Process Makes Perfect

Tom Allanson

At What Price, Beauty? BPM as an Art Form

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I was reading a blog post by Jim Sinur on Gartner.com about the divergent paths of business process management espoused by either masters of the practice or "neophytes." I found the post very interesting and respect the points that Jim elucidates - that advanced users are taking advantage of sophisticated user interfaces to improve their clients' experience, and that beginner users are dipping their toes into BPM using "simple BPM capabilities available through the cloud" or through platforms like SharePoint.

Now, this realization of the state of BPM adoption makes a lot of sense, so much so that it smacks of self-evidence. Advanced users - those who have presumably already automated some of their business processes in order to improve operational efficiency - recognizing the experiential advantages in tailoring BPM interfaces to appeal to their customers are definitely moving in the right direction. However, I take issue with the idea that one needs a track record of successful BPM implementations to move onto more "elite" customer-facing projects. The ability to understand and influence customer motivations has nothing to do with realizing cost savings through automation. BPM neophytes and veterans are equally capable of achieving success in this area.

I have the privilege of working closely with an authority on "emotional design" - a concept pioneered by Donald Norman which contends that aesthetically-pleasing designs (of objects, of products of websites, etc.) elicit positive emotional reactions in those who encounter them, impressing upon them a feeling that the object is more effective than others by virtue of its appearance. This idea is far more involved than my novice explanation indicates, but basically, aesthetics matter..attractive things work better or at least they are perceived to.

My friend and colleague, Paula, pointed out the importance of appealing design in a MarketWatch article from several months ago, and her main contention was that aesthetics, in close correlation with usability, have a dramatic influence on customer experience and therefore esteem towards Web interactions and collateral. This is why certain forms and Web pages instinctively bring out a feeling of delight, disgust or indifference in us. For instance, a site coded in old-school HTML with randomly-dispersed links and sharply contrasting bright colors sends the message that the brand with which it is affiliated is behind the times, untrustworthy (perhaps abandoned in 1997?) or incompetent. Another site with smooth lines and subtle gradation of soothing colors, set against a complementary background and featuring images of smiling faces or high-resolution product graphics will put your mind at ease, invite you to enjoy the journey upon which you're about to embark - and BUY things.

Putting a customer-facing input page in front of an automated business process follows this same logic. Part of what I love about my job and my product is that it lets people exercise their full creative vision in BPM. Even someone with no design or programming experience can put together an elegant smart-form - a respectable window into their brand's values. Conversely, that same person can throw a bunch of options on a page with no consideration of the customer's needs or what may appeal to them and call it a day; it's really up to them to determine what their customers will appreciate.

Ultimately, it's not the number of processes you've automated that puts you in touch with your customers. It's how well you can visualize what your customers want.

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Tom Allanson of PerfectForms shares his ideas on managing business processes, automating workflows and designing for business users - both in the cloud and on the ground.

Tom Allanson

Tom Allanson, CEO of Perfect Forms, Inc., has over 19 years of experience leading teams and growing businesses and has held key executive roles at Intuit, General Electric, and H&R Block. Most recently the President of H&R Block Digital Tax Division, he had previously been Senior Vice President at Intuit in charge of the Tax Division, including TurboTax. He started his career as a design engineer.

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