BPM and Knowledge Work – Looking for Proof of Concept Partners

June 24, 2008

I am looking to prove that Business Process Management technology can really change team productivity, especially for teams that span diverse organizations. We will choose a half a dozen knowledge-centric organizations, and then build out a proof of concept or initial application for each of them that they can then take forward, deriving long term value and changing the rules of competition in their industry.

This will appeal to organizations in the following situations:

  • A consulting group looking to package and deliver their expertise via a robust, service-based model that creates a leave-behind environment and an extended client engagement.
  • Start-ups developing a knowledge-based product offering, seeking a comprehensive Proof of Concept to close the first round of customers.
  • Corporate teams focused on Project delivery or Product Launch, needing to capture their project/product artifacts and support evolving business practices.

A Short History

Business Process Management has been taking great strides—moving from the highly structured transactional procedures into the realms of ever more human-centric, evolving and adapting processes. Instead of limiting processes to the confines of IT (as the BPEL guys are trying to do), some vendors have been exploring providing better support for the roughly repeatable business practices—rather than always following a standard pattern, processes unfold and many fragments of process might come together to support an evolving business scenario.

But achieving a balance between the explicit world of processes with an effective collaboration and knowledge capture environment is no easy feat either. And all the while, ensuring the user interface is accessible to the average goal-focused knowledge worker.

Now, I believe I have found such an environment, one that can enable efficiency and effectiveness in knowledge work – all delivered as a service online (i.e., no hardware or software charges).

What You’ll Get

The organizations I select will receive a ready to deploy (internally or for resale), process-based web application. You will need to have your own IP (method) and some of the supporting documentation. I will personally lead the development, working with your organization to really capture and make explicit the processes and areas for evolution. I will build out the initial data structures and a set of processes that support a reasonable application. This should take just a few weeks (30 days at most) and it will include a full year of hosted service with a generous number of seats—and all of this for what you would pay for typical BPM product evaluation.

In the short term, please respond to me directly (miers at bpmfocus.org). Tell me a little bit about your company and what you are looking to achieve and we can start a dialogue as to whether you fit into my research initiative. Following up our work, I will expect to develop a set of short case studies, so please be prepared for a bit of blatant promotion of your concept going afterward.

BPM Technology Showcase and Awards – An Opportunity to Save Hundreds of Hours and Thousands Of Dollars

February 12, 2008

Well after a lot of hard work the event is now fully fleshed out. Of course there are a million and one things to get done to organize a major event – and I am still getting through them.

But we have a full program of really interesting vendors (IMNSHO). They cover a range of different themes that regular readers will recognize. This is a real opportunity for people involved in BPM projects to save hundreds of hours and many thousands of dollars by assessing all the best vendors in one place, picking up on the best practices, pitfalls and other implementation wrinkles.

In no particular order they are:

BPM and SaaS – Appian, Integrify, Itensil, Lombardi (Blueprint) … I am not sure whether I should put Cordys, and Fujitsu in that category (since apparently they can do this combination but haven’t made a big noise about it).

Case Handling – Cordys, Graham Technology, Itensil, Pallas Athena, Pega

Complex Customer Interaction – Graham Technology, Pega

Knowledge Workers – Appian, HandySoft and Itensil

Microsoft and .NET – Ascentn, Bluespring Software and BizAgi

BPM-SOA Stack – BEA, Fujitsu and TIBCO

Unified Data Model – BizAgi, Pega

They all have something special about them – they are all becoming more and more “model driven” (some are better than others), they all feature mechanisms to monitor and track work. Here is the complete list along with links to their web sites.

AppianAscentnBEABizAgiBluespring SoftwareCordysGraham TechnologyHandySoftIntegrify ItensilFujitsuLombardiPallas AthenaPegaTIBCO

That’s 15 vendors, each delivering 4 sessions – one in the morning and one in the afternoon on each of the core showcase days (Tuesday and Wednesday). The Showcase itself is capped off with a simulated product bake-off where each vendor demonstrates how they have built out one or other of the two core scenarios we will provide them with.

I intend to create short 5-minute videos of each vendor, featuring their best points and place them on YouTube with links to their product profile – which I will endeavor to get up on the BPMF site within a few weeks of the event (but I am traveling for the month of March so it might not be till mid-April before that happens.

Oh – and lets not forget the Monday when you will hear a keynote from Connie Moore (of Forrester), followed by three new case studies (the best submissions from the Awards program – Wells Fargo, Geisinger Health and Louisiana Supreme Court), the three inclusive ½ day training courses:

  • Ensuring BPM Project Success – from me
  • Modeling in BPMN – from Stephen White of IBM (the main author of the BPMN specification)
  • BPM Overview from the WfMC

And all of this is available for the killer price of just $395 (up until close of business this Friday … after that it reverts to $595). Just to put that price in perspective, that’s less than you would pay a traditional conference for their pre-conference workshop !! We have deliberately kept the prices low so that you can bring the team – to form a shared understanding of the issues and the way ahead (and it’s impossible to get around all 15 vendors in the 12 sessions that you will have time to attend).
You can get directly to the registration page here

Download the brochure here

Lombardi Shows The New Direction in BPM Modeling

February 8, 2007

Some of you bright eyed people will have noticed that Lombardi announced a new process modeling environment today called “Blueprint”. As you will no doubt surmise from my review Put to the Test: Lombardi Takes BPM Mainstream on Intelligent Enterprise, I have known about it for some time. I find it a really interesting development that I think will put a rocket under some of the current process modeling vendors.

An there in lies a set of perspectives that I have been holding off writing about for some time. I have for a long time felt a certain degree of unease around process modeling approaches that require a large amount of effort up front before any real value is delivered. In the 90s this took the form of IDEF0 modeling and SADT/SSADM style approaches.

I was involved in implementing and assessing these approaches and it always worried me how much work they took … and how quickly any particular repository got out of date. In one study I undertook, a rather large, well known British Oil company had decided to build a “process reference” model for their operations in Europe. That was a team of around 100 consultants (from PwC and Oasis) for over a year (work out the budget) to create a reference book of IDEF0 models – the users complained of measuring output … and how incomprehensible the models were … and how they had to develop a set of best practices to help people understand them (like putting all the ICOMs inside role oriented boxes to show who was responsible for undertaking the work). For anyone who is interested, this study was published as part of Process Product Watch (a set of modeling and workflow reviews that I published through the 90s).

I seem to remember the statistic of 6 months being how often you should revisit any part of the business before the models contained in the repository was out of date (and that was a number quoted to me by one of the original brains behind SSADM in 1996). If anything the problems have got worse – the pace of business change and evolution has only accelerated since then.

And that brings us to the modern day. Where we have BP-oriented modeling tools talking about BPM and trying to convince everyone that it is just a matter of a quick export to your favorite BPMS.

Sandy Kemsley, in her excellent blog series from the IDS Scheer event (I was invited but unfortunately could not travel this week), points to a fundamental problem I see in many process modeling repository-oriented tools.

ProcessWorld Day 1: Briefing with Trevor Naidoo of IDS Scheer – Column 2 – ebizQ

“This really came around to the issue of how to get those process models into an execution engine, or if anyone is really doing it at all. Naidoo said that what was moving from ARIS to the execution engine was a “process outline”, which then required some amount of work to hook it up to the BPMS engine (as expected), and that the main value is not in the transfer itself — which could be readily recreated in the BPMS designer directly — but in engaging the business in the entire process design cycle. This, then, is what I suspected: that most people really are redrawing the process models in the BPMS designer, adding who knows how many translation errors along the way, because there is insufficient value to bother with the direct integration. This is not unique to ARIS; I saw the same thing at the Proforma user conference last year.”

And Bruce Silver (who was also at the IDS Process World event) in his posting Almost Dead from Process World talked about two different classes of ARIS user – a group of business people developing a rigorous repository of stuff (about how they do business and the systems/data etc that fit into that); and a second group which are doing BPMS style things – automating their processes, etc.

This is an interesting observation that I think gets to the heart of the disparate camps we see at BPM conferences – where one group is all about the people/soft side and driving organizational transformation; the other is concerned with automating processes using BPM Suites and workflow tools to drive cost and errors out of the process, all the while reducing cycle time.

All very cozy, but at the same time completely at odds with what I think is likely to happen going forward. I have for some time complained that the fidelity is just not yet available when you move models from the repository style tool to the BPMS Suite (if we see widespread adoption of BPDM then this problem will be significantly redressed). Add to this the fact that to make the repository style approach really useful means engaging in a certain degree of “analysis paralysis” as users flounder about wondering where to stop. Part of the problem here is to do with how we represent processes (while flow diagrams are familiar they do not really tell the whole story).

The point is that what most people do is not the best practice. After getting stuck in a rut for while (modeling everything in sight), management is starting to loose patience with the current effort and the team is now being pressured to get some value back out. So perhaps they implement what they have on a BPM Suite. Only problem is that is is often pretty much the same as the original (mess). So now we have an automated mess. After a year or two, people suddenly realize there is another way of looking at the process and end-up throwing out their earlier endeavor, re-implementing a radically improved process that reflects their new-found wisdom. But along the way they have wasted several man-years of effort and untold lost opportunity space.

And this is what concerns me – the amount of time and effort that is needed to get to the point where value is delivered via the comprehensive rspository style approach. Which in a way, brings me full circle to the Lombardi announcement today. An easy to use modeling environment, delivered on demand using a SaaS model and supporting wiki-style collaboration between the protagonists is definitely a much quicker way of getting to value. [Note to Sandy – I too have been using the term Process Wiki for a couple of years … but I think Blueprint has a ways to go yet before we get to a Process Wiki]. Using this sort of modeling approach it becomes possible to quickly outline the process, flip it over into an execution environment (TeamWorks or some other that supports BPDM) and you are away laughing.

If deployed widely, it will enable a wide variety of users to engage in process modeling (something that is denied to them with virtually all other current approaches). Blueprint relies on the simplicity of the outlining approach and the ease of deployment.

Business Process and Religion – Evangelism – Yes; Fundamentalism – No

November 20, 2006

I see I am going to have to dedicate more time to getting the blog out … but when I look at the broad range of tasks I have to get completed in the next 2 weeks I am back at the office – God knows where I will find the time.

Over the last 20 years I have found myself trying to help a broad range of people understand the various vagaries and wrinkes of business processes. But I have found a real difference in the receptivity between those people who know very little (and want to learn) those who think they know a bit (and want to be impressed). When introduced to a new modelling technique or approach, the common reaction is “why would I want to do it like that, I can always use <whatever technique I know already> to model that. What they seldom consider is what that new technique or approach might do for them, or how it might give them another subtle perspective.

So perhaps you will understand me when I say Business Process is a little bit like Religion – once people have been inured in one branch of the church, they tend to resist attempts by others to engage them (just think about Protestants and Catholics for a second – they have a lot more in common than they realize, yet they still seem to find each other repulsive). And the world of process is not that different. There are a lot of parallels between the differing factions of the business process movement, and those that one can observe in religion.

If you have been trained in UML, then that is what you want to use to model (everything must fit into that UML metamodel); if you grew up with IDEF, then all models appear as though they should be constructed around Inputs, Outputs, Controls and Mechanisms (or some other similar flavor). If Rummler Brache was your thang, then you favor the deployment flowcharts and swimlanes associated with the technique. Whether you have been brought up on LOVEM, BPMN or simple Fortran flowcharts, then the world is often colored by your original christening. It is only when you have been around for a while that you can see the benefits of the different approaches.

Putting all of that slightly different way, and maybe I am stating the obvious – a little knowledge can be dangerous. And in the world of business process, that is certainly the case.

As people search around for the meaning of life (or process) they discover different disciplines (new techniques and approaches). Sometimes, they become converted to a new religeon (say Pi Calculus, or conversational interaction loops of ActionWorflow) and feel it incumbent on themselves to act as missionaries, recruiting new sheep to the fold. Those that dont agree with them are clearly wrong, or misguided, or even worse, seditious. I suppose the point I am making is that while every branch of religion needs its evangelists, fundamentalism tends to alienate potential parishioners. And the problem with religion is that, for most people, once they have got some of it, they tend to shun all other approaches.

So by now, I hope you understand that I see the world of business processes as a pretty broad church. Personally, I am keenly interested in all process related innovation. But I don’t see that as a restrictive covenant that stops me from looking at, or even trying to explain, approaches that do not conform to some purists definition.

Indeed, I believe that it is only when you contrast different perspectives on a business process that you really understand it. You need to be able to step outside the box and see it for what it is. You need to be able to examine the interactions on one hand, and then flip it all around to look at the sequence flows; to look at what is required of the process and separate that from how it is achieved. With luck, the new BPDM metamodel from the OMG will enable the analyst to step around these different perspectives, sharing information between different modeling tools and techniques, without loosing the fidelity of the information.

Planes, Processes and Innovation

November 8, 2006

You board the jet and people eventually take their seats. I suppose I should have sussed that there were going to be problems when they didn’t board by row numbers or groups. A free for all at the Gate.

The Captain starts spouting something from the overhead speaker about 10 mins after the plane was due to leave. Something about a reported leak that had been checked already and fixed. “Phew”. But he continues … we now needed to get the paperwork sorted out. Oh oh! Everyone groans and rolls their eyeballs. It is going to take a little time. That’s OK you think … how long can paperwork take when you have 400 or so customers sitting on the tarmac in a very costly asset. 15 minutes later, he is on again. It seems that the only one who can sign the necessary paperwork is on the other side of the airport. It is going to take him 20 mins at least to get here. More groans. And you think – marvelous organization. After 50 mins, more we are told that the lawyers are now happy; we have the bit of paper that says something important to someone who will undoubtedly never look at it. But … you knew there was going to be another but, the plane cannot move now as there is nobody to unhook the jet-way. 20 minutes later, we are now unhooked but there are planes parked in the taxiway behind the gate (no doubt waiting to get in).

Finally, for want of a signature on a piece of paper (mandated by regulations) we are underway … a mere 110 minutes late. And the chances of that piece of paper ever being looked at again … not high.

Of course it is not only British Airways who have their process coordination problems (although waiting an extra hour and a half for baggage after a 2 hour delay does sort of rub salt into the wound … as this was the 4th time since June that I had experienced a 2 hour delay I feel somewhat justified in naming them).

The point is that it is when things go wrong that organizations really differentiate themselves. And nowhere is this more visible than the airline business. Most regular travelers could tell similar stories of ineptitude and out of date procedures. But this is also a story about innovation.

Let’s change anecdotes. As any regular traveler will tell you, it is just a question of time till you leave some of your possessions on the plane. I had managed to avoid this affliction until earlier this year when, after a longhaul flight from London to Texas, I transferred to an internal flight. I got up at the end of it, totally discombobulated, and left my MP3 player, 2 sets of prescription glasses and the book I had been reading in the seat. Did I see any of the items again – not a chance.

Several hundred dollars later, I repeated the exact experience on a flight from San Jose to Santa Ana. Went in to the Lost & Found the next morning after several discussions with a telephone answering machine, the AA assistant there said something like “you realize we outsource our cleaning here,” as though that was an adequate excuse for the fact that they didn’t have anything written on any of the bits of paper in the office. But when I got back to the house, there was a message on the machine … “Mr Miers, did you loose something on your way back from SJC last night, if so, you better call and tell me.” Yippee – they found it.

When I went back the following morning, I found myself talking with the supervisor. His process innovation had been to apply a secret shopper mentality – to plant items in the planes that went for cleaning just to test the honesty and reliability of the cleaning company. As a result, all found items are handed in. As a result, a completely transformed customer experience. Like chalk and cheese. And when you think about it, the potential benefits of a BPM system to handle this sort of innovation are tremendous. Instead of having to go to the airport to physically get hold of someone it could be integrated into the AA portal. The gate staff could be notified, the cleaners informed of an item to look for, the supervisor gets to monitor whats going on … and so can the customer. Instead of a care-less attitude, it becomes a mechanism for building a relationship with the customer.

It is these sorts of opportunities to enhance the customer experience that really differentiates the firm – instead of having people like me whine on about poor service, they move me into the net-recommender category with something that is really very easy to automate.

I suppose the real question was whether AA has the management practices to first of all want to detect such innovations, and then distribute them to its other offices (they certainly could do with them in Austin). Whether or not such innovations make it all the way to full process support is not the point here – it is all about the management, and their attitude to process.