Keys to BPM success—and a few BPM predictions

Editor's Note: In this two-part interview, ebizQ Contributing Editor Peter Schooff continues a wide-ranging conversation about BPM issues with Neil Ward-Dutton, co-founder and research director of MWD Advisors. Ward-Dutton, a regular contributor to the ebizQ Forum, is among Europe's best-known IT industry analysts. In Part I, the two discussed BPM business and technology tips and trends. Here, in Part II, Ward-Dutton shares insights and tips about process-improvement success and a peek at BPM’s possible future.

PS: What would you say are some of the key characteristics of companies successfully adopting BPM?

NWD: I already alluded to this a little [in Part I] because I was talking about recognition of the fact that there has to be some kind of organizational and cultural change involved. That's one of the big themes that we see.

But to get into some details, of the things that come up again and again and again, No. 1 would have to be having a collaborative approach between technology people—and they could be in-house, or they might be external contractors, or sometimes they may actually be both--and non-technical people—the people who have the problem. [Participants in the latter group could range from business analysts to sales- or marketing-team members to operations employees to HR employees.]

This is a collaborative exercise that brings people across the business-IT divide together in very close quarters. The people who really seem to make this stuff fly are the people who build integrated teams. In many cases, they physically co-locate them as they work. [The message is:] "This is a specific team. You guys are not sitting in your normal desks. You're going to go and sit somewhere else, and you're going to work together on this. It's not 'business and IT,' it's a project team that is solving a problem." That has—or seems to, anyway--have a massive effect on the outcome.

But that's not the only thing. Obviously, you have to have decent technology and tools, and you have to be prepared to put in the time to learn how to use them properly. It's also really important to have senior sponsorship, not because you're necessarily going to be spending huge megabucks, because you may not be—there are ways to get started in quite a modest way, financially. It's because to make real change, you're going to need to ruffle some feathers. Unless you have that senior sponsorship, it's difficult to make that happen, difficult to get all the right people to sign off on making those kinds of changes.

[Another factor:] People who seem to succeed are able to not just get the initial involvement of a sponsor at a senior level who will help to get the thing started; they're also able to keep that sponsor's involvement over a medium-scale time frame--so not just over a month or three months, but actually over the period of a year, or maybe even longer.

Getting a governance structure in place that sustains that level of involvement turns out to be really important, particularly when you're talking about time scales of a year or even longer because people leave the company, or arrive, or change jobs. So you need a structure that outlives individual people in individual posts.

Those are the things that come across pretty consistently as being very, very important.

PS: Looking ahead to the rest of this year and beyond, what do you see for BPM?

NWD: I think we're going to see BPM becoming even more of a mainstream proposition. I think we're going to see some companies taking quite an application-development-focus perspective on this. So you'll see some companies taking BPM technology to more of a mainstream IT-developer audience, and that's a good thing.

I also think we'll see more nuanced selling and marketing of these BPM suites, as I mentioned, to help people understand how they can get started from particular angles and particular starting points. I think we'll see greater impact from open source; the effect of open source in the market will continue to force everyone to provide options that allow customers to get started, maybe, with no cost or certainly at very low cost.

I also think we'll see more SaaS [Software as a Service] action, more hosted BPM tools being offered. I don't think that, right now, we're going to see people deploying large-scale business process automation applications in the cloud. That's not to say that no one will do it; in fact, I already know of some companies who do it. But I don't think it'll become a real mainstream thing in the short term. Maybe in another couple of years, we'll start to see some of that.

Really, the headline is that this is a space where the technology and the practice is moving out into the mainstream. It's forcing a re-evaluation from both buyers and from suppliers. And so far, I think it's all positive.

What's great to see is that the vendors are still innovating. There's some cool stuff already happening around less-structured processes. You may have heard people talking about adaptive case management or dynamic case management. There's some [discussion] about terminology and whether that's the same as BPM or different. That's important. But for me, the bigger thing—the positive thing—is that it's all about giving people new capabilities to work smarter.

So it's all good. We're hitting a mainstream inflection point now. There's still lots of innovation from the vendors. There are lots and lots of good, solid success stories. I think this is an area that's going to continue to grow, and continue to help companies change the way they do business.

This is the final installment in a two-part series. In Part I, Schooff and Ward-Dutton discuss BPM technology and business issues. Both parts of this Q &A were excerpted from a more in-depth ebizQ podcast on BPM value, trends and technologies. The content has been edited for length, clarity and editorial style.

About the Author

Peter Schooff is a former contributing editor for ebizQ, where he also managed the ebizQ Forum for several years. Previously, Peter managed the database operations for a major cigar company, served as writer/editor of an early Internet entertainment site and developed a computer accounting system for several retail stores. Peter can be reached at

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About ebizQ

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