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Is it a mistake to think a BPMS will improve your processes?

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As Sandy Kemsley writes on her blog, Column 2, "There is a misperception in some companies that if you buy a BPMS, your processes will improve, but you really need to reorient your thinking, management and strategic goals around your business processes before you start with any technology."  What are your thoughts?

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  • Completely agree, BPM started as a methodology long before BPM the system crept into the foreground.

    Unless you as an organisation adjust your mindset and approach to process, strategy aligment and improvement then all you're doing is wasting a chunk of valuable cash on a tool that you're just plugging bad information into verbatim without understanding anything.

    Gargage in, garbage out.

    So yes, it's a mistake to think a BPMS is a panacea for your process problems.

  • Sandy is, of course, correct, the sad thing is this thinking is pervasive. And vendors don't always make life easy for themselves, they don't always ask if these questions have been addressed. The result is often that the vendor can end up looking very bad if the perceived benefit is not achieved.

  • Would a word processor win you a Nobel prize in literature? The same story here.

    But on the other hand, most professional writers do use word processors and would hardly agree to write by a pen. Again, the same story here: most of business process job that could be done without BPMS are already done or can be done faster and better with BPMS.

    Yet another aspect is that you approach process issues slightly differently when you are equipped or not equipped with BPMS. So I totally agree with Sandy's point that a company must reorient its thinking. They say in Navy: "equip the man, don't man the equipment".

  • And Steve makes three ... the key to improving business processes is the THINKING you must do well before ever even spelling the letters B-P-M-S. The technology merely executes on that thinking, and from that perspective almost can be considered an afterthought!

  • Completely agree. BPM Systems don't improve processes. People improve processes.

  • Absolutely not! We see customers every single day that have fairly well defined processes supported by technology implementations that no longer fit the process. As a result, the people involved in the process have these elaborate workarounds to try and make the output as close to desirable as possible. It is waste and inefficiency that is no longer necessary. With today's BPMS solutions, those closest to the process can build, maintain and report on just about any business process. This means it no longer takes months or years to build technology solutions to support business processes. It means you don't need a bunch of developers to build and maintain your process solutions. The bottom line, businesses can save money and time while improving processes with BPMS solutions.

  • But there is some cause and effect.

    BPMS allows you to support your instinct about where processes can be improved with empirical data derived from actual use.

    Automation of processes mean ease of process change and enforcement of the new process (if you have one of the class of new BPMS solutions that uses a visual design interface not the scripting style of the 80's).

    And dashboard, alerts and notifications means you can tell quickly when your improvement isn't improving things.

    The velocity of change we experience today means we need automation to keep up the process improvement those changes need.

  • There are two schools of thought on this, and one best practice that we have consistently observed. There are probably more, but I've seen enough to draw these two main conclusions.

    The first school of thought is that a BPMS will transform the organization by imposing some kind of external rigor that is not present. This like surrounding yourself with skinny people to get some of their skinniness to rub off on you. For some people, they'll look at the skinny folks around them and whip themselves into shape. For most people, me included, I'll just feel so poorly about myself I'll probably just go have a beer. Another witty way to summarize this: "you gotta pay to play." If you think that just ponying up the money for the tool without considering all of the collateral impact on your organization, you're going to quickly find yourself at the fuel station without enough cash to fill the fuel tank of your new toy.

    The second school of thought is the organic growth school of thought. These are the organizations that start slowly, adjusting their toolkits and expectations ever so slightly until they reach a breaking point at which the "manually automated" processes are either unable to meet the thruput needs or are just so painfully uneconomical that a tool is the only way to accomplish their goals.

    We tend to see a mix of both cases, and it depends on the organizational culture which one you resemble most. If you have the organizational leadership to push something like a tool, mandate its adoption, and invest in it for the long term, and support the culture changes necessary to make full use of it, then you're not really buying a tool per-se, you're buying a set of features and capabilities that happen to be branded as a tool. And you're probably going to be just fine. However, if you can't seem to get your Asian business unit to start doing things similar to your European business unit, thinking that your BPMS will put handcuffs on your unruly Black Belts is a recipe for disaster.

    Most organizations however are still trying to find their way when it comes to enterprise level processes, or really even department level processes that may be distributed across different business units, etc. For organizations like this, "adopting" a BPMS without understanding what you're getting yourself into is a recipe for failure.

    Our recent study on "Using Process Frameworks and Reference Models to Get Real Work Done" identified as one of its findings that successful organizations DONT' start with a tool. They start with what they have around them, and eventually get up to a tool. But that's probably because of the culture of the organizations we investigated.

  • Theo Priestly: "BPM started as a methodology long before BPM the system crept into the foreground". You say this like it is bad thing.

    Double entry book keeping started as methodology long before the advent of Financial Management Applications, so what point are you making.

    I do not believe any BPMS provider seriously claims that they or any BPMS is a panacea for an organisations process problems or put another way that BPM=BPMS.

    The leading BPMS providers recognise the importance of BPM as a methodology as distinct from their solutions and that THINKING comes first with technology following on as the enabler.

  • Jon - Based on your statement "I do not believe any BPMS provider seriously claims that they or any BPMS is a panacea for an organisations process problems or put another way that BPM=BPMS." I cannot believe you have talked to any 'meat-eating, commission-driven, take-no-prisoners' BPMS salespeople.

    If you had I am afraid you would realize that your statement, is very wrong.

    BTW Which salespeople and which BPMS providers am I referring to? ALL OF THEM.

    But there is hope. There is a shift of purchasing power from IT, who love playing with BPMS technology, to the business, who want business results. And the business guys recognise that BPM is not the same as BPMS

  • Ian, great points, but not ALL BPM providers are that way. This kind of thinking emphasizes the importance of choosing a vendor that has the knowledge and expertise to assist you in defining your business processes, goals, and key line of business applications before implementing a BPMS. Otherwise the solution is just a bandaid that doesn't fix the underlying issues.

  • Ian Gotts: I will accept that in using the words “…any BPMS provider…” I have made a generalisation which is dangerous, as all generalisations are false [even this one].

    Having said that Ian, I would suggest that you may well have a somewhat generalist and negative view of BPMS sales people – would that be fair?

    Had you followed the hyperlink on my name, and read the bio on my blog page, you would have realised that you were indeed responding to a member of the BPMS sales fraternity.

    Indeed, you may well have known this fact, and your post may well have been designed to precipitate this type of response.

    I have first-hand knowledge and experience of the sales people you describe, where the sale is more important than anything else. There is good and bad in all aspects of life, and all I would ask is that you and your colleagues in the BPM community at least consider [and possibly accept] that not all BPMS sales people are the same.

    As Samantha points out; we are not all the same.

    My colleagues and I spend significant time with ‘the business’ side of the organisations which we serve, and apply strong BPM principles, aimed at delivering measurable business results and value.

    All of this work is carried out with the software still in its shrink-wrapped packaging.

    So let me amend my original post:

    My colleagues and I do not claim that our BPMS is a panacea for organisations process problems and we recognise that BPM and BPMS are not the same thing. We recognise the importance of BPM as a methodology as distinct from our solutions, and that THINKING comes first, with technology following on as the enabler.

    As for the rest of the BPMS community, I will let them make their own case and avoid generalisations in the future.

  • As a later contributer, I have the benefit of everyone's input before I weigh in, and I have to say that the most common issues in these discussions is the definition of BPM. The BPM world is divided, all too often, into people with different hammers that address automation, analysis, human orchestration, documentation, collaboration and more.

    The BPMS that will make process improvement possible (but read to the end...) in my world (and I'll readily admit that my world may not be the same as yours) is the one that allows me to leverage technology from the moment of process discussion, through capture, enrichment with contextual information (links, transactions, documents, other hierarchies), automation, back to discussion,deployment to everyone and so on. But for all of these things, nothing will ultimately improve processes unless it is in the hands of the business for ownership and change management and widely adopted by everyone affected.

    Simple answer? Yes...IF...

  • Like most things in life, process improvement requires both good design and good execution.

    If actual operations do not conform to defined processes, obviously the benefit of the process improvement is muted.

    By definition, improving processes requires operational change. Organizations that rely primarily on tribal knowledge and ad-hoc unstructured and quasi-structured data to do their work (e-mail correspondence, Excel spreadsheets, etc.) are at a disadvantage when it comes to operational change, because change such change requires un-learning and re-learning on the part of many individuals. This is time-consuming, prone to exceptions, and difficult to monitor.

    My wife is a photographer. It rightfully drives her nuts when someone looks at her work and says "What beautiful pictures! You must have a really nice camera." The camera is just a tool--the beauty of the art comes from the practitioner. At the same time, without a camera a photographer would have a difficult time producing great pictures.

    In the same way Operations Execution Systems and BPMS do not improve processes themselves, but they provide a great platform for consistent, demonstrable execution of process, and they reduce reliance on tribal knowledge. In the hands of a skilled process improvement professional, they can enable great things to happen within the organization.

    Said another way, the best operational due diligence assessment report that is sitting collecting dust in its three-ringed binder is of limited value. But by turning the findings of that report into a living system that prescribes work, tracks activity, and manages data in a process-centric fashion the organization can realize the full benefits of the improved processes.

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