Most companies worry about what competitors are doing, how the economy is doing, what competitors are up to, and where interest rates are headed. (Which reminds me of the wag who said he knew exactly how interests would behave in the future. “Interest rates will rise, or they will fall, unless, of course, they stay flat!”)
But few companies worry about what they know and what they don’t know about their own business operations. They are woefully equipped to innovate, respond to competitive threats, or adapt to changing conditions. Consider that each of these situations begins with a mad scramble to figure out where the business stands. The managers are asking themselves, “What does my business process look like? Who performs in what roles? Where are the operations policies? Who is following them, and who isn’t? How do our business metrics look like?” I have never seen any exception to this, not one situation where the affected manager said, “Here is the latest and greatest repository of our corporate knowledge. It is completely up-to-date. Let us consult it before responding to the change.” It’s not that the managers don’t realize the importance of such self-knowledge, but that it comes with a huge price tag—in time, if not in money; but then, time is money.
Years ago, I helped a soap manufacturer analyze their business to see what their most profitable brands were. It turned out that rather than any specific soap line, a byproduct of the soap manufacturing process called oxalic acid (a key reagent in many industrial chemical reactions), was the most profitable one. So, this soap industrialist could have taken the process part way and stopped when oxalic acid was created, and turned completely profitable. (They didn’t choose that; instead, they found out that their company was sitting on prime real estate that could be more profitable as a shopping mall. Besides, shopping malls smell better than a soap factory, so that’s what they did).
The point of this story is that BPM has interesting byproducts that you wouldn’t think are worth much. You start off a BPM project to reduce cycle time for order processing, only to discover that linking ordering processing and shipping business rules to the process steps turned out to be the best thing since sliced bread. BPM, it turns out, is a perfect vehicle to capture and maintain process knowledge. Which reminds of the recent discussion about BPM, ECM, and security in posts by Ismael Ghalimi and James McGovern.
If BPM takes on management of process knowledge, as I think it should, what’s left for ECM? Will ECM morph into the middleware for management of transactional documents? After all, it seems pretty evident by now that we will never be a paperless society. Besides, a lot of enterprise content will be on PostIt notes (to the utter delight of 3M). So, if we leave transactional documents for ECM and Document Management, then Knowledge Management can be carved out for BPM. The interesting thing is, BPM doesn’t even break into a sweat while dealing with knowledge management. It is an effortless (almost, but not quite) byproduct of process modeling and process management.
Would that knowing oneself (in the spiritual sense) was similarly a byproduct of some fun activity (like watching Monday night football).