For a while now, BPM vendors and analysts have had a real drive towards out of the box generic tools and solutions. So much development cost and consultancy time has, and is, being spent trying to fit processes into pretty flow charts, and more worryingly into BPM vendor designers. There is massive development work and tools for “designers”, “connectors” and “integrators” but do these tools actually help a business implement BPM? More importantly do they actually help the business realise the main goals of a BPM solution, such as customer experience, efficiency gains, productivity gains and an overall reduction in end to end process cycle times?
Currently there seems to be two trends in BPM, the first is focused on tools and quick automations (lean is a good example) and not on the actual people who make a process work. The second, concentrates on endless improvement of processes through flow charts, through people, and doesn’t utilise technology or tools very well at all….
Why so much hype on tools?
It is a current trend in both business and IT that things must be “generic” or “off the shelf” products. It seems not many organisations like the idea of developers being involved, developing processes or components that work for their organisation. Many would rather they can purchase something off the shelf and have it configured for their needs, even if this restricts their systems performance and capabilities.
I am not a great fan of many “tools” in BPM simply because many tools look great in demonstrations but don’t actually provide anything in the real world. Of course there are exceptions, tools that help me calculate through-put of a process, help identify bottle necks etc are all good, but tools such as “connectors” and “designers” are just too restrictive. However, I am a strong believer in technology, technology is massively important in terms of BPM and any IT based solution. Technology can deliver more to your business and in many cases, can give you that competitive edge.
The problem I have with such focus on tools is that the real issues are often overlooked / lost. Often a constant drive for tool means we actually lose sight of the people that make the business work. If we constantly try to think of them in a production line, then we dumb down their capabilities and restrict the service they can provide to the business and to customers. Also, do we actually need all of these tools? Are some more bad than good? Are some just pointless? (Yes in many cases to all three)…
On a side note, it’s also worth noting that I have seen many “configurations” of systems and tools which basically have developers writing code or modifying code so that a tool meets the customer’s requirement. Isn’t that defeating the point? Tool configuration can get pretty expensive…
Should we be hung up on technology?
Many will say No here, and that we should be focusing on the business needs. As I said, there seems to be two trends in BPM. Keep in mind though, if you select a technology or platform that is too restrictive, then it will have an impact on your business processes, staff and ultimately business itself. No matter what solutions you are looking to utilise, you must have the technology and its capabilities in mind at all times. So we should be hung up on BPM technology and just what the platform can deliver.
Businesses should also have technology in mind across the complete enterprise, some form of technology strategy and roadmap should be in place, easing administration, implementation and making system integration easier.
Alignment with IT capabilities
Business strategy and processes have to be aligned to IT capabilities, and not the other way round. If IT or a technology doesn’t have the capabilities to deliver what you need, then the business will have to make do. Is this right? Probably not, so this is why a good focus on technology is needed, maybe not tools, but the underlying technology. But let’s look at this from a different point of view. Many times I have been involved with projects where IT capabilities have actually highlighted different and more efficient ways of working to the business. The business requirements then change to ensure they can take advantage of the IT capabilities. BPM is probably the most important area of IT where business and IT professionals need to communicate clearly with each other, and actually be involved every step of the way, together…
Does the flowchart and designer tool limit our capabilities?
Whenever we talk about BPM people want to “map” and draw lovely flowcharts to explain a process. This is great at a high level business point of view, but almost always, flowcharts will not show everything that actually goes on. In addition, you can’t really use these to go and explain to each staff member just what they should be doing in terms of work and how they work.
I don’t have a problem with using flow charts to illustrate a process, what I have a problem with is building solutions based on flowcharts / maps via some form of designer tool. This way of working is far too restrictive, in terms of integration, process capabilities and empowerment of staff. The designer is a great tool and way of working for demonstrations. It quickly illustrates how BPM can work for an organisation, and shows how easy it can be to implement. However, it has so many short comings that it actually restricts the way the business can work.
I have talked about the designer a number of times, and the fact that we don’t actually need a designer. We should be using intelligent processes and processes that are capable of being highly adaptive. If you haven’t read this previous post, please have a read through my thoughts on mapping tools: https://andrewonedegree.wordpress.com/2010/03/24/adaptive-bpm-no-mapping-tools/
In short, the designer tool limits capabilities greatly. This is the prime tool that people get hung up on, yet it is a tool I say we do not need.
Being adaptive and the empowerment of staff are the keys to success…
Technology is important. When looking at BPM solutions, think “what can this technology do for us in the real world”, don’t get carried away with pretty designers, fancy tools etc. Technology is important, the tools not so….
If you can leverage a solution that is highly intelligent and highly adaptive, then you increase your process efficiency gains greatly. In addition, you put the people that make your business “tick” at the centre, empowering them to work more efficiently and in a fashion that benefits your customers and you as a business. Think, if your staff members are working away and they come to a point in the process where they need to do something different, if they have a technology that allows them to do this, and to build it into the process for future users, then your customer will receive a great service and your process has grown and captured more of what is going on.
Adaptive BPM solutions sit oddly enough in the middle of the two trends within BPM. The technology and tools available ensure that the processes are constantly evolving; the technology and the available tools show this to the business. Designers and decision makers can then re-engineer these processes, look for efficiency gains and then re-implement. In addition, the people at the centre of the process are empowered and not restricted in the way they can work…
To succeed with BPM, always keep in mind the technology, the people, the process and available tools. I suggest you prioritise these as follows:
- Technology – Is it adaptive? Can it empower staff? Can it integrate?
- People – Can these people work with enough freedom?
- Process – How can we reduce processing time?
- Tools – What tools will help me make decisions