What the f**k is BPM ? Two years on

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I’ll start by making a bold statement: BPM must die.

There. I’ve said it. Move on.
It’s not a prediction. Well, of sorts it is, because for over a decade it’s limped on and it’s time to put a bullet in the old mare. I’ve spent the last week or two looking over what I wrote two years ago and I could repost them all over the course of the next three months and they’d all still strike home.

So what does this mean ?
It means BPM has never really gotten out the gate as something unique and fell flat on its face at the first hurdle. Why do you think it’s such a hard sell internally or to new clients ? Because there is no real market niche (or to put it in another way, the market niche created for BPM is so vague it shouldn’t exist in its own right between the likes of CRM, CMS and ERM).

Sibling Rivalry

A decade of petty squabbling and in-fighting between BPM and the other process brothers hasn’t really gotten us anywhere, has it ? We can’t win an argument over Lean and Six Sigma because they have a defined faith, they instill the same beliefs on the organisation we do, they set up Centres of Elitism (CoE) and preach process. BPM is still spending its nights up it’s own Mount Sinai and it’s not likely to emerge any time soon with defined Commandments. As a practice and methodology BPM is a mess, it’s nothing more than a weak extension of Lean/ Sigma/ Deming and borderline Enterprise Architecture thrown in for effect. BPM 101 courses and certificates are everywhere and frankly are not recognised outside their own training rooms. It’s awash with self-appointed gurus and wizards. When someone turns up with a Hogwarts Degree in Process Alchemy then I’ll know once and for all we’ve lost the plot.

I’ve tried several times in the past to “unite the [process] clans” but the resistance is incredible. I didn’t want to run it, just broker the conversations between parties but people weren’t willing to even go that far.

Don’t bang on about “holistic approach” and “strategy and customer alignment”, sorry but that’s hype you sell to the Client in a vane attempt to persuade them to buy your product and service. A good CRM system will sort that out for you with a strong process improvement culture. Is that BPM ? No. So why call it BPM…..

Destination Eschaton

So where is BPM really heading these days ? Seriously.

The methodology is dead. Just face up to it and accept that the more established process methods are the right way to go. Right now I’m in the middle of a client with a Lean start up culture. Talk BPM to them and they look blankly at you because you’re using the same terminology they are.

  • Customer: check
  • Process improvement: check
  • Alignment to Customer strategies: check
  • Workforce culture: check
  • Process champions: check

So what is BPM if it’s not Lean or creating a process improvement culture to customer strategy ? Again, stop hiding behind your consultancy sales pitch, there’s nothing more holistic about BPM than what the client is already doing.

“Seamless interactions with customers across all channels will increase sales. In depth customer information/history across all channels at point of interaction with customer will increase sales.”

BPM ? Actually it’s SCM but you’ll be forgiven for thinking it’s in the realm of BPMs aim for Customer and process.

As for BPMS. Well, if we all accepted the fact that BPM is BPMS then we’d all be a little happier in the definition stakes. But again face facts, BPMS is on it’s last legs. The niche carved for it is as grey as the methodology approach. A pure BPMS has so many arms and legs, connectors and integrators, it’s nothing more than The Thing on digital steroids, it assimilates and copies most corporate functions with the promise of workflow, dynamic case management and customer focused processes. But so does salesforce.com so why aren’t they BPM ? I wrote two years ago about how they understood process better than half the vendor circuit when they created their Visual Process Manager.

Don’t go on about how using Social technologies has broadened BPMs appeal. So now we have communication and collaboration channels internally and externally for process improvement and customer engagement…..oh hang on, it’s CRM again…..Social BPM is almost a last gasp attempt to move with the times, the last course of antibiotics before the fever finally takes over but even that is nothing more than an internal CRM system for a more chatty Six Sigma hit squad using Visio. The point of social has been completely missed.

Records management, content management, case management they all have a process based back end, they might not offer a glossy interface or UIX that looks visually appealing for modeling but they offer things so similar it’s confusing for people. Granted Dynamic Case/ Adaptive Case (FFS we can’t even agree on a new term) is interesting because of the amount of flexibility it creates and I really want to see this run but in order to increase its adoption try to pull it out of the realms particle physics please, remember, you’re claiming to offer BPM…..sit wee Jeannie down at her terminal and explain it to her like you do with the Analyst crowd and watch her go into a coma. Case should go it alone or at least accept it falls into a market vertical that already exists.

Now we have Gartner and Forrester lashing and tying BI onto the BPM mast and creating yet another four letter word for the sake of a few Whitepapers. Business Execution, Intelligent Business Operations, iBPMS…..And we’re back to The Thing again…….

Death of a Salesman

BPM has become almost invisible because it’s a confused acronym. The amount of times I’ve read ‘What is the ROI of BPM in…..’ or ‘Does anyone have a case study for the ROI of BPM in…..’ across LinkedIn groups is getting tedious. For one, if you’re so sure of BPM as it’s own stand up niche then why isn’t this more readily available ? One of the biggest problems with BPM is the fact it’s so goddamn insular. You fail at implementations and business case proposals because you just don’t share the facts with each other. You can’t sell what you can’t see. It’s like staring at those awful 3D blob pictures and expected to see a unicorn dancing in the everglade, yet you expect the client to do the same for BPM. Because BPM has pitched itself out to be a something for everyone, the Jack of all trades of the organisation, it’s turned itself into the master of none. Who’s to blame ? I think we know the answer.

Talking of failed implementations (and I’m talking BPMS here) another big blocker to BPM ever reaching the championship table is the reputation it’s given itself. Like a poor poker player you only ever hear of the occasional win. The sales team do their bit to win the client and throw all in with the analyst buzzword bingo sheet in the hope they hook the big fish, but how many times are they oversold the product for where they are in their process thinking ? Maturity is something which is completely ignored during a sales pitch, as is the audience intended for the tool. Like so many failed companies, vendors have become too close and precious to their product to be able to think outside of their own software packaging. I dread unboxing BPM software for a client, it’s the complete reverse of running home with an Apple product. I’d love to see a parody on YouTube…..

Analyse This !

This wouldn’t be a BPMredux post without taking a pop at my favourite audience; the analysts. I admire them greatly and am fond of a few given our interactions but please take a good look. They’re driving the industry in the wrong direction, purely from a vested interest to keep to niche alive and well so they can write about it and make a quick killing from vendors and clients alike. I was given a cheat sheet by a client for a BPM tender with the usual analyst selected vendors pulled from a report and I debunked them all because they didn’t fit the client needs but the fact they immediately turn to a body of people who are perceived as fonts of wisdom is so so wrong. At what point did we place them on the highest pedestal ? Analysts have become parodies themselves, they no longer practice so rely on second and third hand information, they’re as out of touch with the coal face as the CEO of a large company is. It’s not so much a case of analysis as revenue generation now. Pay to Play is not a viable model in an industry where information is freely gotten hold of and shared. It’s not just BPM this is a problem for but since we’re on the subject the vendor community seriously need to wake up to this. If two thirds of you left their books would you really see your business decline ? If you did then you have to question why you became so dependent on a third party for your business, that is not a good model for enterprise or profit. Break the Hype Cycle and ride the Wave to a different shore.

Speed Dating

Let’s face it, conferences are nothing more that a meat market for vendors masked with the promise of tall stories of success to learn from. This practice really needs to stop, it’s dying already but please give it the lethal injection. In the same way the analysts throw lightning bolts from the heavens (or so you perceive them to…) the conference circuit has grabbed you by the short and curlies for years now. Pay to become a Cubic Zirconia sponsor and I’ll throw you a lead or two. Clients are pulled in with the lure of learning all about BPM and are then accosted by a pack of hungry vendors smelling a kill, it’s like a feeding frenzy for sales sharks. Looked at LinkedIn recently ? It’s become the same. And the conference organisers are tapping you now for a list of who to showcase as a speaker, are you getting a cut for doing their work ? Suspect not…. And then there’s the topics…..it’s BPM….no it’s not, it’s a Lean implementation…..ah sorry, no, it’s a Six Sigma cost reduction project…..just what the hell is the message ? See, IT’S NOT BPM. Even the whipping boy of the UK banking world, the FSA, are trying to tell firms to move to a more customer-focused way of treating their fanbase, but I don’t hear specific BPM messages being sent out by them because they’re already covered by more established ways of looking at process and customers.

Want something that works ?
Just organise a vendor shootout and invite people along. It’s transparent, they know they’ll expect a sales pitch but they get to see what you’ve got. It’s worked in the past. It’s more focused. And you don’t have to sit and listen to the same people year in year out congratulating themselves and offering you their CV.

Acquiring Minds

It’s a tough game selling BPM, the inevitable will happen and the small players will be bought over. Some seek it out willingly, there’ll be one or two this year for sure, it’s no bad thing. But in order to survive ditch BPM and concentrate on the verticle that you’re good at. There are players with a strong Oil & Gas reputation, exceptional Healthcare stats, why bother with Financial Services when it’s already saturated ? Stick to what you know and build on it, you’ll be unbeatable, you’ll create and evolve solutions for that market that will be well beyond some capabilities needed for others so why sell the Ferrari to another vertical when the client wants a bus ? Leave the BPM vague brochureware behind and start to become something again.

It’s the same for those who are really just Business Process Analysis tools trying to parade as BPM. If you have a repository, if that’s all you can accomplish, if your workflow is a pseudo-add on compared to the rest, just leave it to those who know how to play better than you instead of struggling on. Become BPA and be excellent at it.

So, the BPM market will die off but the message will become a lot stronger for it because there’s no longer a wooly niche to pitch for growth in. You’ll have a defined area. Players will reduce, those that remain will flounder as the tide swings against them. Change is inevitable. Buy a CRM company and learn more about how to handle the customer than you ever did with BPM.

Space, no longer the Final Frontier

Some advice for BPM start-ups. Don’t. The world doesn’t need you. Run a p0rn website, you’ll make more money and the CEO of every company will probably subscribe faster than they would with BPM. When BPM dies off it’ll leave a space, but this space isn’t infinite and being empty doesn’t mean it needs filled again.

Do Not Resuscitate

Ok ok, I’m getting to the end of a very long overdue rant. Suffice to say, BPM has become a little old and unwanted, it’s like a senile and confused relative you visit once a month out of duty but in the back of your mind you’ve already signed the DNR order. Why do you think there’s so much resistance to new blood and innovation in the BPM industry ? It’s down to the old guard I’m afraid, and you pay for their life support machine.

For while I said BPM needed to grow up and evolve, I was wrong, some evolutionary paths just end abruptly because there was nowhere for it to go, it’s the same with BPM, there really isn’t anywhere for it to go. Perhaps the evolution is the branch into an existing market, and the mixing of two business DNA strands to become something stronger and more adaptive. CRM and BPM should get married and have kids, then let the kids evolve rather than remain overbearing parents clinging to youth.

Don’t give the Customer what they want

Final thought, and one taken from the late Steve Jobs: don’t give the Customer what they want, by the time you build it they’ve moved on and want something else.
BPM is still in that phase, it’ll forever be in that phase. A step behind everyone else. For all the reasons cited and more.

And for those very same reasons, BPM must die.

Live with it.

Footnote: I received an interesting InMail message from the owner of a LinkedIn group threatening to remove me from LinkedIn entirely. It was disappointing that rather than offer a similarly open and constructive challenge and criticism to the blog post they instead took to cheap threats. I think it proved my point nicely and also showed that without healthy challenge in the industry it will become stagnant.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Theo Priestley
Theo Priestley is Vice President and Chief Evangelist at Software AG, responsible for enabling the marketing and voice of the industry's leading Business Process, Big Data/ In-Memory/ Complex Event Processing, Integration and Transaction suite of platforms. Theo writes for several technology and business related sites including his own successful blog IT Redux. When he isn't evangelizing he's playing videogames, collecting comics and takes the odd photo now and then. Theo was previously an independent industry analyst and successful enterprise transformation consultant.

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