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Podcast and Transcript: The Business Process Expert Community and the Future of BPM: A Community-Driven Approach to a Book for Aspiring BPXers

04/02/2008

Untitled Complete Transcript: The Business Process Expert Community and the Future of BPM

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Replay a sample 3:00 answer from Dan Woods on this question: "Does a business or IT person make a better Business Process Expert? And how does age factor in?"


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5/17 Update: Don't miss your chance to be a co-author of the Business Process Expert Community eBook. Share your expertise now until the end of June and get listed as a contributor.

Gian TrottaGT: Welcome to the second in a very special series of podcasts that detail how to master the technical and social skills needed to excel the ever-evolving and increasingly vital role of the business process expert, or BPX, as the position's become known.

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Replay the first part of this series: The Business Process Expert and the Future of BPM: A New Role, Matched to New BPM Tools

Hear 13:52 Podcast/Read a Complete Transcript

Replay the entire one-hour Webinar


Helen Sunderland's Blog Entry: A Day in the Life of a BPX

Along those lines, one of our guests has chosen a nautical motif to describe the BPX's ability to enable the highest level of business productivity. “The boat has left the dock, and we can see the far shore,” Dan Woods notes. “But we can't say a clear view means a short journey,” he adds.

One key milestone in the journey did come in November of 2006, when SAP formed its online Business Process Expert Community to serve as a kind of base camp for current and aspiring BPXers. In part one of his podcast series (which can be heard at http://www.ebizq.net/sections/sap), Marco ten Vaanholt, the global head of SAP's Business Process Expert (BPX) community described what a BPX does. At the same time, Dr. Bruce Silver detailed how Business Process Modeling Notation could prove an especially valuable tool in the BPXer's repertoire.

Marco ten VaaholtMarco currently heads up SAP's BPX community, which is the largest of its kind in the world. It has over 300,000 members covering 18 industries and ten horizontal areas such as how to build business cases, how to model, and how to compose business processes. It provides industry experts, business analysts, application consultants, IT managers, enterprise architects and many others with moderated forums, wikis, and expert blogs to drive process innovation through collaboration, best-practice sharing and collective learning.

Dan WoodsOur other guests today, Dan Woods of Evolved Media, is also the author of SAP NetWeaver for Dummies and Wikis for Dummies, both published by John Wiley & Sons. He's also penned Enterprise SOA, which is being published by O'Reilly and Mashup Corporations, which is published by the Evolved Technologist Press.

Dan also contributed that most effective nautical motif earlier and he's not on deck to describe more specific tools for the BPX can use to sail just about any product to successful completion in just about any climate. Marco and Dan, it's great to have you here today.

MV: Thank you.

DW: Thank you.

GT: Marco, can you start with an update on the BPX community since we last spoke a month ago?

MV: Sure, we've been working very hard on expanding our BPX community. We just added a new banking community to our industry focus area, and we're working currently on adding two more industry by Sapphire. One is the transportation industry forum as well as the financial services forum, so I'm really looking forward to that.

I think on top of that, we are also working for Sapphire on a specific area around how to build cases and how to do benchmarking, so I'm really looking forward to roll that out by the Sapphire timeframe. In the meantime, the CRM forum has been really getting a lot traction. There was a CRM event in Las Vegas together with a lot of SAP customers and SAP prospects and people were amazed by the new user interface the new CRM Suite has, as well as how easy it is to use.

Out of that specific event, we saw a lot of traction of customers and prospects, as well as partners coming to the BPX community to learn more about CRM and how they can use CRM in their business process worldwide. One of the other success stories is our GRC area. We have lots of people who want to know more about risk and compliance; whether it's in the chemical industry around REACH or it ends in general about SOX compliance.

I think one of the other noteworthy additions and trends that we notice is that we continue to have an increased amount of attendees in our forums as well as in our membership. So what's happening is that we now have more than 300,000 members. And last time we talked, I think it was about 250,000, so we're growing around at the pace of 20,000 members a month and that has been increasing as well. And the good thing about that is that if you reach a certain amount of critical mass, the more people come to your community, the more people start to participate and the more knowledge is being shared.

GT: It sounds like you've got a valuable and vibrant community.

MV: And I would like to invite everybody to stop by and notice and have a look at if there's something out there for them.

GT: Okay, great. I think along that line, here's a new permutation on community. Dan, you and Marco and the BPX community have been working on a community book that's pretty innovative. I'd love for you to share with the audience what you're trying to achieve it.

DW: Well, as Marco pointed out, we have so many people working and sharing knowledge about the BPX role at the BPX community that we decided it's time for us to gather all that knowledge, create a book that captures it, and then use the community and experts that we know of to help make a very coherent story so the people could accelerate their understanding of how to be a competent BPXer.

Now is the time it seems that the BPX role is playing a very, very important part in accelerating the successful implementation of all sorts of projects. But it seems from our research that BPXers do many different things, and what we're trying to do with the book is capture an explain how BPXers are successful because we know from the community and through things people are reporting that many BPXers are successful in many different ways.

GT: Dan, how does the community think in this book how they should go about closing the gap, keep a clear vision, and achieve the journey to the far shore of heightened business productivity that you described above.

DW: Well, what's happening and what the research for the book has shown is that many of the aspects of the future are here already. It's almost as if we can see how things are going to be better in the future, and that's what I mean by the far shore. We can see that technology is going to allow users to do more for themselves in the future but right now, but they can't actually do more for themselves, such as create their own business processes or create their own applications.

People can do that but, generally, there's a technical barrier and a barrier of understanding the complexity involved that gets in the way a little bit. And so this same sort of view of the future happens in a variety of other things, such as the way that software is developed. We also can see through agile development methods that there's really a big payoff for developing software in an experimental fashion where you start with a small amount of functionality and then gradually put that software into use and then learn what you actually need through experience.

And again, this is something that requires users and technologists who understand that process and are able to communicate about it. But we can see how that's going to be easier in the future. But right now, it's not as easy as it will be. And there are a variety of other problems that exist in terms of organizational change, in terms of use of new modeling technologies at both the high level and the low level and the use of visual programming environments.

All of these things are going to make a huge difference, but some of them are in their early stages of development and it seems that from our research has shown that the BPX role is played by people who understand what the business side needs; they need empathy -- “sophisticated empathy” is what we call it -- for what the business needs.

But then they also have the technologist's ability to master complexity and understand how to use these tools and close the gap between what's possible now and then effectively create that solution and create the efficiency that will probably be easier to create in the future. But right now, it's as if the BPXer is playing that enabling role of crossing the gap between where we are now and where we will be in the future.

GT: Marco, do you have anything to add to that?

MV: Yes, I think that one of the things we always say is the BPXer is the person who bridges the gap between business and IT; it's kind of our slogan line, which is fun to mention. I think the other thing which I want to mention as well is that our community is really a place for what I call BPXers as well as aspiring BPXers.

So a lot of people who are business analysts, application consultants, IT managers with business process re-engineering experience are both forward looking as well as trying to solve problems of today. And that's why we are growing fast, because it's really a place for today as well as trying to collaboratively work on the future of tomorrow.

GT: Right, understood Marco. Dan, from what I understand what's seen in the book, social skills are an essential element for BPXers. What role does this social skills umbrella play?

DW: Well, as I said before, the idea is that BPXers have empathy. And empathy is something that you might think is a strange thing to mention in the context of information technology, but if I can provide a little context for this, I'll think it'll make it clear why that's so important. A man named Eric von Hippel who is a professor at MIT created a book -- a couple of books actually -- on user-driven innovation.

And in those books, he talks about how users need to innovate for themselves because what they know what they do in their jobs he calls “sticky”, meaning it's hard to communicate to other people who don't live in the context that they live in. Now, this is where the BPXers' empathy comes in.

What BPXers are, are technology people who understand complexity but who also have the empathy for understanding business needs. They can get inside that world of “sticky” knowledge and they can understand what is needed and then they can translate it into terms that can then be used to communicate with technologists and then build the right IT solution.

And the social skills involved are really important because communication is not easy. It's not easy to enter a world of “sticky” knowledge and then it's not easy to translate that world into the terms that technologists need to understand at the very precise terms that they need. So the social skills are involved in building trust so the people are willing to talk to you long enough to explain what they need and are confident that you will actually be helping them.

The social skills are also involved in making sure that the conflicts that naturally arise in these situations are addressed properly and that everybody starts working together and realizing that they have different roles to play and that they're not at odds with each other -- as sometimes happen in corporate environments.

GT: Right, I understand. And Marco might have something to add here.

MV: Sometimes I use the analogy of people being marriage counselors. And a lot of people who are in the field -- whether they're in a consultancy role or whether they're internally in a company -- can associate themselves with this. So they're both psychologist trying to marry the business needs as well as the IT possibility and vice-versa -- the IT needs and the business possibilities. And they're trying to channel that in a way that it becomes beneficial for the overall company as well as for the strategy.

Sometimes that's a very challenging thing, and sometimes the two camps, IT and business, speak two total different languages. And sometimes they speak more holistic languages, which are useful and understandable for both.

So in many cases, we see BPXers as some sort of marriage counselor or translator or moderator. That's kind of the social skills which we're talking about both in the book as well as inside our community.

GT: Right, so they don't identify themselves with a particular camp whether its business or IT, but I guess they're results oriented.

MV: There are very results-oriented -- as well as they should be, because if they're on the job in a project and are working on something innovative, they also have the need to measure their successes either via corporate performance management metrics or some sort of approach to do it qualitatively.

GT: All right. That's interesting. I mean while we're on the subject of value and metrics, Dan, can you quantify the value proposition for adopting the BPX role?

DW: Well, the value proposition usually comes about in the reduction in pain, or in the reduction in delays, or in the quality of the improved solutions, so it's hard to sort of look at like a speedometer or single metric that provides evidence of the value of BPXers.

But people like Helen Sunderland, who is one of the pioneering BPXers who's very active on the BPX community site, talks about how she helicopters in to situations -- usually when there's some sort of negative interaction or some sort of crisis. And what happens then is that she leaves after applying all her communication skills, her technology skills and her skills in creating requirements. And the situation is much more productive, much more calm and the outcome and the solution that's being created actually tends to solve the business problems. So the primary benefit of the BPXer is that you actually get what you were shooting for when you started out to use technology to help your business.

GT: That's understood. Marco, do you have any observations to add?

MV: No, I think Dan is capturing a lot of the things which are being discussed and collaborated on inside our BPX community. I just would like to invite people to go into the forums and kind of track a little bit of the conversations happening around BPX skills, education, certification, including the technical and social skill.

One of the things I want to point out is that we do have a whole area around corporate performance management and business KPI, as well as very vibrant wiki area where tons of BPX members are talking about how to measure effectively what you're doing inside a company as well as how you can then relate that back to the effectiveness of the BPX role itself.

GT: Okay. No, that's great. I think our last question; it's for Dan and it's kind of putting you on the spot. Dan, it's easier for technologist or a business person to become a BPX?

DW: Usually, it's easier for somebody to have what we call the “sophisticated empathy” to become a BPXer. And by that, we mean the kind of person who finishes other sentences, who quickly understands the logic of somebody else's explanation, who work with somebody and then realize their perspective and why something maybe frustrating for them or why a communication barrier exists, or can see how two people who are trying to converse are speaking different languages, but yet at the same time understand both.

Sometimes that skill is found in technologist, sometimes it's found in business people. We think that it's hard to say that it's found more in business people or more in technologist -- although frequently people say that they have become BPXers after starting out in a business role and then learning the technology. So there maybe some truth to the observation that it's easier to learn the technology than it is to learn the business stuff. But that's far from a hard and fast rule.

I think that primarily people who play the BPX role are observers, they are reporters, they are, like Marco said, almost therapists who are really seeking to understand other people -- and then after they've understood them, help guide then in the right direction.

GT: Right. Dan, how does age factor into this? Do recent grads have any inherent advantages?

DW: Age is an advantage -- the youth is an advantage in some ways because as they say, people who are digital natives as opposed to digital immigrants have an easier command of a lot of the collaborative technologies that are used to solve problems by BPXers. Frequently, BPXers improve communication in projects by using techniques such as introducing a project blog, or a documentation wiki, or other forms of social networking or collaboration that are more associated with young people.

On the other hand, the people who are more experienced, usually have a much richer understanding of the ideas that are going on in the business and the lives that people lead in the business -- their frustrations, and their history. So it seems that BPXers can play different roles based on their age and their skills and one of the things we're trying to capture in the book is the different patterns of success that BPXers play.

We've so far narrowed it down do four areas that we're not settled on but we think really capture it: 1)the BPXer as somebody who helps organizational change management 2)the BPXer who helps the design of processes and requirements gathering 3)the BPXer as solution designer; someone who is master of the application, and 4)the BPXer as an empowerment coach; somebody who helps others learn to do for themselves either solving organizational problems or doing technology.

These seem to be the four different roles that people play, and the people who are older seem to play the first two roles more easily than people who are younger. People who are younger seem to play the second two to some extent, but this is, of course a very, very fuzzy sort of statement. There are BPXers of all ages playing all roles.

GT: Right. So what I'm getting is that you're seeing patterns of success and engagement that are constantly evolving.

DW: Yes.

GT: Okay, great. Marco, where can readers go for even more information about the specific themes to today's podcast.

MV: All the information is available on our community website, which is bpx.sap.com. You can find all the information about the community, but also for the community book that we'll be posted soon and blogs like mine or Dan's around the book project can be found inside our community.

GT: We'll include a hard links to that in the transcript of this podcast. And right there I think that one good one for readers to go to is http://www.ebizq.net/to/bpxlearn all one word, all lower case.

This is Gian Trotta thanking all our listeners for attending. And I'd like to remind everyone that Dan and Marco are more than willing to answer any follow-up questions you might send to them on the podcast landing page, which can be viewed here at http://www.ebizq.net/to/bpxpodcast.

We're looking forward to seeing all our listeners again at future podcasts and future Webinars as we continue to describe the growth of this vibrant and vital community.

Marco and Dan, thank you both.

MV: Thank you.

DW: Thank you.

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