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Is BPM dead?

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As frequent forum contributor Theo Priestley writes in this blog, BPM has never really gotten out of the gate as something unique and fell flat on its face at the first hurdle. So what is wrong with BPM? Is BPM dead?

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  • I'm going to play watching brief on this one ;)

  • If not dead, on life support. BPM's challenge is two-fold:

    - Vendors adopted the term regardless of their software's capabilities, making it very unclear to the market. There should have been distinct segmentation in the type of products being sold, but I believe there was deliberate obfuscation.

    - BPM, depending on which type of BPM is being talked about, belongs either in the business or in IT. No software can serve two masters (at least in this case) and a lack of clear ownership leads to turf wars, abdication of ownership and everything in between.

    We're moving rapidly through acquisitions (and I would know) that create a front-to-back solution for BPM and encompass all of the various capabilities as loosely connected applications (for now) that will likely be tightly coupled down the road.

  • Can a thing that has 9 lives (read: 9 meanings) be dead? Probably not, but at least a few of these meanings are dead to me.

    One of them is that ‘BPM is new and you must do it’. It is nothing new at all. Processes are executed and managed for thousands of years. Some organizations do it well some don’t, but they must be doing any kind of process otherwise they will not deliver any products or services. So why trying to sell it as something new? Maybe that is point 2 that must be killed:

    ‘Implementing BPM is the same as buying a BPMS’. Of course software can help you in your processes. But you also need people (with the right motivation), Information, Steering, other facilities. And most of the time the software used cannot be called a bpms at all (social software, ecm, dms). Is that bad? No I don’t think so. Despite from some shift towards what analysts like to call case management, a BPMS assumes that processes can work like some kind of machine. This productizing of BPM, promises you more control over your processes. Saying that some processes cannot be in control brings me to dead point 3:

    ‘a process is just a process and one size fits all’ . This created a world of standardization and best practices. I don’t believe in that for the most processes. Some might be steered like a machine, but then the outside world must stay the same for a long time. For most of the processes a lot of things are unpredictable and need more ‘power to the people’. Gartner likes to call this IBPM nowadays, but that is about technique again. And I don’t believe predicting the future of process execution can’t be done by a machine based on historical facts mixed with current data. Then you will still apply old ways of working and don’t use the flexibility of the human brain. So ‘one size fits all’ must be killed. It sounds soft but I believe every process is unique on its own.

    So 3 points killed. That’s enough for now. I believe organizations must start with a process overview and must be aware not all the processes can be managed the same. Some may look machine like others are completely ‘up to the people’. Being aware of that you cannot sell BPM (and why should you, as a lot of companies are doing BPM for years already) as some kind of solution or next best thing. . And if you can’t sell it, why have it? That’s a dead end street

  • In my last entry I wrote frankly about the state of play in the BPM industry at large and received a lot of positive and constructive feedback. I've followed it up recently with Part II ( http://bpm.me/AkFibf )

    I’ll spread no more doom and gloom (for now) ;)

    The recent posts are as much about my own personal opinion as they are a reflection of the BPM industry at large from a number of opinions expressed to me, some because of who these people are they can’t state openly. I don’t mind taking the flack, I’m known for being vocal and to the point.

    But I do have a point.

    And that perhaps is the strongest case for switching off the life support.

  • The case for BPM remains valid, so it is definitely not dead. Many implementations have lead to a dead-end street but it doesn't mean that they are dead either as they just can't be dumped easily. So they are in a state of continuous transformation, at best, at a long-lasting (and self-supporting) agony, at worst.

  • BPM, to me, is an umbrella name for all activities covering (discovering, documenting and improving processes). As such it should not be compared with other process improvement approaches such as xSigma. They are all forms of BPM. Indeed we can debate definitions.

    BPMS is about the set of software tools that integrate and orchestrate existing processes. It is extended by suppliers with a few other modules, for commercial reasons.

    As such the BPM term is useful. Similarly, BPMS is desirable.

    But BPM, used in itself, to document and improve the existing processes, has little traction since it does not come from business requirements and as such it is seldom a priority. The effort dies as such.

    Nevertheless, the outcomes of BPM in the context of a business transformation or/and EA program, can be roadmapped and implemented.
    BPM may be also seen as part of a Balanced Score Card internal analysis and improvement strategy.

    BPM is not dead but without being set in the context of the resources that implement it, it is prone to failure.

  • I would say not dead or dying but morphing and or changing. The ways in people think of and define BPM as in the past is not fitting today’s world and the industry must change with it. We must evolve and change our perceptions to change with it. We cannot be bogged down by preconcepetions and bias towards yesterdays ways of doing things. We must look forward and change with it. or yes it will die.

  • I don't think the notion, concepts or validity of BPM is dead - what is lacking, IMHO, is innovation in the technology that supports BPM. SO some new thinking and some new energy is required - we spend far too long looking at old concepts and giving them new names - but the reality is that most of the tools are built on some very old - in my case 20 years ago - thinking

  • BPMs view of BPM is dead, all vendors took it as a diagramming exercise, whereas maturity in BPM requires a top down approach rather than bottom up.
    BPMs has made look BPM immature, confused, not able to deliver continuous improvements, because it's an afterthought.
    What's required now from vendors is vision to make BPMs top down, vertical centric process delivery platform with mature change management and design/collaboration capabilities baked in from the top than to just have some sort of tool to implement a simple approval workflow.

  • If BPM were dead, why over the past two months was I in Panama, UK, Germany, Guatemala, Canada and the USA working with clients and business partners educating, installing, implementing, and optimizing BPM-based solutions? BPM is very alive and well. When presented the value proposition of BPM, both executives and IT get it. BPM is becoming the platform of choice for building web-based applications. I'm seeing it applied in banks for on-boarding customers, in airports for streamlining concessions, in Telecom for procurement, and education for student matriculation. Long live BPM!

    • Hi Garth, I think you said it all with this statement:

      "BPM is becoming the platform of choice for building web-based applications."

      It's no longer Business Process Management then is it ?
      What's a "BPM-based solution" if it's not BPM ?
      And where is BPM the methodology in your argument ? You forget people had brown paper and sticky notes long before any system based solution showed up.

      Lots of vendor centric discussions but nothing about the process itself right now.

      BPM is 6ft under. Long live the platform for building business applications.

  • Something is dying, so I get a little melodramatic and philosophical now, but the main decision for me doing business is; do we act out of fear or do we act out of thrust. Or: Is the world really that rational or not?

    In the first case I can imagine you want to manage your processes as tight as possible. Leaving no room for exceptions to be able to predict outcomes and being the best in class according to compliancy. This assumes the world is rational and everything can be predicted.

    In this way you create standardization and the least risk as possible. Great plan in a non changing world.

    Of course their are still processes that can be managed this way, but for the most processes it is 2012.

    It is the social century. Lots of competitors popping up and demanding customers that don't want to be handled by a standard process. And if they must be handled by a standard process it will probably be automated. In that case you don't have to worry about your employees doing things that (are good for the customer) not 'in the process'.

    Suddenly it is all about thrust. Is the employee allowed to be flexible if it is needed?

    Is he trusted to use his own mind, guts and feelings in stead of worklists, decision diagrams and mandatory fields?

    Acting out of thrust is my ultimate start of BPM. Make your employee process aware (what do customers expect of us in stead of 'what you must do'), set some guidelines and leave it up to his judgement.

    And then the good old workflow like tools don't work anymore. What needed then is easy acces to information, collaboration (should I call it social ;-((.

    Then suddenly Apple, Google, facebook and twitter will be BPM vendors ;-)

  • I think there is a lot of confusion- frustrations with people (analysts, practitioners, gurus) translating to frustrations with a concept or methodology (BPM).

    "BPM" existed before it had a name, and it will keep going after the name changes. Businesses have things called processes and they do something typically called management. Not everyone has equal parts of these three -business, process, and management.

    So what does Dead mean? That the market for BPMS will decline? ( negative growth ) That a new term will supplant BPM? That a new product category will blow it up? That businesses will stop managing their business processes? That analysts will stop covering it?

    The only one above that matters is whether businesses stop managing their business processes :) All the others don't matter. They're icing on the cake. Happy to check back in a year and see how the market is doing. We had this conversation two years ago and the market got significantly bigger in that timeframe... Changing doesn't mean dead, it just means dealing with reality.


  • There is a best practice for implementing BPM products to create BPM-based solutions. The methodology might follow principles of Waterfall/Agile/Six Sigma. But in the methodology there are a host of BPM-related questions to ask regarding workflows, rules, forms, and UI that filter out the requirements necessary for using BPM Suites to buil great solutions. The fact remains that we are using questions largely based on product capabilities to build solutions based on those capabilties that BPM Suites very much alive and well. If it were not so, why is BPM multi-billion dollar sector? Why everytime I turn around there is another vendor pronouncing their BPM capabilities? Why are there more people in all four corners of the world asking about BPM? Why am I talking about this?

  • Ouch. Theo, I love it when somebody stirs the pot, and you are using an extra-large ladle, my friend.

    Let's distinguish between what Theo calls BPM, which is a methodology, and what he calls BPMS, which is a technology.

    To be honest, I couldn't tell you what the BPM methodology is. I have an Operational Excellence certification, so I'm not a total stranger to process improvement as a discipline. But BPM, at least the way it's practiced in my workplace, is less like familiar process formalisms such as Six Sigma and Lean, and more like rapid prototyping.

    So, are traditional process methodologies dead? Er, maybe. Certainly they are much more narrowly applicable and useful than commonly assumed. But rapid prototyping, whether applied to software engineering, automotive engineering, or process automation, is not a methodology: it's a fundamental, methodology-agnostic approach to problem solving.

    When it comes to BPM as a technology, well, let's just say that I'm not worried that my employer, a pure-play BPM vendor, is going to run out of customers any time soon. Indeed, we're rapidly expanding BPM's value proposition, an idea to which Theo gives a nod when he suggests that CRM and BPM should tie the knot. But I could make the same argument about BPM and ERP, BPM and HRIS, even BPM and EHR. Such broad applicability suggests, not an abrupt end to the evolution of BPM, but rather a healthy ongoing process (if you'll excuse the expression) of adaption and growth.

  • BPM is not dead. In fact, sales are accelerating. I believe cloud is going to be a big kickstart for BPM suites because finally the business can deploy BPM software without IT's involvement.

    But, BPM is not the same thing as a BPM suite. That's what causes a lot of the confusion. Because on the BPM discipline side, there's a lot of fuzziness about exactly what BPM is, and where it fits with other methodologies like Lean, Six Sigma, Lean Six Sigma and so forth. There are a lot of very good process practitioners who are doing some great work on process improvement but with absolutely no intention of ever buying a BPM suite. Or their process work is supported by SAP. So when you ask is BPM dead--exactly what are you referring to? BPM suites or BPM initiatives?

    I think there are some very serious organizational impediments:

    1) IT professionals view BPM suites as a new application development platform. They see how it fits into Agile and Lean Software and see how the platform could help accelerate application development. This mindset is sheer anathema to process professionals on the business side.

    2) Business process professionals view BPM as a discipline and don't understand the relevance of BPM suites (they don't understand that it's a platform for continuous change and a way to codify process improvements so that changes stick). In my experience, these practitioners literally shut down any conversation as soon as software, vendors, products, etc. are introduced into the discussion.

    Here's what that leaves:
    - a bunch of IT folks who don't care about BPM to begin with
    - a bunch of business people who don't care about process transformation or improvement (they like the old way of doing work)
    - a handful of IT people who think BPM suites have merit for developers
    - a handful of business people who want to change the world using process improvement and transformation, but no software
    - a few people who understand all of this and wish the many different sides could understand all the other's points of view and discover that both BPM suites and BPM methodology are excellent approaches for business transformation and continuous improvement.

    Is it dead? No. Is it maddening?--you bet!

    • Great reply, Connie! I think the term is on life support, but the concept has a bright future...maybe if it gets segmented appropriately so that there's ownership of the various capabilities.

  • I have to agree with Connie, but I also understand where Theo comes from.

    If you see BPM as structured workflow models and BPMS as workflow automation then, yes, it is probably dead. It you try to apply the same process methodologies that worked in “factory style” work to “knowledge style” work, you are bound to fail.

    No longer do we draw sequential workflows and call it BPM. We create rules-based event driven activities that we keep in a “process” and we sequence them at run-time rather than at design-time. It means we don’t obsess with getting the model right. We use a dynamic model that handles most processes in a “case” like way. We provide options rather than rigid flow patterns (which people will circumvent with emails in any case) We empower business users to take better actions by bringing business and process intelligence into the process activities. We use predictive analytics to advise them on their “Next Best Actions”. We use an iBPMS as a platform to enable intelligent business operations.

    If this is your “BPM” then it is alive and well. If you are still trying to work out the “factory-style” process map then you have a limited audience and your BPM is probably dying.

  • I first wondered what BPM was - even though I had been doing business process improvement for 10 years. Yes, it was a new name.

    Some people think BPM or even process improvement is business process mapping and that is all they have to do- where as it is certainly just part of the beginning.

    I now use several terms and find that IT uses BPM more but the business is picking it up because it is Business Process Management and so people like BP Trends see it rightly as more enterprise wide.

    I also use it now because of BPMN - the standard modeling notation, which I think is really helpful to begin to get IT and the Business talking the same language and asking questions together.

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    I do not begin to think that the term BPM software is dead. Guys, IBM has embraced this in a big way, and the little BPM software vendors are being bought at a rapid pace by much bigger vendors (e.g. Singularity and Kofax). When that heppens, real marketing muscle will be put into promoting the products--which will push BPM software sales much higher and BPMS name recognition by IT professionals much higher.

    But . . . and there is a but. I believe the bar for BPM software has been raised much higher by dynamic case management software, also known as adaptive case management. It's a clunky name, but a powerful software idea. And, I believe that all BPMS products must incorporate case management capabilities within the next 24 months or those products will indeed die a slow and painful death. And I believe that, having redefined the BPMS space, DCM will be folded into the larger BPMS market.
    Let's also take this discussion to twitter @cmooreforrester.

    • Walking around today at BPM summit, hopefully Casemanagement doesn't get pushed to much in the tooling side.

      Besides from that, I've heard about 5 different explanations of Casemanagement. Most of them from a tool point of view (it's flexible,it's agile it's social, it's great, you must buy it)

      After counting the scores I think, the windows explorer is still the best tool for me to manage my cases ;-)

    • Connie, I agree that ACM/ DCM is the way forward but even that needs a little push in the right direction.

      There was a recent article on ArsTechnica relating to a project where a computer creates a set of videogames entirely from scratch.

      "…this process is evolution, not learning. “Just like evolution in nature, the process isn’t really conscious of the overall direction it’s moving in. At each step, Angelina has a set of games to consider, and all it has to do is choose the best of this set, and combine their features together to make a new set,” Cook said in an email. Unlike, say, IBM’s Watson, every time Angelina wants to create a new game, the system has to start from scratch again."

      Now it got me thinking about ACM and/or DCM (whichever term you prefer to throw around). If we dig around a few posts from the experts, folks like Max Pucher state that ACM is “not just runtime dynamic changes, but Just-In-Time creation of the process and resources WITH embedded learning, which means that knowledge of a previous case can be automatically used by people in a later case or process.” In further posts he links Complex Business Events to process and ACM which go into more detail which I won’t elaborate on here.

      So what does this have to do with the games industry ? Well, simply put, I doubt anywhere in the BPM world are there people who spend all their time creating elaborate routines that display artificial intelligence in the way they do for gaming. Every large scale and major release focuses on creating more adaptive NPCs (Non-Playable Characters) and enemies, mimicking real life as closely as possible and challenging the player.

      So, the question is: why can’t we hire these guys and get them plugging away on Process AI and our BPMS ?

      The problem I have with ‘business rules’ being an inherent part of some BPMS is that they start to constrain process decision making and flexibility, but having a set of AI routines that not only adapts on the fly (or JIT) but also learn and potentially create a brand new process instance out of evolving from previous instances in the same or a variant way Angelina does surely will enable a more dynamic enterprise model to emerge too.

      Could it be possible that this intelligent BPMS (God I sound like Gartner, shoot me) is far more emergent and where we need to be than just a set of analytical screens and real-time dashboards that they suggest ? Where’s the (r)evolution in that ? It still requires a person to conduct the analysis itself, make the changes. What if the system itself started to make those tweaks, or even suggest incremental or wide-scale changes ?

      Whatever happened to MDM being part of BPM ? We spoke about this at a tweet jam 2 years ago and where is it now ? Gartner is only just talking about it now at their BPM Conference in London, there needs to be more effort and speed in promoting these ideas and allowing the industry to take risks in development rather than the slow plodding beast it's become.

    • Connie, not sure how ACM is more clunky than DCM or BPM. Anyway ...

      You are saying that a lot of the ideas that represent old-style BPM are going out ... hence die. But then the term BPM is being redefined much faster than process flowcharts can be ... so I guess something will be called BPM in the future so that Garth can justify the money spent on BPM advertizing as a business need ...

      Managing a business with the help of some form of defined processes on different levels is valuable. Creating applications as processes can be practical. Bringing together BPM with ECM and CRM is a must (I did propose that in 2001) and hence they will all converge to become a new way to create the customer experience.

  • When there is nothing new to talk about BPM, someone appears and start to rattle. Every year this pattern occurs.

    I started practicing BPM on the shop floor, trying to improve production cells and products to a Japanese customer that was demanding features that most of the people did not want to comply with (something that come experts call brilliantly today outside-in or to be more basic, more ISO 9000).

    When I look back BPM, the term as we know now had different flavors in the past and changed, because addiction patterns also change, like wine (ripe fruit wines are a trend and next wine trend is oak and after is chemical and astringent). Hence, in the past BPM was known by Business Process Improvement and evolved a lot since those ages. Human being like to sit on a comfort zones and it's natural that when a concept evolves to much, people start to ear that the a concept is ... what is was 10 years ago and start assuming is out of date.

    BPM is not anymore about what was in 2 years ago and it will be very different in the next 10 years, maybe it will be no more called BPM.

    Like companies we need to adapt. Think about that.

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    although i'm BPM consultant but unfortunatly everday i feel that BPM is dead, and so i think daily what i have to learn to swich my feild!
    Companies & top managment don't believe anymore in BPM, it takes long time to mke difference, if you want to change a proces you have to meet the process owner & uderstand the process in details to be able document it & analyze it to come out with recommendations that needs a change managment plan, & that takes long time till you implement your recommendations & recheck them to make sure your recommendations were beneficary to the customer. the problem is bigger when your recommendation is automating the process that takes longer time for your recommendation to see the light.! it is the time of best practices packages to be sold by big four companies only not for small consulting companies.

  • I have really enjoyed the comments. Essentially it all depends on what you take BPM to be. Some a methodology, some technology. I take it for what it is, a name / umbrella that encompases some form of management of how we perform work within a business. Simple as that. If you take it that way, then BPM will never die.

    If you take it as a methodology, then whats your flavour? If we take it as technology (BPMS I go with) then again, what flavour? ACM?

    It's easy to say BPM is alive, and it's easy to say its dead, simply because it is such a broad term.

    I would say though we have to be careful on using the term BPM as a platform. BPM is NOT a platform, you may use BPMS to help deliver solutions, but that doesnt make BPM the platform - rather the platform is partly BPMS.

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