Thursday, 13 September 2007

Understanding the Business Process Overload!

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I am really not sure how many of you are as sad as I am in terms of following Business Process related news as it happens, but true to say there is not a day that goes by without my searching out the latest news and announcements on the subject.

Most writers and Analysts talk of their being over 200 players in the BPM space and 15 to 20 in the BPA sector. Now we are going to have to start rewriting those numbers. In this article I first look at the BPA (Business Process Analysis) market and then the BPM market specifically.

In addition to announcements of new releases from Telelogic, Proforma, and MEGA, just last week Sybase with its PowerDesigner toolkit announced it was joining in the Business Process Modeling space, meaning that players such as Oracle and Rational can't be far behind – in fact over the next 3 months don't be surprised to see modeling tools in all other sectors (Data, UML, Enterprise, Drawing etc) joining the fray.

Now we all know that multiple companies in the same space is good, it provides choice to the user and helps to create a market. The downside however is that when every tool on the market starts to claim that it is the best tool for Business Process Modeling, users actually face more confusion. Especially, when many of those tools are quite obviously better suited to some things than others.

This is where I anticipate a major problem and probably some market polarization occurring. You see many of those tools are probably well suited to describing Business Processes from a highly technical perspective, as required to implement a software system, they are probably easy to use from an IT or technical perspective and they will certainly be of value to some organizations.

On the other hand their potential users out there who are genuinely looking to undertake some type o corporate change project. They want to focus more on linking things like Vision and Mission with Strategy and Value Chains, people for whom descriptions of their business processes and an analysis of these is going to create more than enough return to justify the costs involved.

These people will be more interested in the Organizational and Functional aspects of change than with systems. Typically they will be business users who don't want to be reliant on IT people and who do not wish to become systems experts to use a tool.

For this latter group of people this headlong rush into BPA by vendors is at best going to cause confusion and at worst is going to cause them to throw their hands up in horror and decide that Business Process is not the way for them.

I think the upshot of this will be that within the next 3 to 6 months we can expect to see some further fragmentation of the BPA tools market as vendors of "purer" Business Process Modeling tools seek to distance themselves from the "newcomers" – only time will tell if they can be successful or whether BP will simply be absorbed into the technical market – if they fail then I suggest that we might all be wise to invest our money in stocks – stocks of companies making whiteboards and markers! As we can be sure that the business users of business tools will not be suckered into going the technical route, instead I predict that they will seek to find alternative (and dare I say proven) methods for achieving their goals.

So you have captured, understood, optimized or designed your shiny Business Processes and now you want to use BPM – or do you? There was a time when I thought I understood what BPM was, then I realized that I didn't and so studied again to learn that it was not what I thought it was but something completely different, but still I just about worked it out. Now I realize that I was wrong twice – confused? Well I certainly am!

You see it appears that what I thought was all about a principle (e.g. managing your business based around process rather than function) turns out to have been all about technology all along. It would appear that BPM is really an acronym for Business Process Management Systems, a technology designed to provide executives and managers with an approach to change their business on the fly, to be able to monitor processes in real time and take actions to correct or change directions – although futuristic and not to be used by everyone today the vision and with any other vision has merit and seems to be built on the premise that if we want to run and manage our companies around process the we need a different kind of IT infrastructure to support us. All harmless enough and seems to make some sense.

But then we here that BPM is actually nothing more than the next incarnation of Workflow, but with features and technology to make it more easily accessible to the business user (I hope my CEO is not reading this - I dread the day when he draws a process, pushes the button and suddenly the 200 of us in the company find the way we work has changed overnight! maybe even several times a week!).

Now we are hearing that actually all those package systems we have been buying – ERP such as SAP, Oracle or Baan – or CRM systems such as Siebel – are actually all BPM systems – Funny, I thought they were just large and expensive software packages with tightly embedded software processes that were difficult to change and that dictated we had to change or business to fit the software!

Elsewhere on the BPMG website you will find many articles by people far more able than I, that provide detailed technical breakdowns and product type comparisons, so it is not for me to add my own definitions to theirs. My only purpose is to highlight the fact that it is a minefield out there! And that you should look carefully at the business problems you are trying to address before considering which sector of the Business Workflow ERP CRM Process Management might actually be right for your need never mind which of the vendors you would like to evaluate.

So perhaps you think I am overdoing it? Well I did not even mention the fact that most Portal vendors, Document Management vendors and Content Management vendors along with many others all now appear to be trying to convince us that they do are BPM players too! Perhaps in the end we will wind up accepting that BP should be pervasive and that it actually becomes a feature checkbox on all other products – at least then we can decide whether we want to address Content, Document, Portal, ERP, CRM or Workflow issues, without having to sort through a single toy box like some kind of lucky dip.

Note: This article first appeared on Mark McGregor's series of articles on

Saturday, 1 September 2007

India Week – The Problem With Managers and Management

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I am sorry to tell you that while a quick look at the CEO's of leading companies inside and outside of India will show just how many Indians are highly successful; it does not tell the full story. There is another side to Indian management which is a lot less positive and may even prevent India from growing as she should.

As with anything in life there are many different levels of truth and while what I am about to share may be one of them, because it is anecdotal and based on my limited research it is certainly not an absolute truth. I know there will be many counter arguments to what I am about to say, but if my reading causes just one person to think or act differently then I will feel the rewards will have been worth it.

Firstly, Indian Managers and Leaders need to put a little more effort into continuous learning, the world has changed a lot since they were in University and whilst the internet can be a useful source of information and seminars can provide ideas they are only one source. I was amazed to find by a simple show of hands poll at my seminars across 5 cities in India, that of the three books on Indian success and management that I had read in the previous week, not one person had read them all and one book by no one, one book by around 6 people and one book by 10 people. ( my sample size was around 400). I was also very surprised that for an audience concerned with BPM and Business Improvement that almost no one had read a recent copy of a particular magazine that detailed India as she was now, as she was 60 years ago and as she hopes to be in 10 years time – from a business perspective.

Now I am not suggesting that the people in the rooms were not actively continuing to learn new skills and keep their technical skills up to date. Merely suggesting that perhaps the learning is too narrow and also that there are many lessons to be learned in India about doing better business in India.

So I guess some of the most interesting questions would be around what did I discover? Well I discovered that like managers and executives around the world Indian CEO's say one thing and do another! E.g. in Outlook Business Magazine they asked a number of CEO's what the top 10 things that would prevent them achieving the dream of 2017, number two on the list of potential issues was "The availability of sufficient properly trained and motivated staff". Now, in simple terms if this was really an issue then we would be able to find numerous initiatives underway to mitigate this risk right? Wrong! Again in my simple surveys the announcement of this raised more than a little laughter (another good gauge of reality), and suggested that most companies would only conduct limited training and even then would focus more on price and technical relevance than on quality or value to the organisation and not consider training that broadened the knowledge of the employee. It appears that the worst in this regard in this respect are the Indian IT services companies who appear to see training as an overhead as they chase each other down to the bottom of the pile on price with their customers (but perhaps this a subject for another day).

This training example highlights another trait which became apparent in my reading and in talking with people, Indian managers seem to have higher rates of "denial" than might be seen elsewhere in the world. By this I mean if a company has a slogan like "we are the best multi global provider of widgets at the lowest cost and highest quality" they actually believe it and so tend not to see that they need to fix of change anything, therefore could have a tendency to act with the Ostrich syndrome. The Americans have a saying which Indian managers might like to remember as it may help them on this one "Never believe your own marketing bull***" – of course you have to put up a positive front to the world, but on the inside you have to have a firm grasp on reality and deal with where you are not where you say you are.

My last two observations come from a book called the "Indian CEO". I am still reading this and so there may yet be more insight, the book compares the attitudes and behaviours of Indian CEO's of companies inside India with those of Indian CEO's of companies outside India. Outside of India they have found that in business terms the CEO's are great chess players, making good use of the available talent pool and management at their disposal, like a good general they make use of all of their assets. This contrasts with those inside India who appear more likely to play draughts with their chess pieces e.g. they see everyone else as pawns rather than understand and make use of their strengths.

This tendency may be linked to their second find, which is that Inside India the CEO's appear to have a much lower Emotional Quotient (EQ) and will often talk of "their people" rather than individuals my name, they will also know and understand less about their people, which of course means they can neither use their strengths, nor expect them to be highly motivated as individuals.

Although the books and articles talk about the CEO's we can, I think, reasonably extrapolate that if this behaviour is exhibited by the top management, then it is likely to result in similar behaviours percolating down the organisation. It would also explain why it may prove difficult to get buy in for BPM and other change initiatives within those organisations.

In closing I want to make it very clear that the comments here are not meant as a criticism of Indian Management – hey many of them are better educated and more successful than me!, but to act as a bit of a thought jog, after all these are behaviours and attitudes that can be easily refined and changed if required – provide one is aware of them.

I may be wrong, but I think that more companies would do well to look at the success of Pantaloon the Indian retailer, form what I see and read this much maligned and press abused company appears to already be one jump ahead in actually implementing policies that ensure these traps are avoided. In this I speak as a customer as well as an observer.

Thoughts for the day

  1. How will you take the time to stop talking about people and learn about individuals?
  2. Are you walking the walk or just talking the talk.
  3. If growing people is the number two obstacle for CEO's then what are you spending to invest in people ?