on minimizing or eliminating customizations to the BPMS that increase the regression testing cycle, and in part on getting the BPMS vendors to commit to making their upgrades completely non-disruptive. I’ve been writing software for over 25 years, and I know that that’s easier said than done, but the vendors can’t start with the initial assumption that they can just throw their customer base into complete disarray with every upgrade due to, for example, database schema changes that require significant conversion efforts. Even better, get on the SaaS bandwagon and start offering BPMS as a service. As Salesforce.com has proven, if you offer a good service at a reasonable price, people will trust you with their data.

My point in this rather lengthy post is that many BPMS’ are already halfway to being Web 2.0 when you take them out of the box. It’s what you do with them after that that determines whether they live up to that potential, or just become more legacy code.