The 2011 Gartner BPM Summit in Baltimore, MD is about to begin. I see the usual healthy mix of banks, insurance companies, pharmaceuticals and, of course, lots of government. The split between business owners and IT seems to be about 50/50. I’m looking forward less to the presentations and more to the conversations that I’ll have at the booth and bar. I’ll have lots to share about business process and I’m sure I’ll come away with some great new understandings, too.
What do I expect from the Summit? I expect a healthy dose of IT people searching for solutions in architecture and acting as advisers to their business clients. I expect highly trained business specialists looking for the latest specialized tool. One thing I know for sure is that there will be many conversations about workflow and automation. Spending/taking money on better ways to automate is a safe bet for the CIO and the consulting firm alike. There will always be new ways to do SOA and slick automation of the process of automation. But will there be buzz over the need to manage and improve the way human beings perform work?
Managing electrons (automation) is simply much easier than managing the details of the work humans perform every day. People just aren’t as ’shiny’ as the next-big-thing in technology. There’s less glory in efforts to improve something that’s been around forever…workers. That’s why electrons get big budgets for top-shelf technologists while human work often gets Visio and Outlook.
Challenging the status quo
One reason I love my job so much is that I’m there to challenge the status quo. How much fun is it to be part of the pack when there’s an opportunity to bring something that people truly need but haven’t had exposure to? No fun. That’s why I’m suggesting that there’s more to BPM than process automation. And there is nothing better than seeing the light bulb turn on when people get it.
My message throughout the Summit will be the same one that works for me every day. There are three basic things that companies need to accomplish if they want to capture and improve upon the best of what they do:
1. Centralize process
If you haven’t picked it up from my writing, I’ll tell you that I’m a big fan of the benefits of getting everyone in the organization onto the same page. One of my retail customers will get an award at the Summit for BPM excellence. What you won’t hear is that two years ago, they polled thirty stores and asked how to perform a simple, common process. They received twenty-nine different answers. That insight into their own weakness put them on a course of centralization of information that culminates in the award ceremony later this week. You can only have centralization of process when you have a single data store that holds process and all of its meta data.
2. Govern process
There is ample proof that centralization is key to great business process management. Having everything in once place isn’t so hard to rationalize. However, that one place loses value pretty quickly if there isn’t enough ownership assigned to keep data accurate and updated. An inventory of process that doesn’t have clear ownership can’t change with the times, change when a better idea comes along, and lacks any authority to be the single source of truth. If we trust our people with significant parts of our revenue stream (and we do), we certainly need to know that management owns the accepted way to do things. And owns the ability to make a change to that accepted way when it becomes necessary.
3. Deploy process
Successful business process is accessible to everyone in the organization. If not, what business process is being managed and by whom? We all know that we can’t improve what we don’t measure, and we can’t measure what we haven’t captured. Are KPI’s only for executives or can they be in the hands of every individual who performs work (which means everyone)? We shouldn’t lock processes inside applications that only a select few see any more than we should publish processes in static fashion and allow them to grow old and untrustworthy. Widely deployed, ‘live’ business processes are the only way for work to be communicated, measured and improved. If ‘deployment’ means less than everyone in the organization, it isn’t what I’m getting at.
So on the eve of the Summit, as I hope to get a good night’s rest before day one, I’m truly optimistic that I’ll learn and share in equal measure over the next three days. I’ll let you know how it goes.