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IT Directions

Keith Harrison-Broninski

Keith's adventures in BPMN - Conclusions and a look forward

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In my last post, I quoted an article on this site by Jon Pyke in which he looked forward to 2 new generations of BPM tools that provide support for knowledge work. The first of these generations integrates Case Management with process technology. The second goes further to support Human Interaction Management (HIM).

Jon is now the Chief Strategy Officer of Cordys, who along with other key BPM players are now bringing to market the first of these developments. What is involved in the second step? And why is it necessary?

As regards what is involved, I have tried to illustrate in this blog series some features of HIM that go beyond the capabilities of current process and case management technology, even offerings that appear to be at the leading edge. HIM notation directly addresses five aspects of management with which organizations are currently struggling:

  1. Teams
  2. Communication
  3. Knowledge
  4. Time
  5. Planning

Further, the current inexorable trends towards outsourcing, partnering and sub-contracting as the fundamental means of doing business in a globalized economy mean that in each of the 5 aspects of management above it is critical to support decentralized, cross-boundary processes where there is not necessarily a single process "owner".

To meet these requirements, a new paradigm for process description is required - one that is based not on state machines in which the process is a clockwork mechanism that moves from stage to stage, controlled centrally by a single engine, but on object models where a process is a set of objects in different domains, whose interaction and synchronization is controlled collaboratively by agents acting on behalf of each player. This new paradigm is what HIM notation, and the underpinning HIM semantics, provide.

As regards why this is necessary, one only needs to read a newspaper. The global economy is in meltdown, for which the deep reason is simply the advent of the Web, with the consequent rise of "Asia, Automation and Abundance". Computing has brought a huge sea change to our world, a change to which we are too close to see the true scale. The only way to survive such change is to adapt, which means taking dramatic steps early on. For once, only the early adopters will survive! Those that wait until new ideas have been fully tested will be out of business before they get a chance to put them into practice for themselves.

Scientists are starting to realize that information processing may lie at the heart of many different aspects of nature (see, for example, Charles Seife's "Decoding the Universe"). Similarly, mathematicians are starting to understand how the notion of computation explains many of the dramatic results of the last hundred years (see, for example, Gregory Chaitin's "Metamaths - the Quest for Omega").

In business, an equivalent conceptual breakthrough is taking place. Pareto's law tells us that the 20% of "exceptional cases" account for 80% of the costs - but it does not tell us why. To discover why, and deal with it, one must appreciate that "exceptional cases" are not exceptional at all! They are the norm, since they occur all the time - further, they are what truly test your business practices.

To deal with the "long tail" - i.e., to operate efficiently and effectively in a globalized economy - one must abandon the hopeful notion that business processes can be defined once then run thousands of times with only minor change. One must create an operational environment in which change is not only possible, but structured, encouraged and aligned with strategic objectives.

This means taking a much richer view of "process" - a view in which people, communication channels, knowledge, time and plans are all managed along with the activities that are more easily visible - across multiple domains that include not only you and all your trading partners but also your customers. Bottom-up empowerment is not enough. Top-down control is not enough. You need an enterprise management framework that supports both, at the same time, using the same approach.

Change is never easy, especially when the luxury of taking your time is not available. However, as you can see by watching lynchpins of the financial world topple one by one, right now there really is little choice. Yes, you need to improve the 80% of processes that are mechanistic, using current mainstream BPM techniques, but this only brings you up to the level of your competitors. To stay ahead, and stay in the game, you need to improve the other 20% of processes that cannot be fully planned in advance - and do it at enterprise level.

Find out more about HIM here.

Keith Harrison-Broninski cuts through the hype in his hands-on guide to where enterprise IT is really going

Keith Harrison-Broninski

Keith Harrison-Broninski is a researcher, writer, keynote speaker, software architect and consultant working at the forefront of the IT and business worlds.

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