BPM 2010 Keynote

I just sat through the BPM 2010 keynote speech given by Phil Gilbert which I thought was worth a quick note here.

He was asked to talk on the future of BPM, but clarified that he would really just focus on the the next decade with three main topics:

  • what does it mean to be social in BPM?
  • visibility is a strong part of marketing, but still largely unrealized.
  • in these turbulent times we are faced with turmoil but there are opportunities iw we understand where we fit

He summarized the history of information systems in three main eras:  mainframe era (where geeks were in control of design and runtime, scalable, but elusive), the excel era (with the salesperson in control of everything, users creating their own spreadsheets and emailing them around to others), finally the bpm era which was a big step forward.

For every one 1 java programmer developing applications, there are 5 IT people supporting the technology infrastructure, to support the work of 240 business people.  Tools to date have all focused on the 6 people.  But the business people are far more numerous, and there is a real opportunity if the business people could be tapped directly.  Social approach promises to allow business people to be directly involved.

One concrete suggestion he made was he would like to see the ability to “follow” anything in the company.   Follow the role “call center rep” and be informed of any change to any process that involved that role.  This information, which was formerly considered to be a developer only subject, should be visible and available to anyone who is interested.

Gave a case study of Pulte Mortgage and how by having direct access to measures by all members.  In my mind this is a controversial example:  he claimed that visibility of the key measures allows the employees to tune their own behavior to optimize their own performance, and clearly they achieved this, but the controversy lies in how mortgage brokers in general did tune their behavior to their own benefit and to the detriment of the financial system in general.  Still, in spite of the controversy, it is a clear example of an organization that optimized its performance.

The future will have nothing to do with BPM, or BPMN.   There is far too much focus on notation, but notation is not management.  He did a clever demonstration by paging through the many pages of the BPMN spec listing the figures and tables, to make the case that the BPMN standards effort has lost its way.  He showed the page listing all the event types and asked who, in an audience of highly learned BPM researchers, recognized what the symbols meant.  The point, of course, it that there is a tremendous amount to learn, far more than you can expect the average business professional to learn.   I have no argument with that!

We should instead focus on business performance metrics.  We are not moving fast enough in that area.  Cited Alfred P Sloan’s book on GM as being “the best book on BPM he ever read.”

Process Complexity

Citing an IBM study of customers, 2.5% of the processes are complex,  22.5% are somewhat complex (less than 200 steps),  75% are not complex at all.  This last category is done today by excel over email..  At Banco Espirito Santo the complex processes impact zero people,  moderately complex effects 2000 people, and the non complex effect 8000 people.  This organization has moved forward to allow business users to be “100% empowered to automate the non-complex processes”.  If your business is based on people (and there are very few companies today that are not) where is the value being delivered by your BPM?   Everyone is way too focused on the really complex processes.  IT was clear he felt that is what lead BPMN standards astray, and this research crowd should be mindful not to fall in the same trap.

BPM is a cultural issue, not a technical one.

In conclusion, social techniques will allow more business professionals to be directly involved in the business process, but we need to focus on making business performance measures visible to everyone.  The times we live in are turbulent, yet there is a big opportunity to have an effect if we can focus on the right things.

It is hard for me to disagree with anything he said.  It is clear that empowering business users is key to an large increase support for business work.  He stopped short of a clear vision for what that would look like.  The challenge for systems to be able to support this, is to be conceptually easy enough to use, and he did not cover what would be required to achieve this.  This is understandable given it is a hgh-level, keynote talk.  He did what such a speech should do: clarify that the goal is to be able to support all that work is currently being done by sending excel spreadsheets through email — and clearly made the case that the focus on further elaboration of modeling notation is not the right way.


12 thoughts on “BPM 2010 Keynote

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  4. Regarding the BPM 2010 I have to say I am jealous that you met so many famous BPM people. 🙂

    Regarding BPM is a cultural issue, not a technical one. I strongly agree with this but I have to admit that what we BPM vendors can do is technical, not cultural.

    Interesting right?

    Fan Yi

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  7. I agree with Mr. Fan Yi on the BPM 2010 point : “Regarding the BPM 2010 I have to say I am jealous that you met so many famous BPM people.”

    About cultural and technical issues: again Mr. Yi makes a valid point that vendors can only address the technical issues. However, I do not completely agree with this. The BPM community (everybody involved with BPM – end users, vendors, researchers, analysts, theorists et al) as a whole defines ‘BPM Culture’. Pardon me, if I am confusing ‘BPM culture’ with ‘organizational culture’ of resisting change, but if I am on the right track then, in my opinion vendors are also significant contributors to the prevalent culture.

    On the technical front, I wholeheartedly support the idea that tools should be conceptually simple and easy to use, and we know that this works – Excel sheet proliferation is a case in hand. However, should BPM look to co-opt tasks and activities that are currently being done through Excel and email? I am not so sure whether this idea will work. Many Excel like tools have tried to do exactly that in the past, unsuccessfully. Moreover, I don’t see a need for it. I agree that a simpler, easier to understand modelling notation is called for, and it will help improve BPM penetration, but shouldn’t we guard against scope creep?

  8. Hi Keith

    It’s not surprising that Phil “stopped short of a clear vision” 😉

    Empowering business users means bringing the right kind of structure to their work – not abandoning structure altogether in the hope that connecting everyone up with Web gadgets will magically sort things out. As you point out, re optimizing work to suit your personal needs, the “social approach” alone is as likely to create problems as to solve them.

    The “right kind of structure” means a modeling framework based on a comprehensive, realistic theory of human work – what work *is* and how to do it better. Human Interaction Management provides this framework, and applying corresponding technology (http://rolemodellers.com) typically brings four-fold productivity improvement from the very start.

    Further, applying this technology often requires no IT support at all. It is true utility IT. Here is one of the case studies from the site above:

    “I recently ran a 2 day HumanEdj workshop for a public sector organization. Before lunch on the second day, I asked the attendees to bring to the afternoon session descriptions of the most complex and troublesome processes in their organization. Starting at 2pm, we looked over these and chose the largest and most labyrinthine, a huge process for planning customer services spanning multiple departments in their organization. This process had taken weeks to document, producing documents and diagram of such complexity that few of the workshop attendees could understand at first how it was supposed to work.

    By 3:40pm, we had entered the process into HumanEdj (although none of the attendees were technically oriented) and produced an executable Plan whose operation was obvious at a glance, and that everyone was keen to use in practice. By removing complexity due only to use of inappropriate tools and techniques, we had cut the Gordian knot. In less than 2 hours, we had provided cloud-based IT support for a large-scale dynamic process without need for any specialist expertise whatsoever. ”

    All the best

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