Who’s On First?
Business process management (BPM) has long been the domain of the line-of-business managers who directly benefit from process automation initiatives. Stands to reason; efforts to create efficient business processes logically emerge from the groups who are commissioned to either (a.) save money; or (b.) do something better; or (c.) all the above. But that very inducement to effect change at a department-by-department pace has led to many problems for information technology (IT) staffs. And they haven't always taken kindly to it.
There is an underlying contradiction facing your organization. On one hand, it is imperative that line-of-business units perfect their operations, one by one, to meet business objectives. And yet, taking a department-bydepartment approach can lead to the same over-complexity and productivity drag that we all know results from the creation of "silos of automation." It's the biggest challenge facing your business. Luckily, it is also the target at which the BPM vendor marketplace is taking its best shot.
"BPM is a horizontal application," says Dan Ternes, director of product strategy at TIBCO. "It's not like buying a loan system or a claims application, or some other vertical application. BPM does not come on a CD."
BPM is, in fact, an abstraction. Dan Ternes is right; it's not a shrink-wrapped product. It is not a business application. And yet, for most organizations, it begins as a solution for a single point of pain. BPM is the sum of many things working in tandem, but it is no single, identifiable "thing." And this elusive quality makes BPM a particularly difficult subject to investigate.
It's almost mystical. "BPM is not just technology," says Ternes. "It's how you think about your business operations and the management theory behind them. It's more than just the process itself. If you just implement a new process, you're only getting a portion of what BPM is trying to offer."
"BPM is part philosophy—the power of the organization resides in the business processes themselves," adds vice president, product marketing for BPM products and markets at FileNet, Chris Preston. "Nobody ever says ‘I have a BPM problem.' They say, ‘I want to drive productivity by 20% and reduce costs by 30%.'"
This strange blend of identifiable business performance and vague business philosophy may be difficult to embrace, but it's not the first time such a mysterious element has been introduced, and then successfully absorbed, into the zeitgeist. "There was a time—a long time ago—when databases were strange, too," Michael Beckley, co-founder and vice president of product strategy for Appian Corporation, reminds us. "Database was also an abstraction. The idea of pulling data out of a program and sharing it among various other applications was weird. The idea that we create a process engine that separates process definition from an application, and shares process definitions across multiple applications, is also new. Many times we're introducing the concept to clients.
" Kevin Spurway, VP, marketing and solutions at Appian, agrees with his colleague: "Process discipline is, in a lot of ways, like the introduction of the spreadsheet. Like then, people are becoming more familiar with process modeling from a business perspective, and by tying these disciplines together, they are becoming the bridge between IT and business."
Beckley adds: "BPM is emerging because it fills a need, not because we're so clever to have thought of it. It fills the critical need to distribute and orchestrate work across previously incompatible applications, databases, infra infrastructures, organizations, countries...all those borders and barriers are breaking down because we can now build and share processes separately from the underlying technology."
Whose Side Are You On?
Just as the abstraction of "process" is new ground, the way in which BPM is deployed within the organization is subject to interesting new interpretation.
"The business side is actually much farther along in its ‘process thinking' than the technology is ready to support," says Appian's Beckley. "That's not unusual; both outsourcing and business process reengineering were trends that started 10 to 20 years ahead of the technology that could support them."
Laura Mooney, director of corporate and product marketing for Metastorm, goes along with that assessment of the market's level of education: "With an increasing number of vendors in the market, plus more attention from the analysts and press, we're starting to see a more educated buyer," says Mooney. "They still have the pressing business problem as their primary focus, but they realize now that a BPM solution might be the answer. Two or three years ago, they had no idea what BPM was; they just wanted to fix their order-management or their customer service problem. Now they know that buying a BPM solution is a better longterm decision than a buying a point solution for the particular business need."
TIBCO's Dan Ternes remembers the "good old days." "Our field has traditionally focused on the business side, and we saw a lot more success when we were engaged with the businesspeople, speaking about value and ROI. The flip side is what we're doing now, talking to IT about J2EE and EAI and ASP and .Net...technology things."
The increasing presence of IT in the "traditional" business-solutions decision-making process is perhaps the most remarkable development in the BPM space of them all. Forget technology, forget the derivative of "process rules" from the process itself...the most amazing thing that has emerged is the gradual overtaking of strategic oversight and governance from business and corporate executives by the IT department. Who woulda thunk it?
"The IT groups that understand the applicability of BPM across the enterprise are becoming internal sponsors that focus on solving business problems and also act as liaisons among business units, taking ownership of the infrastructure, hoping to leverage best practices along the way," points out Tony Pasma, vice president, solution consulting at Global 360. "These are the forward-thinking groups who get in front of the bus, and let the business folks know there is an internal group that can help them solve problems," Pasma says.
"There's been a trend toward businesssavvy IT departments for quite some time," points out FileNet's Preston. "IT acts as a service bureau for the rest of the organization. In order to serve their internal customers, they need to be in tune with the needs of the departments. IT has to have a greater degree of interaction; line-of-business people are focused only on their specific realm. They're not looking broadly. "But there are several more challenges for the CIO," continues Preston. "First, it falls to him or her to understand how to tap into the advantages of the technology, and at the same time roll up the needs of the rest of the organization. The CIO is also trying to reduce complexity in the organization; they don't want ‘Heinz 57' varieties of systems out there, because that's a drag on performance. They also are tuning in to the fact that process and content do in fact go together. So it's up to the CIO to figure out whether to engage several different vendors, or to focus on a basic infrastructure that somehow supports it all. It's tough."
Michael Beckley agrees: "Two years ago we sold to business users—BPM wasn't the cause of the deal, it was the effect of the deal. They weren't looking for BPM...they wanted to solve a business problem, and BPM was just the best way to do it. IT involvement then was a secondary consideration; the deals were driven by business users," he says.
"In the last two years, we're selling directly to the IT organizations," Beckley continues. "IT has business problems on the agenda, and they're looking to knock them off using BPM as the technology to do it. We're seeing more enterprise BPM deals, which are typically larger than departmental workflow deployments."
Laura Mooney concurs: "A couple of years ago, you had no choice but to sell at the department level. People didn't understand BPM. But lately there is an uptake in the amount of revenues coming from our installed base. Which means word is getting out (to other departments) about the results they're getting.
"We still see business problems," she continues, "but we're seeing more IT directives for BPM that look at it as a corporate decision and an overall infrastructure buy rather than a department-level budget item. You can't hit them over the head with it in the first couple of meetings; we still have to prove we address their specific business problem. But it helps to raise the level of discussion up the chain to get higher level managers who look beyond their own four walls to see the value this adds to the rest of the business."
The IT involvement is, increasingly, unavoidable. "Even if the business user drives the initial implementation, IT will get word of it, and will want to get involved to make sure it fits with the current infrastructure," Mooney adds. "When that happens, they're the ones who see the applicability across other users. Face it, they probably already have users all over beating them up for a solution. That's how it becomes enterprise-wide."
A Team Player
SO, where does this leave us, vis a vis who owns the typical BPM implementation? Well, if I've learned anything, it's that there is no such thing as a "typical" implementation. But, there are indications that a new organizational structure is emerging to deal with the cross-disciplinary nature of BPM.
Global 360's Tony Pasma describes it this way: "The forward-thinking organizations are putting cross-functional committees in place to establish governance procedures. We have customers who take a ‘think globally, act locally' kind of approach. The IT organizations are trying to leverage the technology across the board, and are taking a more holistic approach. They have to bring applications in line with a long-term strategy. This sharedservice type of model allows them to leverage BPM as a platform."
"Companies already have cross-functional teams, involving IT and businesspeople and finance. They usually have some internal term for it—the ‘WINS initiative' or whatever it might be—and we have to translate it to our terms," explains Beckley. "We just let them call it whatever they want! As long as we understand what we bring to the solution."
Laura Mooney adds: "One of our customers has created a central board, made up of IT, business, finance, executives, etc. that meets regularly to review requests. They've taken a sort of ‘process center of excellence' approach." But she's aware that such enlightenment is not universal. "That's definitely forward-thinking; that's not the norm in most organizations. A lot of companies are still struggling with the change-management issues."
"I don't think there's a single sales approach; it depends on the culture of the organization," concludes Beckley. "One thing is true; there's a much greater familiarity in the marketplace about BPM. In the past, we were educating organizations about BPM. Now, we assume there's a BPM initiative already in place...the question is: Who's running it?"
Cast of Characters
Michael Beckley, co-founder and VP, product strategy and
Kevin Spurway, VP, marketing and solutions, Appian
Laura Mooney, director, corporate and product marketing, Metastorm
Tony Pasma, VP, solution consulting, Global 360
Chris Preston, VP, product marketing for BPM products and markets, FileNet
Dan Ternes, director of product strategy, TIBCO