BPM 2013: Case management, embedded BPM take the stage

Editor’s Note: In this two-part Q & A, Neil Ward-Dutton speaks with ebizQ’s Peter Schooff about BPM predictions for the coming year. Here, in Part I, they discuss what's ahead for mainstream BPM technology, including top trends in case management. In Part II, they talk about the future of mobile and social BPM. Ward-Dutton is cofounder and research director of MWD Advisors.This interview, excerpted from a longer podcast, has been edited for length, clarity and editorial style.

ebizQ: What do you see ahead for BPM in 2013?

Neil Ward-Dutton: If I had to sum it up in just a couple of words, it would be "more and more, but less and less." If we look at BPM technology—so, BPMSs [or, business process management suites] and the related tools—those things are going to be in more and more places in 2013. But I think we might see them less and less. What I really mean here is we're going to see a lot more of this stuff being embedded, if you like, into other kinds of platforms and tooling.

This has been happening for a while, as BPM has become more of a mainstream proposition. We've moved away from the early days of BPM, where you had evangelists and innovators who very quickly understood the opportunity around BPM and BPMS. They understood, "Ah, okay, I see this is something we could use a BPMS for."

Now, I speak to a lot of people who end up using [BPM technology] and they don't realize they have "BPM problems"—and they don't even realize they're using "BPM technology." They're using a lot of the stuff we associate with BPM but they think they're dealing with a customer on-boarding problem, or a customer-servicing problem, or a partner management problem.

And you can see this kind of "embedding" happening. One way is by looking at what a lot of the big application vendors are doing, and how [BPM] technology and the techniques around it are becoming embedded in more things like Oracle's Fusion portfolio, SAP's portfolio, and IBM's new acquisitions that are more application-like, and so on. That's really, in a nutshell, where I think we're going at a high level with this technology next year.

ebizQ: Anybody who's read anything about BPM in the last year has read one or two things about case management. Looking ahead, what role do you see case management playing in all this?

Ward-Dutton: I think it's going to be a really exciting year for anyone who's involved in case management—whether that’s from the point of view of selling it, or helping people implement it, or the customers using the technology and making it work.

We're seeing, at a high level, more and more organizations have come to grips with a lot of the procedural, straightforward, straight-through stuff that's maybe been outsourced. Or it's been automated already. Or it's already been dealt with, or it's being dealt with.

So the next hurdle, the next flag to try to get to, is how to improve the way we manage that work, which can't be dealt with in that way. [It's] the less easily designable work, if you like—stuff that has to be a little bit more on the fly to get to the goal we're trying to reach. We know some of what we have to do to reach that goal, but we don't necessarily know everything, and we probably don't know the order we need to do things in.

This is an approach where case management technology and techniques absolutely are appropriate. I think we're going to see a lot of this kind of stuff happening, particularly in customer-facing kinds of scenarios.

The heritage of process improvement is in manufacturing, where essentially what you're trying to do is transform some kind of raw material into some kind of product. But if you're dealing with a customer-facing role, transforming a grumpy customer into a happy customer is not like turning raw steel into nails. There's a big difference there and we need different approaches. I think we're going to see a lot of stuff happening around case management in those customer-facing scenarios.

ebizQ: Where do you think BPM will see the most growth in the next year, and in what industry or what capacity?

Ward-Dutton: Let's say we're having this conversation in a year's time. I think one of the ways that we might be looking back at [BPM] is as a kind of splintering. There's a whole group of things that people do today that we lump under one term of "BPM."

To get specific, I think we're going to see a lot more focus around measurement and around what you might think of as operational intelligence.

So, using event processing technologies and analytics to basically figure out how processes are executing and getting insight into the current state of operations and the health of operations in the business sense, not in a technology sense. I think we'll see a lot of people trying to do that without necessarily trying to do automation.

Until now, we've seen those things lumped together. Interestingly, when people do automation, they often don't think about the measurement. The measurement comes afterwards or not at all, depending on how it's been approached.

I think we're going to see quite a lot of growth next year around people really coming at this with a mindset of "We need to understand how things are performing, and where we're doing well and where we're not doing well, and get that baseline—and then see what we can do from that point."

Right now, people don't really do that with a lot of data collected from operational systems. They do it through simulation. They do it through human observation and extrapolation and so on.

So I think we're going to see things like process-mining technologies. I think we're going to see what some people might call "big data" or "event analytics" being used to basically mine the environment, the operation environment, and create these views. And I think we're going to see a lot more focus around measurement.

Now when it comes to industry by industry, I think we're going to see a lot broader growth and a lot broader involvement across industries, whereas in the past a lot of the investment in this stuff has been from financial services and [telecommunications] and utilities. And insurance, specifically, has been a big driver of this.

I think we're going to see broader involvement as the imperative around delivering great customer experiences drives people to figure out how to be more effective in giving people great experiences. That then quickly leads into how to measure how we do what we're doing, how we do that in real time, and how we coordinate work.

Clearly, both of those things are tied into BPM. With the caveat already that BPM might become less visible as one single coherent thing, I think the pieces of BPM are going to be much more broadly deployed across a wide a range of industries than they have been before.

See Part II of this interview, in which Dutton and Schooff discuss the future of mobile and social BPM.

READER FEEDBACK: Is your organization considering case management or embedded BPM technologies this year? If so, ebizQ editors would like to hear about your experience. Contact Site Editor Anne Stuart at editor@ebizq.net.

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 pschooff@techtarget.com.

More by Peter Schooff

About ebizQ

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