Richard Watson is a principal research analyst at Gartner. He has seventeen years of experience in IT, including two years as an analyst with the Burton Group. Watson specializes in application architecture, service-oriented architecture, cloud platforms, and business process management. He is a frequent blogger, speaker and writer on issues concerning BPM. SearchSOA.com Site Editor Jack Vaughan caught up with Watson to discuss his latest research papers including Field Research Actions to Take: Course-Correcting Your BPM Program and Field Research Results: Gaining Business Benefit from BPM.
What’s going on in the real-world with BPM?
I think BPM suffers, like a lot of things, from a lot of hype in the market. The disconnect for us was that amongst our client base we didn’t know anyone getting the kind of return on investment that was being talked about in these case studies.
I thought vendors could always show ROI with BPM.
Well, you know, that was the puzzle for us. We weren’t sure what they meant, we weren’t sure how they were calculating that return on investment, and that was part of the reason we went to find out.
So a vendor might say it costs $200,000 and that it’ll save $300,000 over six months. Does that sound right?
Yeah, now in that calculation you’ve just thrown up in the air there’s a lot of hidden cost, in terms of training people, etc. We found
First of all, I think there’s an incredible amount of confusion about what BPM is, the scope of it, what it includes, and the goals. If you don’t understand the purpose of something it’s very hard to get the most from it and very hard to communicate the benefits effectively to other people that you want to buy into it. We found a lot of that confusion and inability to communicate the business benefit amongst the people that we spoke to.
The other thing we found is that people leave value on the table because they’re very focused on buying BPM infrastructure.
So folks are not looking hard enough at what they do with the tools?
Well, people are more invested in terms of energies and their organizational capital in choosing the right BPM products. And to be quite honest with you, the products are all pretty mature. They all do more or less the same thing and the people that are getting the most from BPM realize that it’s a human focused activity. It’s not a technical or a technology led activity.
So buying the products is not the big step, per se?
No, it’s not. The big step is getting people to think in a process-oriented way, and to change your environment and design principals—the way you look at business operations—in terms of processes, rather than in terms of applications or particular functional styles. It’s becoming process-oriented, I suppose, that is the real challenge—where the value is. And having a BPM suite is useful for people that have mature business process disciplines where they can choose to use it to automate processes that will benefit from automation. I think one of the findings of the field research is very much that you don’t need to automate a process to make managing it valuable.
The primary value in the activities people do around BPM programs is the process modeling. The people we talked to who are getting the most out of their BPM activities are the ones that use modeling not necessarily to drive execution environments, but using it to drive discussion and agreement around requirements. They’re using process models as a common language to allow business people and the development teams to understand each other and to allow each other’s viewpoint.
One of the other things we found and another one of the reasons why people are leaving value on the table, and this is perhaps a paradox: People are succeeding. A lot of the people we talked to, they’re doing tactical process improvement projects. So they’re getting some value from using BPM in a tactical way.
The paradox is that because they’re going after this low-hanging fruit, these are projects that are easy to tackle and have some visibility, that’s affecting their appetite for taking on the more challenging projects.
They’re reluctant to challenge the systemic problems in their business. But organizations that are taking on those bigger problems, and we would describe those as business optimization activities, are getting just incredible value from their BPM programs. I’ll give you an example. There’s a quote from the BPM leader at an insurance company in the US. I would say he’s leading the most high-performance BPM team of any that we spoke to. He said, “The aim of my BPM team is to perform business optimization before an IT purchasing decision.” So instead of “How do we implement our processes in this package?”
The aim is to ask “How do we want to do policy management?” In other words, doing BPM isn’t the reason for BPM. Improving business policy management is the reason for doing BPM.
There’s a lot of confusion with people out there. Even amongst organizations with relatively mature BPM programs there are those that have sort of lost sight of why they’re doing it. It’s the business optimization function that we find in the people that are getting the serious benefits from the discipline.
In his career, Jack Vaughan, Site Editor, SearchSOA.com, has written about embedded systems, electronic design automation, the real-time enterprise and other technical trends.
[This material originally appeared in the SearchSOA BPM ezine, Vol 1. #1, 2010.]
This was first published in May 2011