Tuesday, 29 January 2008

The Three M’s of BPM

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It used to be quite simple, we used to have and do BPM right? Then of course we learned that we did not do BPM but instead BPM, now owe are being told that it is not BPM or indeed BPM that we need to worry about but instead BPM – confused? Well I certainly am!

So let's rewind a little bit, in the beginning BPM was used as the acronym to refer to Business Process Modeling, then software vendors decided to change the landscape, those without modeling capability but wanting to muscle in on the Business Process act decided that they would offer and market Business Process Management solutions as a way to sell their execution approach to the market whilst still being able to claim they were involved with BPM.

Now we see that another class of vendor who feel threatened by the mind share that these execution companies are garnering feel that it is time to change the game again! They have decided that they to want to play in the BPM space but have neither the modeling capability of the initial players nor the agile execution engines of the second tier – so their answer, simple! Just persuade the world that what they need is Business Performance Management, thus meaning that they can differentiate their offering but still ride on the mind share for BPM built by the previous two groups.

The end result of all this, total and utter confusion! How on earth can three so different solutions, each to different problems, all claim to be BPM solutions? All that can be achieved is confusion in the marketplace and in the end a lack of credibility for the BPM acronym. For vendors in the latest group this serves their purpose well. They are nearly all very large players with a very definite agenda, to strangle at birth any potential threats to their monopolistic positioning and to ensure they can continue their cozy long term relationships with their customers.

If we step back a little and look at the propositions we can see that there are of course merits in all of the approaches and solutions, it is merely that they address different issues or problems faced by the modern organization.

Firstly, BPM as in modeling, you can't manage what you can't measure and you can't measure what you can't see. So it makes sense that before doing anything else you need to capture the information on what processes you perform, how they are carried out and who performs them. Such knowledge is crucial if you want to manage or measure around process, furthermore it is critical if you want to make changes, or assess the impact of change. Due to the complexity of modern organizations this involves more than just sketching out a few pictures in a drawing tool. It requires powerful modeling capabilities with cross linking of people, process, data, locations and resources. It is exactly for this type of understanding and analysis that Business Process Modeling as a paradigm was born.

Secondly, BPM as in Management, in the second wave of BPM the emphasis was on delivering the ability to simply manage their business by enabling business people to "re-route" or alter processes "on the fly" thereby creating highly flexible organizations that could move into new markets or reorganize by simply pushing a few buttons. These second wave vendors in the main suggested that the modeling of the first wave was over complicated and unnecessary and instead provide simplistic process visualization techniques. Now such vendors have "grown up" and realized that having nothing more than visual representation of software processes is not enough and many are starting to either provide more powerful modeling capabilities or partnering with vendors from the first wave to provide more complete solutions.

All is far from perfect in this world of course as the second wave vendors are still in the main trying to find ways of implementing software systems rather than actually enabling you to address both the automatable and the non-automatable aspects of your organization. They also still do not assist in helping you deal with the people or cultural aspects of change which form a major part of any initiative to manage your business around processes.

Thirdly, BPM as in Performance, yes in the third wave we leave the "M" for management and instead change the "P" from Process to performance. Why? Well, a quick look at the vendors espousing the technique shows they are more into package solutions and business intelligence than process, so it makes sense for them. Putting this to one side what they are really suggesting is the third "M" is key, Measurement. From that perspective some of what they say makes sense, if we have modeled our business processes and have decided that we wish to manage our organization by use of them, then, of course we need to be able to define performance metrics and then manage our performance against them.

So in the end the concept of Model, Measure and Manage makes perfect sense. The problem lies with multiple vendors with multiple solutions all trying to market and sell under the single banner of BPM. Of course a cynic might argue that what they are all doing is recognizing that Business Process Management is the right way for companies to organize and run themselves and that each of their offerings provide an incomplete solution to the problem. For it is certain that if a client could purchase a solution that enabled them to capture and model all aspects of their enterprise define metrics and have those populated and updated in real time, whilst enabling them to run simulations of change before implementing them either by people or where applicable by automation and could then view a digital dashboard that allowed them to monitor the key aspects of their company, whilst communicating all this with their staff, they would buy one! But for now at least, in order to get such a solution they will need to assemble a number of tools from different vendors, each of whom is likely to make exaggerated claims over the level of functionality they provide in their non-core area.

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