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The future is not some destination; it’s our own creation. The paths to it are not discovered, they are forged, and the process changes both the path maker and the destination. Adopting new technologies places extensive demands on employees and their managers. Both are expected to change the way they think and work, as individuals and in groups, as automation is extended to new and unfamiliar domains. People must be given time to learn and time to form teams, not just with others in their immediate organization, but with others outside the company. As a company transitions to become a process-managed real-time enterprise, treating these realities as constraints is wise. The way out of this dilemma is the incremental adoption of business process change that’s in step with the propensity for change in the organization. One of the major failings of BPR during the 1990s was that it forgot all about people. Remembering that it is people who make processes work, one of the most essential aspects of executing strategy is a shared understanding of strategic direction and the key factors that will help the firm to win.

But a shared understanding is not enough, for BPM methods must rigorously reflect the messy reality of how people actually do their work, not the neat and tidy world of computer transaction processing. In his landmark book, Business Process Management: A Rigorous Approach, (Meghan-Kiffer Press, 2005), Martyn Ould notes, “A lot of process modelling has come from the software engineering world, where, historically, data and information have ruled. That sort of modeling has therefore concentrated on things and data about things. But processes are about dynamics, activity, collaboration and cooperation. So the way we think about processes must have these at the centre. We must put processes back on top.”

“At the heart of BPM is a different understanding of business processes. Part of that understanding is that our process is not something that could perhaps be ‘deduced’ from the way our information system is set up or from what our ERP allows us to do. It is not ‘implied’ from our information system. Our process has its own separate existence in a form that—given to a process enactment engine [a BPM system]—can be executed or ‘run,’ that can be changed on the fly, that can be evolved as our business evolves, that can be monitored in real time, and that can be deployed at will through the organisation. A computer system that supports our organisation no longer simply helps us to manage our information: it now helps us, first and foremost, to manage our processes. It is a business process management system. This third wave [of BPM] needs appropriate methods for thinking about processes, for working with processes, for defining, designing and analyzing processes in a way that positions us to use those new BPM systems.” The methods Ould describes are centered on real-world processes that are complex, even muddled or messy—as they really are when real people operate real businesses.


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