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Clay Richardson admits he chuckles when he hears the term "human-centric BPM," a phrase once widely used by Forrester Research. Why? "Because I have tried to stop calling it that," says Richardson, a Forrester senior analyst. "I just call it 'BPM.'"

Indeed, human-centric BPM as a buzzword has faded quite a bit recently as, according to Richardson and others, many of its precepts have become more widespread, embedded in other types of BPM. Thus, while human-centric BPM may be less visible today than in the past, it remains highly important and defines much of what's currently happening in BPM.

The change in emphasis reflects an overall shift in the BPM landscape over the last two or three years, according to Richardson. "What we see is that more BPM suites are able to support transformation in more meaningful ways," Richardson says. "Traditional human-centric BPM has focused on human work and automation and improving collaboration. But those attributes have increasingly become mainstream."

Derek Miers, a principal analyst with Forrester, is even more outspoken about the transitions in how BPM is described and defined. "A lot of the categorization mechanisms have always been daft," he says. "BPM is simply a seamless spectrum of processes and practices."


Miers says some parts of what happens in any business process are highly constrained. Others are highly flexible and adaptable. For example, it isn't always possible to predict customer outcomes or what customers will really want. Human-centric BPM has tended to be more at the practice end, where the processes need to be more flexible and adaptable. "You may have a definition of how you [normally] want to do things, but you need to be able to update and adapt on the fly," Miers says.

In his view, human-centric BPM "is the stuff humans need to do." Even if a process is completely automated—for instance, check clearing—it may still include elements that require humans, he notes. People are needed to handle whatever percentage of exceptions occur.

In fact, companies can differentiate themselves in terms of how they handle those process exceptions and problems created when things go wrong. As an example, Miers cites the variation in how various airports and airlines treat customers when a flight is cancelled.


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