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Leadership BPM

Rashid N Khan

BPM Vendors should learn to KISS from Apple

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The phenomenal success of Apple iPod, iPhone and iPad provides a great lesson for pure-play BPM vendors. Here is a company which basically turned an industry upside-down in a matter of a few years by doing less rather than doing more. There were hundreds of very powerful MP3 players with numerous bells and whistles when the Apple iPod was introduced. The iPod did less but its user interface was revolutionary in its simplicity. The minimalist user interface was possible because the iPod was not burdened with the complexity of supporting numerous bells and whistles like its competitors. The Apple iPhone was introduced when smart mobile devices was an established industry with Nokia, RIM Blackberry, Windows Mobile/CE and Palm in the forefront. Indeed these vendors had years of head start over Apple. The iPhone did not offer any new functionality that other smartphones did not have. The key to the success of iPhone was again its simple, minimalist user interface that made it an instant hit among millions of new users like me who hated the crummy keyboards and user interfaces of the competitive products that relied on remembering multiple keystroke sequences. Likewise, there were many successful tablets in the market when the iPad was introduced. The iPad did not have some features commonly found in other devices, such as a USB port or camera. But still the simplicity and minimalist design of the iPad has made it one of the fastest growing products ever introduced.  Apple knows and practices the art of keeping it simple, stupid (KISS), and that enables it to introduce killer products that the consumer want even though the products may not have all the bells and whistles. Apple has convincingly demonstrated again and again that KISS wins over bells and whistles.

Pure-play BPM vendors can learn a lot from Apple. Over the past 15 years BPM has evolved from simple workflow and document routing to highly complex platforms that have all types of sophisticated functionality integrated into them such as rules engines, reports, simulation and optimization, BI and BAM etc. The result is that BPMS have become bloated and complex. While the objective of adding additional functionality was always to expand the scope of the solutions, the actual consequence, driven by the increased complexity, is that they have become more difficult and expensive to develop, use, manage and maintain. Simply to use a BPMS requires expertise in many areas and only those customers who have such expertise can fully benefit from all the features. Most BPM users only use a fraction of the capabilities offered by typical BPMS because either the processes they wish to automate do not require all the bells and whistles, or because the cost of using the bells and whistles cannot be justified by the benefits. In the meantime, a large number of simple workflow processes continue to be performed manually because the BPMS is deemed too sophisticated for them, or the cost of deploying the BPMS cannot be justified by the savings accrued from automating simple processes.

One major consequence of the bloat of BPMS is that it hinders innovation in the industry. The products are so large and complex that it takes a long time and a lot of dollars to add innovative new functionality that could really accelerate the adoption of BPMS. In my previous blog BPM Lags in New Technology Uptake, I wrote that BPM is slow in adopting new technology and pointed to five areas where the BPMS have lagged, namely adaptive technologies, Web 2.0, SaaS, social networking models and smartphones.  All these technologies are "adoption drivers" that can be used in many different types of software products including BPMS. By adoption drivers I mean that they expand the applicability, acceptance and use of products.  Adaptive technologies make products easier to configure, deploy and maintain. Web 2.0 drives rich user interfaces which make it easier for ever increasing number of new users to use the product. SaaS reduces the cost of deployment making it affordable for more organizations.  Social networking models make it easier for users to collaborate with each other which is essential to how people work. Smartphone support extends the reach of the product to millions of new mobile users and is fast becoming the platform for running applications. By lagging in the adoption of these technologies, BPMS has itself lagged in adoption.

I think there is an opportunity for some brave and innovative BPMS vendors to succeed by learning how to keep it simple from Apple, revert back to a simple product that does excellent workflow and shed all the bells and whistles of pure-play BPMS. Yes, they will not make it to the Gartner Magic Quadrant for BPMS which is the pantheon of bloated BPMS. But if they can make an intuitive workflow automation system incorporating the innovations offered by adaptive technologies, Web 2.0, SaaS, Social Networking models and Smartphones, they have the opportunity to make an end run around the established pure-play vendors, much the same way as Apple has been able to outflank Microsoft, HP/Palm and other major industry players.



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Hi Rashid... this is a perfectly timed post... you might want to take a look at Blueworks Live (blueworkslive.com)- just released yesterday! I also wrote about it at bit.ly/brMX9x

You are spot on, though. BPM is about returning control to the business... and very few vendors are willing to say "NO" to scope creep... with the result being feature bloat and unusable software.

Keep up the drumbeat!



Echoes a post of mine from last week, called Process Management – The confused mind says “No? http://bit.ly/cnguSl

In fact I used the term KISS. We need EVERYONE to embrace BPM. So the market gets bigger, but more importantly our clients actually get the benefits they deserve.

Or to put it another way

Great post. I couldn't agree more. Without a doubt the BPM market today is filled with a sea of vendors offering overly complex products filled with catch phrases and acronyms that represent features that users simply don’t ever use.

The explanation of how this happened is not hard to understand. Most BPM products are purchased through competitive bid situations. The system admins and process VPs running these bids tend to use the same RFP documents. Over the years, lots of catch phrases have crept into these documents as sales reps from the big vendors have looked to create line items and categories which help them stand out from the competition. So you see, this list focused buying has moved away from a customer centric approach. Quite to the contrary, it has become a rather incestuous cycle of vendors chasing vendors instead of truly focusing on customers. The result is the bloat ware we see today in the BPM market today not surprisingly with lots of Java based products that all look identical.


Brian Reale


Hi Rashid,

This is awesome, remember when an idea, concept or product becomes a FAD, then comes the wave of people and organizations who compete with each other to make this FAD more complex, difficult to understand for the common beneficiaries and one that promotes the knowledge and edge of the sophisticated few....

please refer to my blog:

Blog: http://ashish-deshmukh.blogspot.com

and this is the end of real core benefit that the idea promised to bring, the real issues around BPM is the information overload and resultant barriers created to favor a few and has caused the benefits to be realized after heavy investments in the technology (most of which you will never use)and creating a reverse market for key skillsets that again jack up the TCO for a BPM project.

It is important to have a simple, adaptable, component based but scalable BPM solution that can remove the clutter around this the big promise of BPM.


Ashish Deshmukh

Great write-up, I am a big believer in commenting on blogs to inform the blog writers know that they’ve added something worthwhile to the world wide web! quickest way to lose weight

Interesting article. I really like it. I found this is a great tutorial.

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In this blog I cover high-level BPM issues of interest to organizational leaders with the goal of inculcating a process vision and thinking in the organizational culture. The blog is based on my 14-years or real-world BPM development and deployment experience in companies across industries.

Rashid N Khan

Rashid N. Khan is the Founder of Chatty Solutions, a company that develops and markets Chatty Apps, a mobile application platform for smartphone-enabling SaaS applications and Web forms.. He was the Founder/CEO of Ultimus , a BPM pioneer established in 1994. Prior to Ultimus, Rashid was the Founder/CEO of Sintech, a leader in computerized mechanical testing. Rashid holds two BS degrees from MIT in Computer and Political Science, a MS in Computer Science from UC Berkeley, and an MBA from Harvard. He has published numerous articles and a book “Business Process Management: A Practical Guide?.


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