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Software Infrastructure for Business Value

Neil Ward-Dutton

Notes from a BPM conference

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A few weeks ago I spent a couple of days in London, at IRM's 2008 Business Process Management Conference Europe, where I took in most of the sessions and also ran a session myself. I've been meaning to do a quick write-up of what I came across for a few days... so here it is.

I think this was the first time that IRM UK (most known for technology conferences, seminars and training courses focusing on Enterprise Architecture, software development techniques etc) had run a BPM conference. The event was put together with the assistance of BPTrends, the BCS and the Process Renewal Group; and the BPM-Forum, ABPMP and the BPM Journal were also involved. The infamous (well, in certain circles) Richard Soley and Howard Smith were also in attendance. All in all, we certainly weren't short of serious-minded types ;-)

Most of my time was spent in the "case study" sessions, each of which was led by one or two representatives from industry who'd embarked on a BPM initiative of some kind and come out the other end with all limbs intact. (I had an ulterior motive, which was to seek out volunteers for our own BPM case study programme, which you can find out more about if you like). I attended sessions by a Danish pensions administrator; a UK pension fund manager; a (very large) telecoms operator; the European Court of Human Rights; a UK hospital trust; and an oil/energy giant.

What did they have in common? At a high level, not much - but that in itself was interesting. One organisation was imposing standard processes throughout most of its operation, catalysed by a mind-bogglingly large SAP rollout. One was really doing some pretty lightweight content lifecycle management, even though on quite some scale. One was pursuing an ingenious application of Business Process Management Suite (BPMS) technology to implement process automation and performance monitoring without any direct interaction with existing applications. One implemented virtually no new technology, but revolutionised a key process and dramatically improved its business as a result. And one was primarily focusing on cataloguing and attempting to standardise ways of representing existing business processes.

Here's a handful of choice quotes I jotted down from the sessions and from coffee-break conversations - they're all thought-provoking.

"KPIs are units of measure. But you have to know what measures you want ? efficiency? Effectiveness? Adaptability?"

"The best thing we did to improve business-IT collaboration was to move to open-plan seating."

"We had plenty of KPIs and SLAs in place; but they were aimed at optimising localised individual activities, rather than our performance against the sales promises we were making."

"Senior business managers don't like detail and so often don't like the idea of 'process'. They see it as detail, and about something that doesn't sound very agile."

"Most organisations have a functional management structure, but in a complex business this isn't sufficient. It doesn't actually support delivering a good customer experience."

"Everything you do in process management should be related to performance."

"We decided not to blindly look for best practice. Instead we chose to work around something we called 'best available practice' - the best of what was already being done inside the company; stuff we knew would work within our culture."

"[A large German auto manufacturer] has created around 15,000 services from its SOA initiative. That's probably not a good thing."

Given the timing (this was just as the financial services universe was beginning to collapse in on itself) the event seemed to be pretty well-attended (the sponsors that I spoke to certainly seemed happy, anyway). My two key take-aways?
  • First: luckily (for my prejudices ;-), what I came across further confirmed what we thought was the case, from the research we've done in the BPM area through 2008. In the real world, there's still not really much consensus about what BPM is, what it's made of, and how you know when you're doing it (let alone when you're doing it well).
  • Second: The one thing that all except one case study (and many conversations) highlighted was that the buy-in of senior management is absolutely crucial to success. The culture, management structure and operating model(s) of your organisation are the biggest determinants of the the kind of BPM initiative you'll be able to follow, and the likelihood of you being able to achieve a successful result.
Overall I'd say it was a really solid event, and I'm definitely going to be responding to the Call for Papers for 2009, if I'm invited. Along the way I also learned that only around 1% of the audience (based on a rough count) was pursuing a Six Sigma initiative, that around 5% were pursuing SOA, and that although around 10% had heard of the word "mashup", no-one would admit to having created one. Viz. the level of awareness/adoption of SOA, I think this is just one more data point that shows how dangerous it is to make simplistic assumptions about the relationship between BPM and SOA (I talked more about that here and here, as well as in this report within our BPM advisory service).

Neil Ward-Dutton, founder and Research Director of MWD Advisors offers his perspective on key software infrastructure issues, IT-business alignment and related things.

Neil Ward-Dutton

Neil Ward-Dutton is a co-founder of and Research Director at Macehiter Ward-Dutton, View more

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