Michael Rosemann from the BPM Research Group at Queensland University of Technology, gave us today’s opening keynote on Understanding and Impacting the Practice of BPM, exploring the link between academia and industry. QUT hosted this conference last year, and has a strong BPM program.
He believes that research can be both rigorous and relevant, satisfying the requirements of both industry and academia, and his group works closely with industry, in part by offering BPM training but also looking to foster networking across the divide. It can be a mutually beneficial relationship: research impacts practice through their findings, and practice provides understanding of the practical applicability and empirical evidence to research.
Obviously I’m in strong agreement with this position: part of why I’m here is to bring awareness of this conference and the underlying research to my largely commercial audience. I had an interesting conversation earlier today about how vendors could become more involved in this conference; at the very least, I believe that BPM vendors should be sending a product development engineer to sit in the audience and soak up the ideas, but there’s probably also room for some low level of corporate sponsorship and a potential for recruitment.
Rosemann discussed how research can (and should) be influenced by industry demand, although there’s not a direct correlation between research topics and what’s missing in industry practice. There is some great research going on around process analysis and modeling, and some smaller amount (or so it seems) focused on process execution. He looks at the distinction between design science research — where the goal is utility — and behavioral science research — where the goal is truth — and the relationship between them: design science produces BPM artifacts to provide utility to behavioral science, which in turn provides truth through BPM theories.
BPM artifacts produced by research include constructs (vocabulary and symbols) such as process modeling techniques, models (abstractions and representations) such as process reference models, methods (algorithms and practices) such as process modeling methodologies, and instantiations (implemented and prototype systems) such as workflow prototype systems. Through an artifact’s lifecycle, design scientists test its soundness (internal consistency) and completeness (general applicability), and the behavioral scientists test its effectiveness at solving the problem and adoption in practice. In other words, design scientists create the artifacts, the artifacts are implemented (in a research facility or by industry), and behavioral scientists test how well they work.
There is a BPM community of practice in Australia that hosts events about BPM: originally just a showcase to expose QUT research to industry and government, it has become a much more collaborative community where the practitioners can indicate their interest in the research areas. All of the QUT research students have to have their elevator pitch worked out — why is their research important, and its applicability — which is going to start to tune their thinking towards where their research might (eventually) end up in practice.
He showed a BPM capability framework, showing various capability areas mapped against key success factors of strategic alignment, governance, methods, IT, people and culture; this framework has been replicated by a number of different organizations, including Gartner, to show areas on which companies need to focus when they are implementing BPM. He discussed other areas and methods of research, and the value of open debate with the practitioners; as always, it’s gratifying to see my blog used as an example in a presentation, and he used a snapshot of my post on the great BPMN debate as well as posts by Bruce Silver and Michael zur Muehlen. He walked through a number of other examples of interaction between research and industry, using a variety of techniques, and even the concept of private (consumer) process modeling.
He ended with a number of recommendations for BPM researchers:
have a BPM research vision
design a BPM research portfolio
conduct critical-path research
seek impact without compromising research rigor
build and maintain an industry network
collaborate with complementary research partners
Interestingly, a question at the end resulted in a discussion on BPM vendors and how they have the potential to span boundaries between research and practice. The larger vendors with significant research facilities are represented here: apparently almost 40% of the attendees here are from industry, although it appears that most are from deep within the research areas rather than product development or any customer-facing areas.