Connectivity, Efficiency, Experiences

23 11 2011

When looking at BPM (Business Process Management) solutions, or talking about BPM the concept, many of us think of how it relates to actual business processes or business goals, cases, targets etc. This is the main aim of BPM, to address how a business achieves a goal or carries out “work”, agreed? Ok, but my observation is, Is this right? Does the term BPM limit our thinking in real sense?

 

Outside of the business

If we take everything that we do towards a desired goal or outcome as a process, then BPM applies to everything we do in life, it’s not just limited to Businesses! For example, our own bodies go through processes every second of every day to achieve a goal. Think how we breathe, there is a distinct process, think how we turn food into energy, a distinct process, think how we run, a distinct mechanical process.

Now these examples are to simply prove a point that processes are around us and a part of our daily lives massively, which means any one process is made up of many others. Me running is a process, but in order for me to run, my body goes through a number of other processes, breathing and turning food into energy. This means businesses should not see their process as “the process”, rather as simply a smaller part of an overall and far bigger customer experience.

 

Real world example needed

To get my point across I want to use a real world example. Ok, I purchase a printer from a store. On checkout I provide that store with some basic information about myself. I then get home, install the printer and start using it. I fill in the warranty card, post that off, and then forget about it. A few days later the product breaks down, and I need to get it replaced. From the point of view of the manufacturer they don’t need to take into account any of the process I have just gone through, in order to kick off the process of dealing with the fault, but should they?

I believe yes.

 

Connectivity

Connectivity of devices and processes can have massive implications on process efficiencies, and the ability for external processes (that may not be directly related) to have a positive effect on our business processes.

First off, connecting and sharing data between different processes obviously provides added efficiencies and data accuracy. If we take our printer example, the process of checking out and paying for my printer should be integrated with the process of me completing a warranty card and informing the manufacturer.  That’s a process I shouldn’t need to be doing, and with improved connectivity of processes and data, I don’t have to. Now relate that back to the process of me returning the faulty printer, you see that process will be improved because of this connectivity in a different process. Both the store, and the manufacturer now know me, the product and the warranty, I don’t need to go through a number of steps at the start of the manufacturer’s faulty product process.

Secondly, device connectivity can have a massive impact on process efficiency, especially when connecting multiple and sometimes very different processes together. In the typical BPM world, do we take this into consideration?

Since the rise of the Smartphone, we have started to take into consideration connectivity to processes from different devices; we now see not just eMail being accessed on our mobile devices, but also ECM concepts along with the ability to actually work. However, when we flit between devices, such as our laptop, tablet, PC and mobile, often we have to do things again. Think deleting emails from your mobile device you have already deleted, think re-downloading a document we were working on etc. These are small things, but they can rack up a lot of time, and frustration amongst your work force. Now think of this from the point of view of a customer? You can see how better connected devices mean we can deliver better connected experiences to our customers, which have an impact on process efficiency.

Connectivity is a big thing, and one of the problems with multiple platforms and operating systems is the lack of connectivity. As a consumer, we like single user experiences, and we now want and like flexibility to do things whenever we want and on whatever device we want. Unfortunately having a different OS on my phone to the OS on my tablet, to the OS on my laptop and PC is not great for connectivity or user experiences. I’m not sure big players such as Google and Apple get this. Apple do it better than Google, and currently Microsoft, they learnt from the disjointed approach of Microsoft in the 90s. However, Microsoft seems to understand this connectivity and single user experience far more now, and they are moving ahead of the others. With Windows 8 and Windows Azure, one connected OS across all devices is only a few months away. That potentially provides massive connectivity bonuses to business and consumers.

 

Efficiency

BPM, APG (Adaptive Process Guidance), ACM (Adaptive Case Management) all aim to help businesses in a number of ways, raising efficiency, increasing standards, increasing accountability, ensuring compliance and improving customer experiences. These are just a few arguments for BPM thinking.

Efficiency is often looked at in terms of processes businesses own. Let’s look at our example process again. The manufacturer can improve the actual faulty printer process internally; it monitors what goes on, tweaks it here and there and improves it. However, external processes and greater connectivity should be leveraged to drastically improve this process further. Make sense?

In order to get a working printer, I the consumer, will follow through a process, which is a bigger process to that which the printer manufacturer has for handling this issue. If we step back, we can see that this process of getting a working printer spans over the store and the manufacturer, but if we step back further it also incorporates the process of me purchasing the printer in the first place. Do you see how a bigger picture of a process now surrounds my manufacturer’s simple process of dealing with my broken printer? If you do, then you can start to see areas in which we can make the manufacturers process of dealing with the broken printer far easier and more efficient than what is currently in place.

Essentially, if along the entire process of me purchasing the printer the manufacturer was thinking about the returns / repairs process, then they would want to get the warranty and customer information at the point of sale. This drastically improves the process efficiency for returns, in terms of internal efficiencies but also from the point of view of the customer, improving their relationship with that store and the brand of printer they have bought. I’m not going to break down the process further, rather I believe I have made my point, that business can improve process by taking into account external processes, especially those of their customers…

 

Experience

This post is about delivering a better customer experience. Leveraging the connectivity potential of devices and the connectivity potential of processes, business is able to improve its own processes. Taking our faulty printer example we can see how improved connectivity leads to external processes improving the manufacturer’s returns / repair process, in terms of efficiency internally and for the customer. We also see how connectivity of devices makes the customer experience far easier, simpler and more efficient, including for the manufacturer.

So with efficiency in mind, we look to greater connectivity, put the two together and you get drastically improved experiences…

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Is there a danger of being too social?

27 06 2011

Social concepts within business have really started to take off, there are number of product offerings that now support social interactions, allowing these social activities to add real value. In the world of BPM and Case Management, this is no different, with many advocates of more adaptive solutions pointing to Social as a way of building process maps / templates. And why not!

 

Social benefit

There are no doubt many benefits of embracing social with BPM and ECM. Think of all the business decisions that get “lost” because they were made in a conversation, the reasoning why a processes is the way it is, lost because it was all decided in a social fashion that was not captured. So the benefit of capturing social interactions is plain to see.

Likewise, allowing business decision makers to make decisions in a social fashion is also an important step in the right direction, especially if you want your processes to be able to adapt to real time needs.

The problems…

So what is the problem? Let’s look at capturing social interactions to understand why a decision was made. The problem is the same as not capturing it at all, the problem is that of not finding that information (in this case lost due to information overload). To put it very simply, if we capture far too many social interactions that relate to a particular business decision, then we find it hard to pick out the key valuable information found within those interactions that lead to that decision. Sure we will be able to find it in time (which is far better than it being lost for ever), but how long will it take, what do you do if you have certain time constraints to meet?

Now, let’s look at the problem of too many people being involved in a design / adaptive capabilities of a particular process. What we have is individual’s perspectives and needs, which may not necessarily all align with each other or the business. All these people have input, and they can adapt a process based on that social input. The problems arise when a process adapts to a need, but then is “adapted further” because of another need, but in reality they overlap. That saying, too many cooks spoil the broth is very true. What we see here is the benefits of social being lost, and processes that should adapt to meet the business need quicker and more accurately, actually become more inefficient and stray from the business need.

 

The solution?

Like most things in life, moderation is the key. I mean this in terms of how much of social we embrace, and in the sense that we moderate what we are capturing. We need to capture relevant social interactions, and we probably need to moderate some of these and drop them out, capturing just the relevant social interactions and not everything that goes with being social. Let’s face it, how many of us have Twitter streams we simply cant keep up with, and how much of that social information would we actually like to keep?

We also need to be moderate in allowing people to socially have influence over process definitions. Though it sounds great, all these people socially engaging to define business processes, it can lead to mass confusion, missing business needs, SLAs and essentially, become very inefficient. So keeping strict control over contributors is key, just as it is to constantly analyse process performance and process alignment with the business need. Processes shouldn’t be created and forgotten, rather constantly reviewed, analysed and refined. This is where being social really puts you ahead of the game, but only if you use it wisely…

 

Remember sometimes we have to start with a blank bit of paper and be a solitary figure in a room to start refining processes…





All in the process

25 05 2011

Often I talk about adaptive processes, the need to be flexible within our implementation of processes, but I haven’t spoken much about the power of processes. By this I mean the potential processes can have on impacting an organisation, or even how we live our lives as consumers. That’s pretty powerful stuff.

When I speak of processes, please don’t think of a defined process map, or some case with defined tasks. These are implementations of a process, not the process. When I speak of processes I always mean a very high level view of how something is done. This post is all about this type of process thinking…

 

Process definition

We get used to following a certain pattern on how to do things, the way something is done, this even applies to how we discover or design processes. How many of you use a BPM designer tool to design processes, or to communicate them? Working in this way means we can often shut the door on process innovation and innovative thinking in general.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t use such tools, but we shouldn’t be using them right from the start, rather sit down with a blank bit of a paper and a pencil…By using designer tools, or working with processes we know well, it means that in many cases we actually refine a process, rather than redefine or create new. The problem here is not one of flexibility, or capabilities to adapt, rather the way the business, individuals and teams believe the best way of doing things is. I need an example…

Take “check out” at a supermarket, how long has it taken someone to look at the checkout process and say “actually, why don’t we allow the customer to check themselves out, why don’t we let them operate the till?”. Let’s face it the technology has been there since the POS was invented to do this, but no one has really changed the actual check out process until recently…What has been happening is that we all presume the current process in general is the best way of doing it. It’s only that someone stepped back and re-evaluated the process in general that we end up with self-checkout.

 

All in the process

When we look at processes, no matter how flexible they need to be, there still is a definable process, once you step back and look at the whole problem. The trick is not to define in minute detail a process, nor to take a process and simply refine it, but to actually step back, take some time and re-evaluate the complete process from end to end. The best way to do this is to throw away what you know about the process, throw away any preconceptions of how the process will work, and start with a blank sheet of paper. Ask yourself what is the business problem? What is the start point? What is the end goal? Once you have done this, throw together some very loose and high level processes to achieve the business goal. I like to make them as different as possible as this often illustrates to me the massive variations that are possible, it also forces me to think outside of the box so to speak and I find, spark some innovative thinking. If you do this well, you will have a number of very different processes on your bits of paper, only then should we try to put some flesh on our process bones.

When fleshing out processes I then move to designer tools, but again I don’t ever want to enforce too much, nor put in any more detail than I need to. Once you have done this, then you can really look and evaluate your very different processes for the same business problem. It maybe (like our supermarket checkout) that more than one of these processes will be used to meet the business need, or that you opt for one in particular. The point is though, that you evaluate the processes in general, at a high level.

Innovative thinking and processes can make a massive difference to a business goal, it can even flesh out new ways of doing business, new ways for customers to purchase from you, open up new doors of revenue / savings and spark new life in general into an organisation. That’s the power of processes when you look at them at a very high level.

Implementation

When you come to implementation, that’s when you look to tools that aren’t rigid, solutions that can adapt and allow process refinement by the end user. After all, the end user will be the ones that make the process work, and work well. End users need to be empowered by your software solution to enable them to carry out your business process. If your end users are restricted by the software, if they are restricted in their thinking, then your innovation is lost, your processes ability to meet that business goal diminished and the benefits start falling away. End users are the key to success with any business process…

This is when I start talking about Adaptive Process Guidance, adaptive capabilities and flexible implementations….(see other blogs J)





Adaptive Working Environment (@WE)

17 02 2011

In previous posts I have spoken about the importance of a holistic approach to delivering IT to business, which aligns IT solutions more closely to the actual needs of the business. I have also posted about the importance of being highly adaptive and flexible to business needs, which ultimately includes the needs of end users and the most important of them all, customers…So with all this in mind, Adaptive Working Environment (@WE) makes a lot of sense, if you understand what it is…

It was interesting to read Max J. Pucher post on ACM is Dead! Long live ADAPTIVE as many of his points regarding ADAPTIVE are areas I have been working in / towards for some years now. Sure the terms are a little different and even the areas are (I have come from a far more ECM orientated silo) but many of the points he raises about ADAPTIVE can be applied to not just the areas we frequent (CRM, BPM etc). My previous post touched on some of this, and I thought it was time I spoke about the holistic and adaptive concept I have been working on and off for the past 8 years now…

What’s the concept?

8 years ago, myself and a colleague had the idea of delivering a single platform for ECM, CRM and BPM. This isn’t that radical really, but the concept was to ensure that it was a single platform, no silos loosely related requiring integration, rather a single platform that delivered these functions.  We also wanted the platform to be as highly flexible as possible, allowing end users to change its structure, change classifications and even definitions of processes / work that had to be done. That concept started its life as project workFile, which has since become a company in its own right. The concept itself has gone through iterations too, with new “terms” being used to describe our big idea, new methods and even new approaches to delivering on that concept. But the concept has remained, a single, highly flexible platform that looks at a business problem in a holistic fashion.

Now Im not saying this is something unique, and there are vendors out there with the same holistic approach.  But what I spoke about many years ago, and what the drive is at workFile now, is an Adaptive Working Environment (@WE), which is more than just an adaptive mindset, or an adaptive holistic approach to CRM, or BPM or whatever…

The Adaptive Working Environment drive if you like, is to embrace both adaptive and holistic thinking fully. So thats in terms of a single platform, how that platform is architected, integration capabilities and delivery through a single extensible user interface. With the areas I work in that means a single platform for adaptive ECM functionality, adaptive CRM and of course Adaptive Process Guidance (APG) in place of traditional BPM.

But an Adaptive Working Environment (@WE) needs to be more; it needs to make life easier for the end user in terms of human computer interactions, so to do that, a single user experience is required. When I talk of a single user experience I mean this to be delivered through a single application, not multiple applications accessing the same platform, but a single application delivering a single user experience. That single application also needs to provide integration possibilities, have extensible capabilities so that other solution screens can be built, and delivered, via that single interface. How much simpler is that for the end user?

But we still need to do more to be completely adaptive to the business needs. We need to be aware that business will have many more applications and solutions running, many of which may need to be integrated with either tightly or loosely. That integration should be made as simple as possible, and as flexible as possible. With this in mind, the @WE (Adaptive Working Environment) needs to be built completely on a Service Orientated Architecture (SOA). A good SOA coupled with an extensible user application, provides the maximum flexibility in integration requirements.

With this kind of thinking we are delivering an Adaptive Envrionment for users to work within (hence Adaptive Working Environment). This environment empowers staff fully, it allows the business to utilise their users brains as assets, and it ultimately leads to a more efficient business that provides great customer services.

 

Can @WE be used for other silos?

Well I have termed @WE for the areas in which I have been working in, so that’s the adaptive holistic approach to CRM, ECM and (in my case) APG. We also use the term to convey other important points, such as being built soley on a SOA, and providing that single user experience that is highly extensible. 

However, the point is to be holistic and adaptive to your approach to whatever, and taking that as the point, then Max’s definition of ADAPTIVE is what we / you are embracing. As I said, we use the term @WE to describe not only our “concept” but in many ways how that concept is implemented (built on SOA, single extensible UI). 

I would argue that any platforms that embrace ADAPTIVE thinking (not necessarily related to ECM, BPM, CRM etc) can be termed ADAPTIVE, perhaps we should ask Max. I would agree though that if they are adaptive, holistic and then implemented using nothing but SOA and deliver a single extensible UI, then they are an @WE…

 

The key @WE elements to remember

To deliver an @WE, IT solution providers need to carry out the following, which will align their platform far closer to the actual needs of business:

  • Embrace a holistic stance / approach (address the complete business problem)
  • Embrace complete adaptive capabilities
  • Build their  application on a solid SOA, providing clear integration possibilities
  • Deliver the option of a single user experience that is extensible to the possible integration needs of the business

If IT does this, then we are delivering Adaptive Working Environments to the business and end user…





Long live ADAPTIVE

15 02 2011

Today I read Max J. Pucher’s blog post “ACM is Dead! Long live ADAPTIVE!” and I really wasn’t surprised…Many are surprised though, as it sees one of ACMs strongest supporters leaving the camp, in a…well rather public fashion. But should we be surprised?

For a long time Max has spoken of ADAPTIVE capabilities and goals that reach beyond silo approaches, so why have these defined in an a three letter acronym that essentially means only a fraction of what he conveys…After all ACM is Adaptive Case Management, and that doesn’t make me think of:  

“a globally encompassing technology approach that is linked to business architecture and strategy” – Taken from Max’s post.

So why is ADAPTIVE the key term

Well read the article for yourself to hear from Max. But for me, adaptive capabilities are at their heart, about returning power to end users and putting them at the centre of how business operates, empowerment is the term and is really the only route to great business efficiency and customer services.

So with this in mind adaptive capabilities stretch far beyond Case Management, BPM and whatever else you want to throw into the mix. Business is not about IT based silos, or IT platforms or applications…Business is about getting things done, and therefore requires a holistic approach to platforms, architectures, solutions and applications. But let’s be more specific, this holistic approach needs to be highly adaptive too, in order to empower the business users…I think the term ADAPTIVE conveys this thinking far more than ACM, so horray, ACM is dead, long live ADAPTIVE…

Adaptive Working Environment (@WE)

This is a concept that we thought up at workFile almost 6 years ago now (though then workFile was a fledgling product of One Degree). Sure it has grown and changed a little, but in essence the concept was, and is, a single adaptive platform for business needs, that brings together typical silos such as CRM, ECM and BPM.

In realising this concept, the “adaptive capabilities” have often been the issue, especially for BPM. The adaptive requirements have seen us move from a typical BPM implementation to one that leverages “intelligent” business process maps that are built by developers, along to a far more flexible approach now, with APG (Adaptive Process Guidance). It has also seen us move away from a silo module approach to a single solution platform with a single user interface…

So what workFile terms as @WE (Adaptive Working Environment), I believe Max is driving at with ADAPTIVE (though Maxs products are out there to purchase and workFile Vision 2.0 is only at an alpha state). If anything, ADAPTIVE could be far wider reaching than @WE. ADAPTIVE thinking has the potential to change the way all platforms and applications are structured and delivered, in essence, how business users work with IT solutions (if we remember not to pin it to a particular silo, methodology or platform)…Now I wonder if that is what Max is conveying, or if I am reading too much into the whole ADAPTIVE thinking?

If you want to know more on workFile @WE concept then have a quick read at http://www.workfilesuite.com/what-is-@WE.aspx