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Anne Stuart’s BPM in Action

Michael Dortch

Why Workflow Doesn't HAVE to Suck

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Sometimes, the best things are right in front of your face -- or in my case at this Web site, just under and to the right of it...

One of the best things I've read recently related to BPM is the Feature Article by Jon Pyke, demurely entitled "Why Workflow Sucks." Once I stopped laughing at the title and read the article, I realized that Mr. Pyke makes several incredibly valid points, and some cogent arguments about what to do about the problems he describes. I'm not going to give away or perhaps inaccurately summarize his arguments; you're just going to have to read them yourself. I will, however, begin to deviate from Mr. Pyke's arguments, while being inspired by them.

You may have heard the term "Web 2.0." Instead of diving into the infinite downward spiral of attempting to define this vague term, let's just agree that it implies being community-oriented, forward-looking, and largely or entirely online. As I have written elsewhere, to be a "Web 2.0" enterprise requires an "IT 3.0" IT infrastructure. By my lights, "IT 1.0" was all about the systems. "IT 2.0" was all about the networks and the systems connected to them. "IT 3.0" is (or should be) all about three things:
1. people;
2. tasks; and
3. information.

This, by the way, is a version of the short list of the only things business people, especially senior business executives, care about. (Another is "bodies, dollars, and hours.")

How to align IT infrastructures to focus on these three things? Well, here's one potential approach.

1. Build a service-oriented architecture (SOA) to connect IT infrastructure elements together in flexible, manageable ways.
2. Implement consistent, pervasive business process management (BPM), including process monitoring and optimization.
3. Treat all enterprise intellectual property (IP) as the business-critical resource it is, and implement consistent, policy-driven IP life cycle management (IPLM).
4. Combine and leverage the above initiatives in ways that enable the consistent, effective, pervasive capture, leverage, retention, and sharing of human-based knowledge beyond stored enterprise IP - business knowledge management (BKM).

As ambitious and daunting as this may seem, there is relevant precedent. Remember when content, document, information, and knowledge management were all separate disciplines? Well, at many enterprises with which I'm familiar, the goal is a single, unified IPLM architecture, embracing all of those tasks and goals. And it's working. More recently, business analysis and intelligence efforts and solutions (and vendors) are consolidating, as are efforts, solutions, and vendors focused on business activity, performance, and process management, monitoring, and optimization.

However, to go back to a central point of Mr. Pyke's article, many of these efforts lack what might be thought of as a "human element." Most solutions and processes for the above tasks are too rigidly structured and/or technology- or process-focused to adapt easily to typical human behavior. (It's mildly analogous to the significant differences in the storage and management requirements for so-called "structured" and "unstructured" data - but that's a separate issue.)

Perhaps ironically, the most effective way to harness the power of that unpredictable, inconsistent human behavior may be to surround it with appropriate, albeit overly rigid and consistent, processes and technologies. Hence my use of the term "business knowledge management." It means to imply the goal of applying consistent, repeatable, scalable, technology-enabled management of perhaps the most valuable and elusive business resource of all - the experience-based knowledge inside of individual heads and hearts. Now there's a business process management challenge, about which I will have more to say soon. If you have something to say on the subject in the meantime, by all means, write to me! (Oh, and check out the RFG research in the ebizQ Analyst Corner for more thoughts on some of the issues surrounding BKM!)


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We just researched and bought human-centric BPM technology. Much of the angst Pyke speaks about is a direct result of market "noise." There are indeed BPM technologies that emphasize the human element. While it pains me to endorse the "evil empire," human-centric BPM technologies that leverage Microsoft Office really do have a leg up. People use Excel and Word. What's strange is that Microsoft itself doesn't own a human-centric BPM software.

Hi Michael

Anyone seeking "BKM" should look at Human Interaction Management.

All the best

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Business process management and optimization -- philosophies, policies, practices, and punditry.

Anne Stuart

I am the editor of ebizQ.

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