All this "BPM is Dead" Nonsense by

I like a good debate as much as the next guy, but I think staking out extreme positions and trotting out the same cliche constructions (“XYZ is DEAD!”) isn’t really that constructive.  Still, it is bound to happen periodically and sometimes I can’t help myself and get sucked into the conversation. There were two groups I noticed posting along the “BPM is Dead” meme lately.  One is Theo Priestley (yes he’s one person, but we’ll just refer to him as a group of one), who is often rattling the BPM cage to get people to “think different.”  However, after reading his missive, the way it reads to me is that the chief complaints are with the people -  the alleged gurus of BPM – not with BPM itself.  One of the lines of thought was to hold up Lean as an example of what we should be doing, rather than BPM.  But most BPM advocates would consider Lean a perfectly valid approach for informing process improvement efforts.  To BPM advocates, this isn’t a point of contention, but a point of agreement. In fact, he posted almost the same set of arguments two years ago.  And yet the BPM market is bigger than ever, despite his (arguably valid) concerns about definition, precision, and uniformity in BPM.  So while his critique is equally valid today, the market has spoken by growing the BPM market, rather than killing it (both software and services vendors have grown revenue, and customers have increased adoption)…To me, this is as clear an indication as any that BPM isn’t dead, it is thriving. A take on my thoughts:
Our business is doing great, and we’re a BPM shop. We could call ourselves a lean shop, or a six sigma shop, but because we use a BPMS, and that’s what the market is used to calling it, we call it a BPM shop. And the market is growing just fine. For us, that’s meant a ten-fold increase in 4 years. But the market at large never exploded like EAI did (then again, it never flamed out the way EAI did either, right?). Is it so bad to have a niche that is a steady-eddy that grows every year but never explodes? To have a niche that DOESN’T turn into a big inflated bubble?
There is a lot to pick apart point by point in his post (e.g. Visual Process Manager was technology acquired rather than created – so it is unclear what it says about SalesForce’s understanding of BPM at large… and my friends “in the know” with SalesForce tend to disparage it as a tool), but there’s no need to get into the details – the larger point is that BPM is alive and well (and SalesForce adding BPM capabilities is a sign of success not failure).  Richard Welke had a particularly well-written response in the comments on Theo’s blog post:
As I flick through my rolodex of metaphors, your post best aligns with the card that says: “The Emperor has no clothes.” I find myself agreeing with your enumeration of facts and interpretations thereof, but vaguely disagreeing with the conclusion. Why the dissonance, I ask myself? [..] What I believe you have correctly captured are the “vested interests” of the various parties that are under the umbrella of BPM (and BPMS). And, I would also agree that things like ACM, Keith H-B’s HIM and others variants represent quite different versions of what process management is or can be when the end-to-end process isn’t known at the start.
As Richard states, there is much to agree with in Theo’s post, and yet I draw different conclusions from the same data. The second group in this go-round have been recently acquired by other firms.  Not all BPM acquisitions were happy affairs, and I think you can best sort which is which by checking into how those acquired feel about the BPM space after acquisition.  Frustrated? Upset that BPM isn’t “taking off”?  Likely in the “BPM is Dead” camp, rather than just recognizing that their own product wasn’t quite finding product-market fit, as the Lean Startup guys are fond of saying.  Excited? Motivated? Enervated by the opportunities ahead? Likely in the “BPM is just fine thanks” camp. I go back to my previous point- I love the fact that BPM is thriving a decade in, and not exploding upward and then flaming out.  It has given all of us that are committed to growing businesses time to actually grow the business.  (For those that raise VC money, however, there will be a lot of pressure to grow faster than the market will allow for.) Largely the “BPM is Dead” folks worry about small attendance at Gartner and Forrester analyst events, meanwhile, missing how well-attended vendor-specific events are.  It looks like BPM is a practitioners’ game – the conferences targeted at those in the trenches garner much better attendance than the high-level cross-vendor conferences.  If you can only go to one conference – which one do you go to: the high-level concept conference or the practical how-to conference your chosen vendor puts on? I’ll recap with how I responded to ebizQ’s question on the subject:
“BPM” existed before it had a name, and it will keep going after the name changes. Businesses have things called processes and they do something typically called management. Not everyone has equal parts of these three -business, process, and management. So what does Dead mean? That the market for BPMS will decline? ( negative growth ) That a new term will supplant BPM? That a new product category will blow it up? That businesses will stop managing their business processes? That analysts will stop covering it? The only one above that matters is whether businesses stop managing their business processes. All the others don’t matter. They’re icing on the cake. Happy to check back in a year and see how the market is doing. We had this conversation two years ago and the market got significantly bigger in that time frame… Changing doesn’t mean dead, it just means dealing with reality.
There were other good responses in the ebizQ discussion – notably Connie Moore, who points out that BPM growth is accelerating rather than dying (and she’s likely in a position to know).  In her words:
I do not begin to think that the term BPM software is dead. Guys, IBM has embraced this in a big way, and the little BPM software vendors are being bought at a rapid pace by much bigger vendors (e.g. Singularity and Kofax). When that happens, real marketing muscle will be put into promoting the products–which will push BPM software sales much higher and BPMS name recognition by IT professionals much higher.
Connie is right. IBM is 100% behind their BPM initiatives, which we’ve had a front-row seat for at BP3, as an IBM partner.  Pega is behind theirs.  This space isn’t going away.  And though lots of experts disagree about exactly how the bar will be raised in BPM, it is clear to all the vendors (and experts) that the bar is going up every year. We’re going to push forward with BPM at BP3 – and embrace the changes that are coming that we think add value to our customers – and we’re going to fight the changes that we think don’t add value and undermine our customers’ chances for success.  
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  • http://www.helpihavebpm.com/ Admin

    With all due respect Scott, if money is the main indicator of BPM success than by all means BPM is a success. But when “gurus” are on ebizq or some other forum every week having 15 different definitions about BPM and what is success, how can you consider it thriving after all these years? Going to a seminar doesn’t makes one educated. Intelligence is applied education which I find it to be lacking. I’m with Theo on this one. The real BPM needs a revamp else once some software is sold, we’ll be moving on to the next hyped piece of methodology or thinking and the subsequent tech that comes along with it

    • http://www.bp-3.com/blogs sfrancis

       ”if money is the main indicator of BPM success than by all means BPM is a success.” – glad we agree :)

      thriving: innovation, competition, growth, ROI.  There’s lots of all four in BPM.

      Regarding your other points, agreed a seminar doesn’t make one educated, and applied education is a decent definition of intelligence in this context – but that’s a critique of individual people rather than a critique of a market.  (I believe I represent applied education in this context, but I’m biased).

      BPM is constantly being revamped – I keep an eye on four vendors and they’re all doing interesting things to tighten up their offerings, improve them, or expand them (depending on where they are in the market).  There will, no doubt, be more instances of people with expectations out of alignment, but there will also be people with rave successes.  We’re helping a customer migrate from an old version of BPM to the newest version of their product.  They’ve been in production for 9 years now, and achieved tremendous ROI on that project, and were self-sufficient for 8 years.  The upgrade is the first thing they’ve run into (skipping 7 years of releases is non-trivial) that they need help with.  But you won’t see their name in the paper or on analyst reports.