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Why do we need the flexibility?



Let's take a simple analogy so that the concept is more easily understood.

Supposing you were playing golf; using the BPM approach would be like hitting a hole in one every time you tee off. Impressive - 18 shots, and a round finished in 25 minutes.

But as we all know, the reality is somewhat different (well, my golf is different) - there's a lot that happens between teeing off and finishing a hole. Ideally, about four shots (think nodes in a process) - but you have to deal with the unexpected even though you know the unexpected is very likely; sand traps, water hazards, lost balls, free drops, collaboration with fellow players, unexpected consultation with the referee - and so it goes. Then there are 17 more holes to do - the result is an intricate and complex process with 18 targets but about 72 operations.

As mentioned earlier, we have to deal with the unexpected. This is not just about using a set of tools to deal with every anticipated business outcome or rule; we are talking about the management of true interaction that takes place between individuals and groups which cannot be predicted or encapsulated beforehand. This is because Business Processes exist at two levels - the predictable (the systems) and the un-predictable (the people).

The predictable aspects of the process are easily and well catered for by BPMS solutions - which is why the term Business Process Management is a misnomer since the perceived technology only addresses the integration aspects - with the close coupling with SOA (SOA needs BPM, but the converse is not true) there is an argument for renaming BPM to Services Process Management (SPM).

The advent of BPEL4People isn't going to fix the problem either, all that will happen is the shortcomings of Workflow will be replicated and it will be as difficult and expensive to implements as it ever was - and anyone who has tried to put together a business case for buying SOA/BPM will know the entire proposition will be a non-starter.

Understanding the business processes exist at two levels (the Silicon and the Carbon) takes us a long way towards understanding how we solve this problem. The key point is to recognize that the unpredictable actions of the carbon components are not ad-hoc processes, nor are they exception handling (ask anyone with a Six Sigma background about exceptions and you'll understand very quickly what I mean). This is all about the unstructured interactions between people - in particular, knowledge workers. These unstructured and unpredictable interactions can, and do, take place all the time - and it's only going to get worse! The advent of Web 2.0, social computing, SaaS etc. etc., are already having, and will continue to have, a profound effect on the way we manage and do business.

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