The Abstraction of BPM Maybe It’s Not That Difficult After All

A lot of people I meet from "the real world"—at cocktail parties, kids' sports events, community activities—have a really hard time grasping the abstraction of information management from that of what they do on a day-to-day basis. "Information" and "process" are words they can define, but not necessarily apply to their own work lives. Except for one. I have one friend who is a tradesman—a house painter, to be specific—who gets it. When he looks at a job, he immediately sets his "process-centric" mind to work. Before he even contemplates which tools he'll need, or how much paint to buy, or how many hands to hire, he is thinking about the business process. "We'll need to do this before we do that..." "If we started here, in three weeks we'd be unable to move to there, so we need to think about starting over here..." "If we do this part first, we'll save ourselves enormous time later because of that..."

It's an impressive skill, and very much (I tell him all the time) how all businesses perform, from stock brokerages to hospitals, from wireless telephony providers to oil-exploration organizations.

He, as an individual, is one of the few people from the "outside" who can grasp the abstraction that links his little house-painting operation, in spirit at least, to the largest of the Fortune 25. That, my friends, is a skill worth having.

Business process management (BPM) has progressed from a little-considered backwater, related somewhat to the formerly sexier (and ultimately failed) discipline called "business process reengineering." As anyone will tell you, the reengineering fad came and went because there was way too much emphasis focused on hardwiring rigid workflows and "procedures" (as they are rightly distinct from "processes") into certain human workflows that could have benefited from a little more fluidity and option.

But business process management (BPM) has matured, and with it has matured the marketplace on both the vendor and the customer sides, as I learned in a series of phone calls last week.

"A couple years ago, each vendor was concentrating on its specialty area, its niche. Now, vendors are trying to bring together complete BPM solutions," stated Michael Beckley, vice president of product strategy for Appian. "We're finally getting real business success from production deployments of BPM, enterprisewide. In the traditional technology adoption fashion, companies have engaged with multiple BPM vendors, deploying in different departments and functions. Now we're beginning to see million-dollar enterprise commitments to standardize on BPM process platforms."

Before we drill down to what exactly that means—"BPM process platforms"—let's get a few other opening thoughts from our group of experts (see "Cast of Characters," below).

"We're now seeing actual customer successes," said Laura Mooney, senior director of corporate and product marketing for Metastorm. "Three years ago, we spent a lot of time explaining what BPM was, talking about the concept and how it was different. Now we're promoting the successes. People are understanding what BPM is, and they're sharing results and successes," said Mooney.

Scott Byrnes, VP marketing and product management at HandySoft Global Corporation, said that BPM has already become part of the dialog of business. "Large companies are realizing how central BPM is to the vision of enterprise software. It touches everything. All the acquisitions are evidence of that; people realize that BPM is so central. BPM suites will likely be the ‘business context backbone' for all other complementary applications," he said.

"Based on our our customers' experience so far, we believe the increasing complexity of organizational processes demands that a collaborative work environment provide the foundational support for the BPM strategy," said Sanjay Kumar, director of CDM strategy and application at Interwoven, Inc. "With a virtual collaborative workspace providing contextual information for every step in a business process, users can make informed decisions faster. Organizations can improve responsiveness to customers—both internally and externally—while increasing efficiencies across all projects. By bringing BPM, ECM with collaborative document management (CDM) together, enterprises lay the foundation for a highly collaborative, process-oriented environment in which the management of the project or product lifecycle provides greater transparency in customer interactions."

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