BPM 2010 Coming Up Soon: Are You There?

My favorite BPM conference of the year, the 8th International Conference on Business Process Management, is coming up in less than three weeks, on September 13-16. In the past, this has primarily been an academic conference where BPM researchers present their ongoing research, and this year they are adding industry case studies, tutorials, keynotes and fireside chats with lots of big names in BPM, plus a follow-on day on September 17 on adaptive case management.

I’ve recommended this conference in the past for those involved in BPM product development because this is where your new product ideas are going to come from: although some of this research is a bit esoteric, much of it is practical and could be introduced as product functionality by forward-thinking BPM vendors in the near future. With the added non-academic tracks this year, those of you who shun eigenvectors still have a wealth of presentations by practitioners available to you, turning this into more of a multi-purpose BPM conference than it has been in the past.

This is also the first time that the conference is being held in North America, at Stevens Institute in Hoboken, NJ – don’t worry, that’s just a short ferry ride from Manhattan, so you don’t even have to admit to having visited New Jersey. 🙂 You can still register for the regular registration fee; after August 31, you’ll be paying a higher late/onsite fee to register.

I’ll be there from Monday to Thursday – unfortunately, I found out about the ACM day on Friday too late to change my plans – so feel free to look me up if you’re there. If you can’t make it, watch for my blog coverage of the sessions.

Planning the Fall BPM Conference Lineup

It’s been a quiet summer for travel – I haven’t been on a plane since June – but my fall travel schedule awaits:

As of now, I don’t have any other definite conference plans for the fall, but there are lots of possibilities and tentative invitations:

  • Intalio|World, October 5-6 in San Francisco
  • Forrester’s Business Process and Application Delivery Forum, October 7-8 in Washington DC
  • SAP TechEd Berlin, October 12-14 and TechEd US, October 18-22 in Las Vegas
  • IBM Information On Demand, October 24-28 in Las Vegas
  • IBM CASCON, November 1-4 in Toronto – it’s not BPM-specific, but it’s a good conference and is local for me

I keep a calendar of all the BPM-related events that I hear about, mostly for my own reference but I have made it public:

If you have something that you’d like to add to the calendar, add a comment here or email me directly. I typically do not include webinars or other online-only events, since that would tend to crowd out the physical events.

Note that you can view this in Week, Month or Agenda view using the controls at the top right. If you’re a Google calendar user, you can add it to your list of calendars using the button at the bottom right, which will allow you to see it overlaid on your own calendar.

BPM 2010 Call for Papers: Research, Education and Industry

 

I’ve previously extolled the benefits of attending the annual international research conference on BPM, and for those of you in North America who just weren’t ready to shell out for a trip to Europe, you’re in luck: it’s coming to Stevens Institute in New Jersey in September. Although this has always been an academic research conference, rife with papers full of statistical analysis, this year the organizers are creating an industry track for practitioners to discuss the adoption and use of BPM:

The industry track will provide practitioners with the opportunity to present insight gained through BPM projects. We are particularly interested in case studies from the perspective of user organizations. While contributions from consultants and vendors are appreciated, pure product demonstrations, method tutorials, or vendor showcases will not be accepted in the industry track. All contributions to the industry track have to describe experiences with BPM methods and/or technologies from the viewpoint of the adopting organization.

This is not the usual conference PowerPoint deck: you have to actually write a paper. If you want to present in the industry track, you must submit an abstract by February 15th.

If you’re submitting a paper for the regular research tracks, the paper (not just an abstract) is due by March 14th. You can also submit a paper in the new education track, specifically about education and training methods for the BPM professional, also due by March 14th.

Even if you’re not giving a paper, I highly recommend that BPM vendors send along someone from their design/engineering team. This conference shows BPM research that (in some cases) indicates where product functionality could go in the future; best to get in there and see it first hand.

Workshop on BPM and social software #BPM2009 #BPMS2’09

I’m back at this year’s edition of what was probably my favorite conference last year: BPM2009 in Ulm, Germany. This is primarily attended by academics and institutional researchers, and the format is as an academic conference, where each presentation is based on a research paper.

This first day is devoted to workshops, and I’m attending the workshop on BPM and social software (as I did last year). The format is that each author presenting at the workshop has 20 minutes to present and 10 minutes for Q&A; as with last year, the workshop sessions are small and I think that most of the attendees are actually delivering a paper at some point.

Rainer Schmidt of Aalen University, who is co-chairing the workshop along with Selmin Nurcan of University Paris Pantheon Sorbonne, introduced the session and provided the general topics of discussion in this workshop:

  • New opportunities provided by social software for BPM
  • Engineering next generation of business processes: BPM 2.0?
  • Business process implementation support by social software

He defined social software as software that supports weak ties and social production following the ideas of egalitarianism and mutual service provisioning, then went on to discuss the research and references that led to this definition:

  • Weak and strong ties from Granovetter (The Strength of Weak Ties, 1973): social software creates weak ties easily, and these are crucial to improving enterprise agility and innovation
  • Social production from Benkler (The Wealth of Networks, 2006), and Tapscott and Williams (Wikinomics, 2006): collaborative creation combines the best thoughts and creates more competitive products, and moves the value from products to services
  • Wisdom of the crowds from Surowiecki (The Wisdom of the Crowds, 2005): combining inputs from many people, even if not all are expert, yields better results than relying purely on experts, in part because you don’t know know in advance which experts are better/more appropriate
  • Cooperative service creation: equal partners interact to create a service

This results in some basic principles of social software:

  • Egalitarian: all users (can/should) contribute and consume content and context information, and there is no distinction between producer and consumer. There are some significant cultural barriers to this, however, in many enterprises both in terms of allowing people to contribute and having people recognize that they have a duty to contribute.
  • Self-organization and bottom-up organization: users develop the structures and taxonomy interactively without external imposition of structure.
  • Both content and context are considered valuable: links, tags, bookmarks and even tweets add necessary context to content.
  • Continuous and immediate fusioning and aggregation of information: content is immediately available without formal approval or change management procedures that inhibit its availability; there are necessary tradeoffs between corporate governance and knowledge gathering/sharing depending on the nature and reach of the content.
  • Continuous and recursive assessment: constant review of content contributions allows flaws to be detected and corrected almost immediately, which provides a governing function on content creation.

These formal definitions, backed up by the appropriate research, provide a much deeper understanding than the usual noise that we hear in the commercial marketplace. To bring together a number of popular terms, social software is part of Web 2.0, and supports Enterprise 2.0; it manifests in both groupware and knowledge management.

There are threats to social software: cultural change is often required in order to have people understand the importance of contributing and the value that they can bring; and people can contribute inappropriate content, which can in turn have legal ramifications if un-reviewed information is freely available.

Good start to the workshop.

Size does matter: travelling light with netbook and iPhone

I love technology more as it gets smaller. I haven’t been travelling much this year, but the next two months will change that. For the first time in years, however, I’ll be carrying only my suitcase (a roll-aboard that fits in the overhead bin) and my handbag: no computer bag. That’s because I am the proud owner of an HP Mini netbook, which slides right into the back compartment of my smallish purse with room to spare. The screen is a bit small, but adequate – in fact for widescreen video viewing, it’s great – and the keyboard is large enough for comfortable touch typing. Battery life is 6 hours, which rocks. Disk is 160GB, leaving space for me to load it up with e-books and video to entertain me while away from home.

It runs XP, and I’ve loaded the following software:

  • Chrome as my primary browser – much cleaner and takes up less screen real estate, so good for the smaller screen.
  • Google mail/calendar with offline synchronization, since my email accounts are all Gmail or Google Apps; this means that my mail and calendar will stay synchronized between this computer, my office computer (which uses Outlook and Google Apps Sync), my iPhone and the web.
  • It has a trial version of MS-Office included, but I’ve also loaded Open Office and will see if that works for the relatively light editing needs that I’ll have on the road. If so, then I won’t bother to buy the license for Office when the trial expires.
  • Live Writer for blogging, since I do a lot of that while at conferences.
  • Dropbox for synchronizing working files to the web for backup, and back to my home machine (use this link to sign up for Dropbox if you’re interested, and we’ll both get an extra 250MB storage).
  • Tweetdeck for Twittering.
  • Flickr Uploader for uploading photos.
  • iTunes, since it’s required in order to use my iPhone for USB cable-based internet tethering.

I’ve been using the netbook instead of my usual computer off and on for the past two weeks, and I’m quite convinced that I’ll be fine for days at a time with this on the road. I’m missing my financial software and a whole raft of utilities, but nothing that I can’t do without for a while.

I also finally broke down and bought an iPhone 3GS, so if you saw me earlier in the year with my iPod Touch and a Nokia flip phone, those two gadgets have now been replaced by one: more room in my purse. There will probably be some short trips where I can make do with just the iPhone, and leave the netbook at home, since it has everything on there, including Dropbox to access documents. It’s not a great blogging platform, however; as a former Blackberry addict, I can authoritatively state that the iPhone keyboard sucks for any large amount of typing.

With my new technology in tow, I leave on Friday for Germany to attend BPM2009 in Ulm next week – watch for the live blogging from there – then spend another week having a bit of a vacation in locations yet to be determined, but likely a couple of days in Zurich and a trip through western Germany back up to Dusseldorf for my flight home. [For those of you who think giving this sort of information provides an opportunity for someone to break into my home and steal all my worldly belongings, rest assured that I leave behind my black belt hubby – and I don’t mean a Six Sigma black belt – and a pretty mean cat.]

International academic BPM conference 2009

Last year, I attended BPM 2008, an international conference that brings together academics, researchers and practitioners to take a rather academic look at what is happening in BPM research. This is important to those of us who work daily with BPM systems, since some of this research will be finding its way into products over the next few years. Also, it was in Milan, and I never pass up the opportunity for a trip to Italy.

The conference organizers were kind enough to extend a press invitation to me again this year (that means that I don’t pay the conference fee, but I do pay my own expenses) to attend BPM 2009 in Ulm, Germany, and I’ll be headed that way in a few weeks. I’ll also be attending the one-day workshop on BPM and social software prior to the conference.

Travel budgets are tight for everyone this year, but I highly recommend that if you’re a vendor of BPMS software, you get one or two of your architects/designers/developers/brain trust to Ulm next month. This is not a conference to send your marketing people and glad-hand all around; this is a place for serious learning about BPM research. Consider it a small investment in a huge future: having your product designers exposed to this research and networking with the researchers could make a competitive difference for you in years to come.

I’ll also be hanging out for a week after the conference, probably traveling around Germany, so any travel suggestions are welcome.

International BPM conference 2009

Earlier this year, I went to Milan for the International BPM conference for a look at the academic side of BPM conferences, and was completely won over: in my coverage, I highly recommended that BPM vendors send someone from their architecture/design team to listen in on the BPM research that is being done in the private and university labs, or even submit a paper on their own innovations.

Next year, the conference will be held in Ulm, Germany from September 7th-10th, and Michael zur Muehlen lists all the details. If you’re interested in submitting a paper, the deadline is March 15th.

Comparing BPM conferences

The fall conference season has kicked off, and I’ve already had the pleasure of attending 3 BPM conferences: the International BPM conference (academic), Appian’s first user conference (vendor), and the Gartner BPM summit (analyst). It’s rare to have 3 such different conferences crammed into 2 weeks, so I’ll sum up some of the differences that I saw.

The International BPM conference (my coverage) features the presentation of papers by academics and large corporate research labs covering various areas of BPM research. Most of the research represented at the conference is around process modeling in some way — patterns, modularity, tree structures, process mining — but there were a few focused on process simulation and execution issues as well. The topics presented here are the future of BPM, but not necessarily the near future: some of these ideas will likely trickle into mainstream BPM products over the next 5 years. It’s also a very technical conference, and you may want to arm yourself with a computer science or engineering background before you wade into the graph theory, calculus and statistics included in many of these papers. This conference is targeted at academics and researchers, but many of the smaller BPM vendors (the ones who don’t have a big BPM research lab like IBM or SAP) could benefit by sending someone from their architecture or engineering group along to pick up cool ideas for the future. They might also find a few BPM-focused graduate students who will be looking for jobs soon.

Appian’s user conference (my coverage) was an impressive small conference, especially for their first time out. Only a day long, plus another day for in-depth sessions at their own offices (which I did not attend), it included the obligatory big-name analyst keynote followed by a lot of solid content. The only Appian product information that we saw from the stage was a product update and some information on their new partnership with MEGA; the remainder of the sessions was their customers talking about what they’ve done with Appian. They took advantage of the Gartner BPM summit being in their backyard, and scheduled their user conference for earlier the same week so that Appian customers already attending Gartner could easily add on a day to their trip and attend Appian’s conference as well. Well run, good content, and worth the trip for Appian customers and partners.

Gartner’s BPM summit (my coverage), on the other hand, felt bloated by comparison. Maybe I’ve just attended too many of these, especially since they started going to two conferences per year last year, but there’s not a lot of new information in what they’re presenting, and there seems to be a lot of filler: quasi-related topics that they throw in to beef up the agenda. There was a bit of new material on SaaS and BPM, but not much else that caught my interest. Two Gartner BPM summits per year is (at least) one too many; I know that they claim to be doing it in order to cover the east-west geography, but the real impact is that the vendors are having to pony up for two of these expensive events each year, which will kill some of the other BPM events due to lack of sponsorship. Although I still think that the Gartner BPM summit is a good place for newbies to get a grounding in BPM and related technologies, having a more diverse set of BPM events available would help the market overall.

If you’re a customer and have to choose one conference per year, I’d recommend the user conference put on by your BPM vendor — you’ll get enough of the general information similar to Gartner, plus specific information about the product that you’ve purchased and case studies by other customers. If you haven’t made a purchasing decision yet and/or are really new to BPM, then the Gartner BPM summit is probably a better choice, although there are other non-vendor BPM events out there as well. For those of you involved in the technical side of architecting and developing BPM products at vendors or highly sophisticated customers, I recommend attending the International BPM conference.

BPM Milan: The Future of BPM

Peter Dadam of University of Ulm opened the last day of the conference (and my last session, since I’m headed out at the morning break) with a keynote on the future of BPM: Flyin with the Eagles, or Scratching with the Chickens?

He went through some of his history in getting into research (in the IBM DB2 area), with a conclusion when you ask current users about what they want, they tend to use the current technology as a given, and only request workarounds within the constraints of the existing solution. The role of research is, in part, to disseminate knowledge about what is possible: the new paradigm for the future. Anyone who has worked on the bleeding edge of innovation recognizes this, and realizes that you first have to educate the market on what’s possible before you can begin to start developing the use cases for it.

He discussed the nature of university research versus industrial research, where the pendulum has swung from research being done in universities, to the more significant research efforts being done (or being perceived as being done) in industrial research centers, to the closing of many industrial research labs and a refocusing on pragmatic, product-oriented research by the rest. This puts the universities back in the position of being able to offer more visionary research, but there is a risk of just being the research tail that the industry dog wags.

Moving on to BPM, and looking at it against a historical background, we have the current SOA frenzy in industry, but many enterprises implementing it are hard-pressed to say why their current SOA infrastructure provides anything for them that CORBA didn’t. There’s a big push to bring in BPM tools, particularly modeling tools, without considering the consequences of putting tools like this in the hands of users who don’t understand the impact of certain design decisions. We need to keep both the manual and automated processes in mind, and consider that exceptions are often not predictable; enterprises cannot take the risk of becoming less flexible through the implementation of BPM because they make the mistake of designing completely structured and rigid processes.

There’s also the issue of how the nature of web services can trivialize the larger relationship between a company and its suppliers: realistically, you don’t replace one supplier with another just because they have the same web services interface, without significant other changes (the exception to this is, of course, when the product provided by the supplier is the web service itself).

He sees that there is a significant risk that BPM technology will not develop properly, and that the current commercial systems are not suitable for advanced applications. He described several challenges in implementing BPM (e.g., complex structured processes; exceptions cannot be completely anticipated), and the implications in terms of what must exist in the system in order to overcome this challenge (e.g., expressive process meta model; ad-hoc deviations from the pre-planned execution sequence must be possible). He discussed their research (more than 10 years ago now) in addressing these issues, considering a number of different tools and approaches, how that resulted in the ADEPT process meta model and eventually the AristaFlow process management system. He then gave us a demo of the AristaFlow process modeler — not something that you see often in a keynote — before moving on to discuss how some of the previously stated challenges are handled, and how the original ADEPT research projects fed into the AristaFlow project. The AristaFlow website describes the motivation for this joint university-industry project:

In particular, in dynamic environments it must be possible to quickly implement and deploy new processes, to enable ad-hoc modifications of single process instances at runtime (e.g. to add, delete or shift process steps), and to support process schema evolution with instance migration, i.e. to propagate process schema changes to already running instances. These requirements must be met without affecting process consistency and by preserving the robustness of the process management system.

Although lagging behind many commercial systems in terms of user interface and some functionality, this provides much more dynamic functionality in areas such as allowing a user to add make minor modifications to the process instance that they are currently running.

He concluded with the idea that BPM technology could become as important as database technology, if done correctly, but it’s a very complex issue due to the impact on the work habits of the people involved, and the desire not to limit flexibility while still providing the benefits of process automation and governance. It’s difficult to predict what real-world process exceptions will occur and therefore what type of flexibility will be required during execution. By providing a process template rather than a rigidly-structured process instance, some of this flexibility can be achieved within the framework of the BPMS rather than forcing the users to break the process in order to handle exceptions.

BPM Milan: Managing Process Variability and Compliance

We finished the day with a panel on Managing Process Variability and Compliance in the Enterprise – An Opportunity Not To Be Missed, or a Fools Errand? This was moderated by Heiko Ludwig & Chris Ward of IBM Research, and included Manfred Reichert, University of Ulm, Schahram Dustdar of Vienna University of Technology, Jyoti Bhat of Infosys, and Claudio Bartolini of HP.

Any multinational company ends up with tools and business processes that are specific to each region or country, adopted typically to respond to the local regulatory environment. This presents challenges in establishing enterprise-wide best practices, process standardization and compliance: the issue is to either establish compliance, or accept and manage variability.

The consensus seems to be “it depends”: compliance provides better auditability on high-value processes, whereas variability provides benefits for processes that need to be highly flexible and agile, and you may not be able to apply the same principles across all business processes. It’s only possible to enforce enterprise-wide process compliance when there is a vital business need; it’s not something to be taken on lightly, since it will almost certainly decrease process agility, which will not have the support of regional management. Even with “compliant” processes, there will be variability across regions, particularly those greatly different in size; compliance may then be defined in terms of certain milestones and quality standards being met rather than a step-by-step identical process.

The panel was run in my least favorite form, namely serial individual presentations (which were fairly repetitive), followed by direct questions from the moderator to each of the panelists. Very little interaction between panelists, no fisticuffs, and not enough stimulating conversation.