BPM Think Tank Day 3: Colin Teubner

Colin Teubner of Forrester gave us a lunchtime presentation, hence my notes were on paper and it’s taken a bit of time to transcribe them. However, I’m on a roll to get all my Think Tank coverage wrapped up today so that I can take 4 days off for the holiday weekend.

Colin’s talk was on issues, challenges and trends in BPM, and the general opinion around my lunch table is that it was a bit lightweight, although a reasonable summary of the current state of affairs. I certainly don’t envy him the task of speaking over the clanking of cutlery and buzz of other conversations as people eat their lunch.

He sees that a maturing of tools and practitioners is pulling more tool types into BPM, particularly a convergence of BPM and BI, and a convergence of content management, collaboration and human-centric BPM. Seeing as how we’ve only just managed to pry content management and human-centric BPM apart, I’m not sure the latter is good news. As he pointed out, BPM is more than modelling and automation, although a lot of projects (and products) get stuck there and don’t do the monitor/manage/optimize parts very well.

He returned to the discussion on BI and BPM that came out of the previous day’s roundtable that he led:

  • BI on a process
  • BI triggering a process
  • BI affecting a process (e.g., event)
  • BI inside a process decision
  • BI inside a human task assignment (inform rather than automate decision)
  • BI to help humans with process work
  • BI to predict the future of process work

BI is positioned as making data actionable. Data-driven BI is bereft of process, and focussed on reports and presentation. Process-centric BI (mainly from BPM vendors) has awareness of BPM and the processes; there may be a tie-in with BPRI although there’s no standard linkage between process models and runtime data that could be consumed by a 3rd party BI product. No BI vendors are doing real BPM-aware BI yet.

He then discussed collaboration and information, showing that BPM is typically only used for the structured part of processes. Interestingly, he just redivided the BPM marketplace into ad hoc/collaborative, production and integration workflow, which is where we were 7 years ago before this all got lumped together as BPM. The future of BPM is a 360-degree view of business processes; the main barrier to that now is that there’s no collaboration in BPM products and no process management in collaboration products. Some BPM vendors are starting to pull in collaborative functions, such as discussion threads, process wikis, email notifications, embedded analytics, dynamic task support, and portal integration.

A few wrapup points on what all this means:

  • BPM vendors must partner to integrate with other functions, such as content management
  • Standards are essential to driving the integration partnerships
  • End users need to think about process, collaboration and ECM together, not as separate issues

BPM Think Tank Day 2: Roundtable wrapup

Here’s some assorted notes on all the other roundtables that I didn’t attend: each of the facilitators gave a 3-5 minute wrap up of their discussion. The notes from all of these sessions are supposed to end up on a wiki for the conference, so there should be more information around eventually as that fills in (unfortunately, the wiki seems to be closed to public viewing at this point, as well as being named after the creator’s company rather than the BPM Think Tank itself).

Barriers to process improvement (John Alden):

  • No acceptance of the need to change
  • Difficulty finding an executive sponsor
  • Resource constraints (time, people, money)
  • Community inaction

Business involvement in BPM (John Jeston):

  • Like many other groups, spend quite a bit of time defining BPM and associated terminology, e.g., “process owner”
  • Need to get CEO attention

Lean/Six Sigma in BPM (Lance Gibbs):

  • Not every project is or should be Lean/Six Sigma
  • Lean = waste removal, which is a good fit with BPM

Approaches to Effective Architecture (Bruce Douglas):

  • Definitions of architecture: layers of services; ecosystem
  • Complexity and effort required to model architecture
  • Differences between models and realization
  • What should be modelled
  • Lack of respect for architecture functions
  • Problems “between the seams” in architecture rather than with the pieces (artifacts)
  • Long-term strategic often displaced by short-term needs
  • Model and validate along the way to developing complete architecture

Innovation in BPM (Angel Diaz):

  • How to help customers innovate with BPM
  • How to start BPM projects
  • Centre of Excellence
  • How to measure innovation
  • The chasm between “define” and “do”: what doesn’t get done, and what’s not relevant once it’s done
  • Divide between BPM and SOA
  • Requires a person to span business and technology (like me 🙂 )
  • Requires personal leadership

BPM and BI (Colin Teubner):

  • Use cases for BPM and BI:
    • BI about a process
    • BI triggering/changing a process (including triggers from dashboards)
    • BI inside a process to automate decisions
    • BI in work environment to provide information to a person for their decision
    • predictive BI driving process work
  • BPRI will assist in some gap closing but thee’s little understanding of BI by BPM vendors

Model-driven Organizations (Fred Cummins):

  • Dramatic changes in business in recent years requires models in order to understand how business works
  • Need management buy-in
  • Cultural change to manage business with models
  • Models can expose embarrassing faults, which causes some resistance to models and to change
  • SOX requires taking responsibility, increases risk if business not understood: drives need for models for decision support

BPM and GRC (Dennis Davidson):

  • GRC = Governance, Risk Management and Compliance (a new acronym for me), an emerging market segment that is adopting BPM technology
  • Involves SOA and BPM
  • Needs BPM to make SOA successful
  • Collaboration technologies, including Web 2.0 and 3.0

BPM Think Tank Day 2: BPEL Roundtable

The second roundtable that I attended on last Tuesday’s sessions was on BPEL, headed up by Ismael Ghalimi. It was great to finally meet Ismael in person: we’ve been corresponding by email and blog comments for quite a while, and have even done a webinar together, but this is the first time that we’ve been in the same place at the same time.

We started with a discussion of BPEL4People, and how it’s changed from the original specification (which proposed implementing human-facing tasks as web services rather than changing BPEL) to the current specification (which proposes extensions to BPEL for human-facing tasks).

The title of the roundtable was “is BPEL relevant”, and we covered several aspects of that. First, a few people around the table (which included a few vendors with a vested interest in BPEL) stated that BPEL is relevant in the same way that SQL is relevant: as a standardized language that allows a separation of the design/development environment from the execution environment. Based on the lively discussion, some of these guys have spent a lot of time thinking about the BPEL-SQL analogy. My argument (I have no vested interest, so could have easily argued the opposite way) was that maybe it *should* be relevant in that way, but really isn’t in the consolidated model-design-execute environments that we see in BPM today. The real question may be, at what level is BPEL relevant: model, design, code or execution? Everyone agreed that it’s not relevant to business users or analysts, but it’s not clear where the line of relevance lies.

We also discussed how native BPEL execution providing code monitoring during execution, such that any code faults will have more semantic information included without having to build a monitoring stack on top of it. What remains to be seen is if BPEL4People will provide some level of business-relevant monitoring, or if that still has to be built on top of the execution layer.

What we’re seeing is that for the most part, it’s the larger vendors that are adopting BPEL — possibly as a common language to glue together all the BPM pieces that they’re acquiring — whereas the smaller vendors provided a consolidated (and therefore closed) suite environment where the execution language doesn’t matter, and in fact, their engine may be a competitive differentiator.

BPM Think Tank Day 2: BPMN/BPDM Roundtable

I’m just getting to the last of the BPM Think Tank sessions, namely, the roundtables and one lunch session that I had documented on paper. The three sessions of roundtables spanned Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons, and were some of the best conversations that I had at the conference. I’ll cover each of the ones that I attended in a separate post, then the summaries of the others in another post, just to keep things from getting too long. These were fairly unstructured, general sessions so the notes might be a bit fragmented

The first roundtable that I attended was BPMN and BPDM, with Stephen White of IBM and Antoine Lonjon of MEGA.

There are insufficient books and tools for educating the community on how to use BPMN for different purposes. There is a requirement for a reference document to educate end-user organizations that is smaller and more understandable than the specification (possibly both a business-oriented primer and a technical reference). Stephen stated that additional reference documents will be available within a few months. There is an HTML version of the specification online at ModelDriven.org.

Small consulting organizations and independents can’t realistically get involved in standards creation so we’re always “users” of the specification. I didn’t raise this point, but do agree with it — paying my own travel expenses and missing out on days of revenue to attend standards meetings several times each year is just not in my budget.

BPM vendors are unlikely to replace their own internal model formats with BPDM, but will translate to/from BPDM. Vendors need to review and understand BPDM and how it maps between different representations. There is a need for BPMN/BPDM conformance testing and certification of BPA/BPM products.

BPDM gives BPMN credibility as a modelling format since the specification is now “complete”. There was a great deal of discussion, both in this session and at other times during the think tank where this same point was raised, namely, that BPMN was rushed out without a serialization format, and that may have been a short-term mistake. One person at the table was concerned that combining BPMN and BPDM, and thereby increasing complexity, may be a mistake.

A comment that Phil Gilbert made on my TIBCO webinar Q&A post made a valid point about how there’s two main use cases for BPMN: non-executable process mapping and analysis by business analysts, and “visual coding” to create an executable process. We discussed this a bit at the roundtable, particularly around how business analysts could use the basic shapes (i.e., skip some of the internal graphic symbols that distinguish between different flavours of the shapes) and hence might benefit from a much simpler training program to get started. There was some discussion about how far up the chain that BPMN will or can be used for modelling businesses, e.g., whether it can be extended to strategy and goals or whether that’s more the mandate of BMM (Business Motivational Metamodel)

I had an interesting side conversation with Antoine after the roundtable ended about adoption patterns for BPMN and BPDM. Although standards organizations tend to have the “if you build it, they will come” attitude towards standards adoption, I believe that there needs to be some good reasons put forward for why BPDM provides benefits to the end customer and for the BPM vendors before we can expect to see widespread adoption.

BPM Think Tank Day 3: BPM & SOA panel

We’re starting to wind down a bit, and many of the east coast people have taken off already to avoid the red-eye flight home so the audience is getting a bit sparse. Those of us with presentations this afternoon, however, are still here.

First after lunch is a panel on BPM & SOA, and how they complement each other, with Tony  Baer of onStrategies and Brenda Michelson of the SOA Consortium. This is more of the mini-presentation format rather than a true panel, but I promised Brenda that I wouldn’t blame the presenters for that. 🙂

Tony started out with the “BPM is from Venus, SOA is from Mars” phrase, which we’ve all been bandying about for a while, although he really meant ‘business is from Venus and IT is from Mars). Considering, however, that Venus is the goddess of love (collaboration in its most basic form, perhaps?) and Mars is the god of war (technology shoot-outs and other battle language), that may not be far from the truth.

He addressed the culture issues: both business and IT talk about business processes, but business tends to take a top-down approach versus IT’s bottom-up approach, and business is using BPM to rationalize the business whereas IT is using SOA as the next great way to integrate applications. He sees a process orchestration battleground between BPM and SOA about where to do integration in a process. He also pointed out that BPEL is still at the “checklist” level (that is, it’s on the RFP checklist but not actually used) for most BPM applications, an opinion that I stated here a couple of weeks ago.

Brenda was up next talking about business-driven SOA and the SOA Consortium, and looked at the correlation between an Economist survey of late last year with her personal findings in touring around talking to CIOs and CTOs: the top thing that they state is critical for both revenue generation and cost cutting is the creation of services. One CTO saw BPM, SOA, Lean and Six Sigma all as the same basic thing, namely business strategy and structure, and they need to work together without artificial divisions between them in order to enable a platform for business agility.

Before SOA, business and IT strategy weren’t well aligned and were often developed independently, and the business process became an output of an IT solution rather than driven directly by business requirements. Business and IT need to collaborate on both strategy and architecture, which in turn drives out portfolio planning and delivery of the business solutions. She pointed out that also “enterprise architecture” is currently mostly technology architecture with a bit of business architecture on the side (if you’re lucky), in the future it will become more balanced with equal contributions from business and technical architecture.

Part of what the SOA Consortium is doing is providing guidelines for how the too-technical technology architects can become more valuable enterprise architects, and to break the artificial divide between business and IT. Part of this, I think, is similar to something I posted a year and a half ago, where enterprise architecture is not an IT function, but something that is in a strategic position between business and IT.

We’re off to do the last of the roundtables now, where I’ll be leading one on Enterprise 2.0 and BPM mashups. My notes will be on paper, and I’ll summarize them over here sometime on that overnight flight home tonight.

BPM Think Tank Day 3: BPM vendor panel

Next up was a panel of BPM vendors: Phil Gilbert (Lombardi), Angel Diaz (IBM), Marco ten Vanholt (SAP BPX), Burley Kawasaki (Microsoft), Scott Byrnes (Handysoft) and David Shaffer (Oracle). Derek Miers moderated, and posed a series of questions to the panelists rather than having the panelists do short presentations as we saw on previous panels — a much better panel format, in my opinion, and it even generated some conversation between the panelists directly.

Phil mixed it up right away by agreeing with the other panelists that standards are important (duh), but said that the first thing that we need to standardize is the meaning of the term BPM. He also thinks that OSM (Organizational Structure Metamodel) is going to be one of the most significant standards in the coming months, next to BPMN. In other words, people are going to start modelling their business, not just their processes. Marco added that there’s going to be an increasing interest in the processes that span organizations, and standards that support that will become more important. They all seem to agree that business users don’t really care about standards explicitly, but that standards are an implicit part of things that the business types to want: portability of models and reusability of skills, for example.

One question was whether BPM offered via SaaS is reducing the barriers to entry to what is still a complex implementation. Burley feels that it will make a difference for departmental applications that just can’t justify the spend, and for cross-organizational choreographic processes where no one organization is “in charge”, but that there will still be a strong market for on-premise solutions especially at an enterprise level. Angel added that standards are going to play a strong role here, since there’s likely to be a hybrid approach that uses both on-premise and on-demand systems within the same processes. Marco made the statement that some industries will “never, ever have software as a service”; it will be interesting to come back in a few years and see if he has to eat his words. Many organizations already have their data centres outsourced, including those that require advanced security, and I think that SaaS is just a small step beyond that from a security standpoint even though it might be perceived as being something entirely different. Scott things that a template-driven, simpler type of BPM functionality could be adopted by the SMB market. David pointed out that there’s a difference between having BPM embedded in a SaaS application and offering BPM directly as a SaaS, and feels that the latter is going to see much lower adoption. Phil stated that their Blueprint product is a tactic in their way to building a cloud capability, implying that we’ll see some hybrid on-premise/on-demand functionality from Lombardi in the future

They then discussed mechanisms for supporting more collaboration and deeper embedding into a worker’s environment. Scott talked about being able to share, for example, information about the experts for a specific process, and be able to IM them directly. Marco talked about being able to do some collaborative Visio diagramming in a wiki-type plug-in (presumably on BPX); I’m not sure if this something that they have with a browser design interface, or if it’s a place to upload Visio diagrams. He also pointed out that wikis, forums and IM are going to be start to be built into applications for collaboration, further pushing the need for standards since none of us want the BPM vendors to build their own wiki or IM software.

A question from the audience asked whether the vendors are getting inquiries from other vendors to embed/OEM their BPM functionality inside another product, whether SaaS or not. David, Burley and Angel spoke up that they are seeing this; not surprising since Oracle, Microsoft and IBM are all “platform” BPM vendors that tend to offer components rather than a more cohesive suite. Although I haven’t written up my notes from the BPEL roundtable yesterday, this is one of the areas where standards like BPEL will help to facilitate that type of integration. Phil added that they’re seeing this as well, but more from the standpoint of embedding more of their suite rather than just the engine.

Another question was on the distinction between modelling processes for business improvement purposes, and modelling processes as a visual coding/RAD tool. Phil responded that if you’re just buying BPM as a RAD tool, don’t buy it: stick with Java or .Net.

There was a discussion on the role of large vendors in standards, and how large vendors can sometimes take a standard off into their own organization and develop it 80% of the way and bring it back to the standards group: sometimes this works well, and sometimes it allows the vendor to just mould the standard to their own product agenda. We also came back around to the comment that Phil made at the beginning of the panel, where we need to define what BPM is in the market: the vendors all seemed to agree that they all have their own definition of BPM that coincidentally matches completely with their product functionality, and they all agreed on the buzzphrase “BPM is all about the business”. 🙂 The analysts also all have their own definitions, although they all seem to be congealing around the Gartner definition of BPM as a management practice, which doesn’t at all help the issue when the BPM vendors define it in terms of the technology capabilities. Bruce Silver lobbed a small incendiary device from the audience by stating that from the viewpoint of BPM as a management discipline, the vendor products are all exactly the same, and that customers may just see them as snake oil salesmen trying to sell the same thing in a different way. Not sure that we’re going to solve this one today.

It’s interesting watching a vendor panel like this, where the panelists are not allowed to do any product pitches, and where they’re all pretty smart guys: the discussion is a complex weave of philosophy, techno-geekery and thinly-veiled nudging towards their own specific agendas. This is part of what I like about the BPM Think Tank: there’s much more open collaboration between vendors than at other conferences, although there’s always a strong streak of friendly competition throughout the interactions.

BPM Think Tank Day 3: Randy Heffner

Day 3 opened with a keynote from Randy Heffner of Forrester on BPM in the world of digital business architecture.

He spoke about the old model of enterprise applications, which was that of functional silos with point-to-point integration between them, and how that’s changing to a process-centric model: not just using BPM to connect up the functional silos, but breaking down the functional silos so that the technology becomes a better reflection of the essential business processes. He envisions a number of portals for different worker roles — sales process portal, executive portal, fulfillment portal, etc. — with a layer of business-oriented services that support those portals by accessing virtualized enterprise data sources (which, of course, may still come from those old enterprise applications).

He seems focussed on SOA and business services rather than BPM and the orchestration of those services; he models the enterprise as portals consuming the services where presumably BPM is implicit in the portal in some way rather than discussing BPM directly. That becomes a bit more clear in a layered diagram of the new “programming” model, with various user interaction channels at the top, then a layer of interaction services, then human-centric process flow, then business services, then integration-centric process flow, then the underlying systems and data sources. Along the side spanning the layers are both business metadata (across interaction services and human-centric process flow) and technical metadata (across business services and integration-centric process flow), and business measurement and optimization across all the layers.

In his slide on the future of key technology platforms, there’s this big fuzzy bit in the middle called “business metadata core / business design platform”, which he admits is poorly defined and states that BPM provides a start to some of that functionality. The surrounding technologies, including the SOA sweet spot of business services, are otherwise pretty well defined in his view.

He finishes with a list of core competencies for the future of IT:

  • Deep integration of business and technology savvy: cross-functional focus on business design
  • Architecture visioning and strategy: vision + implementation = street-level strategy; multilevel investment strategy (strategic, soft dollar, hard dollar)
  • Portfolio management: road map for your business to position and justify investments
  • Project-level architecture governance: incremental build-out against architecture strategy

Forrester seems to have a distinct division between SOA and BPM in its analysts: they either know one domain or the other, but don’t seem all that comfortable talking about the other side. Heffner is definitely an SOA guy.

BPM Think Tank Day 2: Jim Rudden

Jim Rudden of Lombardi gave the first presentation after lunch. Like the BEA presentation yesterday, Lombardi gets this short timeslot since they’re a platinum sponsor of the event, and Jim’s topic was on modelling your business, not just your process. I’ve seen a similar presentation, likely in a Lombardi webinar, with the three key areas of focus for modelling business: setting direction, controlling processes and work, and improving performance.

Challenges in setting direction:

  • Accessibility: can everyone participate easily?
  • Audience: can we involve business teams?
  • Standardization: is everyone gathering the same information?
  • Consensus: does everyone agree with the model?
  • Prioritization: is it clear where to start improvement?
  • Leverage: can you move quickly to implementation?

He then went into a brief (pre-recorded) demo of Blueprint, Lombardi’s SaaS process discovery product, to show how it can address the issues of setting direction. I need to get back and give this another in-depth review, since it’s obviously had a lot of changes since I saw it back at product launch time. They’ve done some nice things with the different views, providing a map/outline view, a diagram (BPMN) view and a documentation view, plus metadata such as goals, problems and impacts in a sort of structured wiki-like environment.

The remainder of the day is the roundtables, where I’ll take notes on paper so they won’t be posted until later tonight or tomorrow. I’m first attending the session on BPMN and BPDM with Antoine Lonjon and Stephen White, then the one on BPEL with Ismael Ghalimi.

BPM Think Tank Day 2: Practitioners’ Case Studies

We had two case studies about BPM projects in the real world, the first of which was Lance Gibbs talking about AFLAC using BPM in their administrative services. They started with their invoice reconciliation process, since they dealt with over 500,000 remittances each month, and 30% of them didn’t match the invoice so couldn’t be automatically processed — a problem that I see in many of my own customers in a wide variety of industries. In their case, a mismatched invoice may correspond to a change in coverage, which required changes by their Policy Servicing group, and someone needed to figure out what was wrong with the invoice and start it through the remediation process. There was no visibility into the process, no prioritization to ensure that higher priority invoices were processed first, no coordination between the groups, and a lot of paper flying around. They really needed to get an invoice reconciliation turned around in less than 30 days, or else another incorrect invoice would be sent out for the next month’s billing.

To address this problem, they focussed on straight-through business process automation, human-facing workflow, and business activity monitoring. They started by scanning and indexing documents up front in the mail room, and early sorting and triage of transactions, which cut more than a day off their cycle time and allowed their reconciliation specialists to start work right away. They created web services that access their mainframe billing system using webMethods to be consumed by BPM. They had just achieved CMM level 3, and had to work at using agile BPM development processes that didn’t violate their CMM methodologies. Although it’s less than perfect, they now have more than 85% “one and done” for fixing invoices.

To establish KPIs, they looked at which were critical to the customer, and generally fell into three categories: quality, delivery and cost. They went from more general, hard to measure needs through to specific, measurable KPIs. For example, good customer service (a need) is a result of knowledgeable and friendly CSRs and a short wait time (drivers); knowledgeable CSRs can be measured by whether they were able to answer a question without further research (KPI, or what they call CTC for critical to customer).

They had a core process team of about five people, with other integration specialists being accesses as required. They went through a 4-1/2 month vendor selection process with a full bake-off between the two short-listed vendors (which he didn’t name, probably having been told not to mention vendors specifically from the podium). Update: Lance told me later than the BPMS is Lombardi.

The next case study was Clear Channel, with someone else pinch-hitting for David Jemeyson who took ill suddenly, discussing how they interfaced with Google to place ads through Clear Channel’s radio stations. The basic process is that a customer makes an ad purchase and uploads their audio spot with Google, who dispatches it to Clear Channel where it is prepared for broadcast and sent on to the radio station. At each step, they’re using loosely-coupled web services to move the data through the process, and they’ve modelled the entire thing in BPMN which he showed on the slides complete with drill-down to the detailed process with swimlanes. The result is that the entire process can be executed without manual intervention, including sending on the relevant information to their financial systems, and they were able to develop it all in about six months.

They used BizTalk and SharePoint for most of the SOA infrastructure.

The contrast between the two case studies was interesting: AFLAC was optimizing an existing business process; whereas Clear Channel was opening a completely new market enabled by the technology, which is one of those elusive ROI factors that we talk about but rarely see.