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)

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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





Adaptive BPM…No Mapping tools…

24 03 2010

I have had many a conversation with Max J. Pucher with regards to processes, definitions, traditional BPM, maps, UI’s etc etc. Many points on which we have agreed, and many we haven’t. However, discussion is good for the soul but also in expanding your thinking – nothing is better than bouncing ideas off of another person, and I have found that some of Max’s comments and blog posts (you can read his personal blog here http://isismjpucher.wordpress.com/) do challenge my own way of thinking…

One of the key areas and things he talks about is “adaptive processes” and how processes can be spawn without a traditional BPM map, adapting based on user actions or requirements (when authorised). This effectively allows a new variant of processing to be created at a user level, based on their requirement to process that particular piece of work, there and then…. Now at first I didn’t really follow the points being raised that well, in addition, I couldn’t really grasp the real benefits, all I could see are the negatives. However, this has got me thinking more and more, and how potentially this could work with our own workFile ECM BPM implementation…

Intelligent Maps…

I am a strong believer in intelligent maps, allowing developers to define the actual engine of the process and therefore giving them all the tools they need to integrate the solution with other LOB applications, making the BPM solution ultimately more powerful and useful to the end user. I am not going to change my thoughts on this. However, with intelligent maps I propose that the “map” is the driver behind the process, yes, but this is more of an “engine” rather than the complete car, so to speak…Many BPM products place far too much emphasis on the process map and the business analyst who is trying to define the actual process, for me this is far too restrictive and reduces the intelligence within the actual processing engine (or map) and its capabilities to integrate and automate…

However, Max comments and blog posts have got me thinking, can an intelligent map be adaptive at run time? Can an intelligent map allow a user to spawn new variants or sub-processes?

Adaptive intelligent maps…

Let’s work on some assumptions (I know these are great, but we need a point to start). Let’s presume that 40% of a process has been mapped out in full by a BA. This has been translated by our developer on our BPM platform as an intelligent map, and our BPM solution is running fine. Lets also presume that allocation to “unstructured” case management makes up around another 20% of our requirement. This leaves 40% of a particular group of processes that have slipped through our system to an extent (they could always be assigned to our unstructured case management). As Max explains, in his posts, an adaptive process can cater for the rest, effectively allowing these new processes to emerge from the designed or identified process (by our BA).

When you think of an adaptive map / process in this context, you can see there is real potential and benefit to this “adaptive” thinking…Though I don’t subscribe to everything “adaptive”, I do find this idea of “emerging” processes very compelling…

Where does it fit? Lean? Adaptive? Traditional BPM?

So where does “adaptive” processes fit. The answer, I am not sure. However, it is obvious that adaptive has a lot to offer and bring to the BPM market, more so than Lean for example. With this in mind, only this week I started to get our technical director looking at how we can make our own BPM and intelligent maps more adaptive, responsive and able to provide the capabilities for new processes to emerge….Though this isn’t the complete “adaptive” picture as Max paints, I feel it is a step in the right direction and one that brings benefits from the “adaptive” and “traditional” BPM corners…In addition, can ECM be more adaptive? The answer, YES….