The Experience versus the Expert, Part II

Scott Francis
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In Part I, we explored the notion of open and closed, and what those words mean to customers and experts.  The basic argument: customers care about the “experience”.  Experts care about the nuts and bolts – and how fine-grained their control is. We used as a foil, Apple’s iPhone versus Google’s Android mobile OS. Since that first post, there has been a little bit of evidence that the focus on “experience” pays off: Steve Jobs made a pretty compelling argument on the last earnings call in favor of the Apple approach : integrated focus on experience – “When selling to users who want their devices to just work, we believe Integrated will triumph Fragmented every time.” – this is a really good lesson for BPM vendors. But why? Why is Apple a good example for BPM vendors to consider? For a few reasons:
  1. BPM sits at the top of a big pyramid of IT assets.  Any one of these IT assets could really undermine the experience of interacting with business processes that are affected.
  2. BPM itself is an amalgamation of several different technologies, notations, standards, etc.
  3. Integration is still the long pole in the tent
  4. The Business is the customer.  They actually value simplicity and “it just works” over complexity and flexibility for the IT folks.  It turns out that flexibility for the business usually requires simplicity and a focus on the quality of the experience.
This is why it is so important for companies like IBM to push forward with Blueworks – in order to find the secret sauce of collaboration, process authoring, and process automation.  And equally, why it is so important for IBM to rationalize its product vision behind an offering that sells well to their business customers as well as their IT customers.   And it is also why it is important for Activiti to pursue initiatives like Kickstart. But going deeper – it is why we need BPMS vendors to really focus on the fit and finish of the products they bring to market.  The workarounds, the kludges, the accommodations for bugs across many different versions of a product have profound costs:
  • Slowing the rate of adoption in the industry – by impeding the rate of learning of new BPM experts who have to learn all the warts of each system, and each version of each system.
  • Adding a layer of non-value-added code to accommodate product shortcomings.  If we were to apply value-stream analysis to code: value-adding code versus non-value-adding code, workarounds and kludges would certainly fit into the latter camp.  But usually these work-arounds are actually more expensive to maintain over time than the value-adding code, on a per-line basis.  Worse: they add no value except to make up for vendor shortcomings.
  • They slow time-to-value for BPM projects by introducing friction that works against the productivity of process authors.
With the competition as plentiful as it now is in BPM, and in enterprise software generally, catering to the user experience is going to start to trump catering to the experts.  It isn’t that the experts won’t still have their place and role and value – they will.  But the real value they bring won’t be knowing about various product warts, it will be be about how to effect real business process improvement realized in software. Perhaps another example would be useful.  Take a look at Gosling’s blog on Desktop Linux – “The Dream is Dead” – regarding why Linux has been such a huge success on the server side, but not on the consumer / desktop side.  Ultimately, Linux is an Expert’s dream operating system.  But it is a nightmare user experience for a novice user.  As a server product, Experts *are* the customers, and Linux has done quite well.  But in the desktop arena there was no business model to support a good user interface – and lack of a good user interface is actually what made desktop linux untenable. We’re advocating for a better Experience.  As Experts, we like the power of today’s BPM environments.  But when we’re users -as with phones –  we really appreciate the Experience.    We imagine the consumers of BPM software feel the same way.  Back to Sachin’s post:
And they don’t measure products by what they do, but by how well they do them. You won’t find a matrix where Apple compares their product to a competitor by feature. They measure products by the experience.

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