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ebizQ's Business Agility Watch


The BPM Road Ahead: Talking With ActionBase

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Listen to my podcast with Jacob Ukelson, the Chief Technology Officer of ActionBase, one of the pioneers in human process management and adaptive case management. And that's what we discuss in this podcast, as well as what's ahead for BPM.

Listen to or download the 10:09 minute podcast below:

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PS: Now, what trends do you see ahead for BPM in 2011?

JU: Well, what I think we're going to see in 2011 is the vendors and customers start focusing on managing everyday processes. The kinds of processes that people do in their work every single day, especially knowledge workers, the kinds of processes that you're not going to spend three months, six months or whatever it takes to model, implement, but one that you want to be able to implement and get done right away so that people be in controlled or doing it themselves. They'll be able to create processes on their own. They'll be able to manage the processes that they participate in, and they'll be able to control the processes they participate in.

So what I think is we'll see a lot more control given to the participants so they can initiate processes and control them. So in order to make that happen, what BPM is going to have to focus on besides making it much easier to implement the process. They're also going to have to focus a lot on ease of use. When you think about applications that are done via BPM, you don't necessarily think of ease of use.

And I think in order to allow people and get a broader audience, if you really want to be able to do every day processes, which means everybody should get involved then it's going to have to be a lot easier to use than it is today. And you can even hope for joy of use in the sense that these kinds of applications that they really provide value to the end user they will like using. It's not that they're going to be easy to use or actually prefer to do things in that way. So those are two trends I think we'll see a lot of in 2011.

And the third is process intelligence. And the idea is that if you can actually get all this information about everyday processes, and also the kinds of rigorous structure processes that BPM does today, there's a lot of information that's valuable to the organization in there for operational excellence, for compliance, for whatever they want to do with that information, it's now being stored in a process system of record that is now a system that knows how processes actually happen in the organization and I think we're going to see a lot more focus in trying to understand and mine the information from there in order to give organizations and participants in processes sort of more value and more knowledge of what's actually going on in the organization with respect to the processes that happened in the organization.

PS: Very interesting. Now what role do you see adaptive case management playing in all this?

JU: Well, I think adaptive case management is going to be key to doing this. The reason is that adaptive case management is really focused on trying to help the knowledge worker with the processes they do so I think that it is going to be a key component in this because its knowledge workers are a growing segment of organizations and those are the ones that have essentially have very little tools to support them in their everyday work.

So I think ACMs focus on knowledge workers is going to be a key component in making all this happen. And also, if you look at ACM or what I what I think's going to be happening is we're going to see what's under the ACM umbrella. We're going to see a merging of collaboration technologies, we're going to see a merging of ACM content management technologies, we're going to see a merging of BPM, business process management technologies and project management technologies.

So ACM tries to bring all these things together because what ACM's talking about is the unstructured ad hoc processes that people do every day as part of their work and the focus is on the ad hoc unstructured part and on people. So I think it's going to be a large component of these every day processes because every day processes sort of by definition are done by people.

PS: Interesting. Now, can you focus a little bit more on unstructured processes and what you see ahead for unstructured processes?

JU: Well, as I said before I think unstructured processes are going to be a really big push not just in 2011. It's going to be, I think, one of the key components of BPM going forward and it may be called ACM, which I believe will be complementary technology to BPM. They may come together as suite and the name of the suite may be BPM. I don't know what the end terminology will be. I think pundits and the analysts will have to come up with a name for what this is.

But it's clear that this focus on unstructured ad hoc processes is going to be very important going forward. And if you'd asked people just a year ago how does BPM related to unstructured processes you would've gotten blank stares, no one would've known what you're talking about. If you ask people today what is the connect between unstructured and BPM, the answer is usually yes that BPM has to support unstructured ad hoc human the processes.

Now, the problem I think we're going to see at least in 2011 but I think this will change going forward is we're going to see a lot of vendors saying that they support unstructured ad hoc processes just as a natural part of their BPM tooling. And the problem is that BPM at least the way most people do it today, doesn't really support those things. I mean people are not going to stop doing their processes, and e-mail, and documents and start using a BPM system for their everyday processors, it just doesn't happen.

And what's going to have to happen is that the BPM systems, or ACM systems, or whatever we decide to call them are going to have to get over that hurdle. We're going to be so easy to use and so valuable to the people themselves and to the organization that people will prefer to do their processes this way rather than to jump out and do them in e-mail and documents, which give no control at all to the organization or even for the participants themselves.

PS: Now, there's been a lot of buzz about social BPM, what do you see ahead for social BPM and haven't processes essentially always been social?

JU: Yeah, I think that's a good question. I think social BPM has sort of taken on different meaning to different groups and I think that's part of the problem. One meaning that people give to social BPM is being able to model and use BPM technologies in a collaborative way. So if we want to create a model in an organization, it makes sense to get the business people involved, the technical people involve, anyone who's part of that and have then work together in a collaborative way to create the model. That's really valuable but I don't think its earthshattering. It certainly should be that way. People should work together. You should provide the tools but I don't think that's going to make a change.

The other side of social BPM is sort of the ACM side I'll call it. And again, I think we're going to have to work out the different names between these different technologies is that social BPM for some people mean being able to help people collaborate and work together but within a process context. And there I think that again just like ACM, and I think in the end these two things will have a single name. I don't know what it'll be but there will be a single terminology talking about helping knowledge workers do their everyday work in such a way that it's managed but not so structured that they actually strangle it.

So in other words, you want to be able to give them the control and the framework and guidelines around things but you don't want to force them do things in a different way because if you try to do that, they just won't work. And I think that's where social BPM will be going, trying to provide this kind of structure, this lightweight structure around knowledge processes in order to help knowledge workers get their job done better.

PS: Great. Now, it's particularly pronounced in BPM because it is business process management but that's the gap between IT and business. How should BPM work to close the gap in the future and who exactly do you think should have control over BPM, the business side or the IT side?

JU: Well currently, is that the business side has to have control over BPM in the end because it is business process management. And there is still a gap and I think one of the things that is a little problematic at least in the way BPM is being done today and especially for, I would say especially around the technologies and BPM. If you look at a technology like BPM and a modeling technology, it's becoming more complexed. It's becoming more techie oriented.

So I'd say one of the problems of the BPM as the BPM management systems, business process management system is that they've becoming in a sense tools for IT people so it's sort of a development environment that people can use to create business process applications faster than they could before which is very valuable but it's not really something that the business can use on its own. The business can request things in this gap between what the business request and what the IT people provide BPM to help closes that gap because things are a little bit closer together but I don't expect we'll see business people using BPMN to model processes, which will then magically turn into working applications.

So I think there's a little bit of a problem there in that BPM as we see it today or at least the technologies have gone down the path to become much too technically oriented and has gone away from allowing the business people to be empowered.

I think getting back to what we talked about earlier, the notion of managing these everyday processes will help. If people could actually have a tool that would allow them to do things on their own, in a lightweight mechanisms to create, and run, and participate in processes but under the covers, things are tracked and managed, then I think this would go a long way to empowering the business people and those emergent processes you could start extracting models of how things are actually being done. I think that'll go a long way to closing the gap between what the business people can and want to do and what IT needs to be done in order to implement the process.

PS: Yes, and also to reiterate one of your earlier points, ease of use would help in that manner as well.

JU: Yeah, the latter is certainly critical. Without ease of use, the people just won't do this.

ebizQ’s expert blog team covers a broad range of BPM, business integration, business analytics/monitoring, collaboration, content and related issues.

Peter Schooff

Peter Schooff is Contributing Editor at ebizQ, and manager of the ebizQ Forum. Contact him at pschooff@techtarget.com

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