Question 4: What’s next for BPMS?

The interest in business process, and especially in business process reengineering (BPR), was kicked off in 1991 in articles and books by Michael Hammer and James Champy (Reengineering the Corporation), by Thomas Davenport (Process Innovation), and others. Many would say that the current round of interest in BPM was kicked off in 2003 by the book by Howard Smith and Peter Fingar (Business Process Management: The Third Wave), and by the availability of a new generation of web-based workflow tools—usually called BPM Software (BPMS) tools. Do you think this is an accurate characterization of the current market? In any case, what role do you think the various BPMS tools are playing in the evolution of the current business process market?

Overview

Ever since BPM started attracting attention in the early years of this millennium, there has been contention about whether it referred to a generic management approach to process improvement, or to a new class of software (which many prefer to term BPMS or BPM software). Our authors present different perspectives. All recognize that any process work today must rely on a large IT component. They also recognize that senior management is very concerned with linking strategic concerns with specific business processes and having tools to organize and control strategically driven transformations.

Our authors hold out hope that the newer BPMS tools will increasingly support the various concerns that managers have for process management. For instance, the graphic interfaces in the tools are increasingly sophisticated, and offer senior managers with more of an overview and, at the same time, more detail than ever before. Whether one is interested in seeing how a strategic initiative is being implemented, or determining where a specific set of items is within one's worldwide supply chain, the latest BPMS tools make this possible. At the same time, good graphic interfaces can help remind middle managers of the way a major process integrates the work of several departments. It simultaneously integrates the work of specific groups of people with software applications and the activities of business partners. Finally, our authors emphasize the importance of being flexible and creating tools that can handle a specific and growing number of problems that organizations are trying to deal with.


Ahmad Alibabaei
Director, BPM Services, ES Consulting

To date, the benefits of using BPMS have not been described as well as enterprise systems, and most organizations do not have any idea about what BPMS applications could do for their businesses.

Eric Herness
CTO & Chief Architect (BPM), IBM

BPM tools continue to play a key role in the BPM market. They are accelerators and enablers in every way. BPMN as a notation can really only reach its full potential when supported by BPM tools in a first-class way. BPM tools build on that notational support, and add a level of support for collaboration and socialization to the mix. BPM tools further accelerate the path to process automation and the path to continuous process improvement. BPM process automation tools are increasingly easier to adopt and leverage, not only in terms of having personas that fit the various user constituencies, but also in that they are available now in various cloud footprints. SaaS offerings, in particular, for these tools make acquisition time nearly zero, and greatly improve the initial time to value.

Finally, we are in the beginning of a renaissance around visibility. BPM tools have traditionally offered visibility and, thus, provided a catalyst for insights and continuous process improvement. This is now assumed and necessary. A new era of visibility is upon us, fueled by the analytics capabilities that accompany the era of big data and analytics. Bringing these capabilities to bear on our process execution and task execution data holds great promise.

Peter Matthijssen
Senior Consultant, BiZZdesign

Some practitioners and vendors might state that BPM is all about automating and executing processes. This is a very technical view of BPM, which is, in my opinion, too narrow.

…in my opinion, BPM is a broader discipline that is not just about technique, IT, and BPMS. It is also about people. It is about: 'thinking in processes'; how do people collaborate with each other (and IT) to deliver value to a customer?

Gilles Morin, MBA
Founder, BPMPlus, Inc.

One very common mistake I see is clients acquiring BPM tools that are built for high maturity BPM organization. If you are low BPM maturity, or low process culture maturity, you can now find tools adapted for this situation. Too often, I see an architecture team having been seduced by vendors to buy fancy and complex architecture tools, complex BPMS platforms, and trying to fit them back into their own 'complex' solution delivery world. This leads, all the time, to huge waste and kills BPM initiatives. It does not need to be that way anymore.

…another common mistake [is] that BPM and BPMS are the same. They are not! Thinking that BPM or BPMS is the same is a costly mistake, as BPMS alone, like any other business technology, does not lead to business benefits.

Professor Michael Rosemann
Head of Information Systems School, Queensland University of Technology

I believe the next evolution of BPMS will see much enhanced capabilities in three areas. First, future BPMS will have higher levels of context-awareness. Current BPMS are largely disconnected from their environment, and support an isolated process design and execution… For example, a process such as production or sales might be highly dependent on weather forecasts. Such systems will allow the process designer to specify relevant contextual variables and link these to relevant internal process elements.

Second, future BPMS will have enhanced process-mining capabilities to the point that the model-to-execution paradigm will be reversed. The more system capabilities move towards real time process mining capabilities, the more process models will always be updated based on actual process executions.

Third, and perhaps most important, future BPMS will have stronger advisory capabilities. Process improvement or innovation services will be integrated into BPMS, and proactively suggest alternative process designs to the system user.

Dr. Wil van der Aalst
Professor, Eindhoven University of Technology

BPM should aim at improving operational business processes, with or without BPM systems. For example, by modeling a business process and analyzing it using simulation, management may get ideas on how to reduce costs while improving service levels. It is often not necessary to introduce a full-fledged BPM system. More important, BPM should exploit the event data widely available in today's organizations. Many BPM authors (including Smith and Fingar in their 2003 book) failed to see the importance of business process intelligence and process mining. Discussions on the definition of BPM and the references to the pi calculus now seem silly. Most process improvements and innovations are driven by data. Unfortunately, processes are not at the forefront in most data science and Big Data initiatives. The BPM community should take on the challenge to make these initiatives more process-centric.

This selection of quotes from the various authors does not begin to do justice to their remarks on this topic, but it does, hopefully, suggest some of the different perspectives presented in Questioning BPM?. We encourage readers to come to the BPTrends LinkedIn Discussion site (https://www.linkedin.com/groups/1175137) to offer their own opinions on this question or to raise questions about what the authors above have said.

Paul Harmon and Roger Tregear

Paul Harmon is the executive editor of BPTrends website and the Chief Methodologist of BPTrends Associates and the author of Business Process Change, 3rd edition. He can be reached at npharmon@gmail.com. As a Consulting Director with Leonardo Consulting, Roger Tregear delivers BPM courses and consulting assignments around the world. Based in Canberra (Australia) Roger spends his working life talking, consulting, thinking and writing about analysis, improvement and management of business processes. His work with clients is on short and long term assignments, in organizational improvement and problem solving based on BPM capability development, and business process, analysis, improvement, and management. He is available to help small and large organizations understand the potential, and realize the practical benefits, of process-centric thinking and management. Contact Roger at r.tregear@leonardo.com.au.
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Comments

  1. BPM is on the cusp of a fundamental transformation. The convergence of Lean/Agile methodologies and deep learning artificial intelligence algorithms are poised to move transformations that were the providence of humans to systems. Maybe the most well-known example of this is Google’s autonomous vehicle system. It does not know all the rules of proper driving. It gains knowledge through experience and applies a basic set of guidelines to dynamically adapt as it gathers more data.

    Gone are the days of tribal knowledge, as dynamic rules are created and stored in the system. What will humans do? They will need to tweak the basic guidelines. These are the vision that sets the direction that systems will pursue. The old way of thinking about process as long workflows of related tasks in generally ineffective in this environment. Processes are getting smaller, more modular and more independent. This is consistent with modern software development techniques, which allow for rapid change without breaking other parts of the system. Resiliency is critical in the face of ever more rapid change. The underlying benefit of BPM is continuous improvement. The meaning of “continuous” has changed from yearly, to monthly, to weekly and now we are starting to see small process changes made on a daily basis. We will need new thinking to keep up with this pace.

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