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

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