BPM: One TLA to Rule them All

Scott Francis
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I love reading Keith Swenson’s blog, not least because he just has a different point of view and it is always good to read something that will challenge the way you see the world.  We continue to agree on a lot of details and disagree on the big picture.

In one of his recent posts, he argues for 7 (SEVEN!) categories or terms to replace BPM:

By now you have all heard, BPM is dead.  It was loved to death, smothered by good intentions.  All the vendors claimed to have BPM — and more!  The analysts would point to anything vaguely about people doing work, and proclaim it is “just another BPM.”  And yet BPM wore so many faces that it was impossible for anyone to clearly identify it.  The end did not come suddenly.  Instead, BPM weathered a long and protracted battle with inflated expectations, delayed disillusionment, and in some cases abject mendacity.  It seemed that BPM was almost everything to everyone, and yet if you are all things you are nothing.

BPM isn’t the first or last three-letter acronym to suffer from some ambiguity.  (ERP anyone?)  Ambiguity may in fact be the key correlation to long-term survival as a category, rather than the Achilles heel, as he and others feel it is.

BPM is survived by a host of offspring which are all healthy and thriving.  These family members carry on the hopes and dreams that BPM held true to, and do it with many hands and many more forms than a single moniker could accomplish.

Well, this is certainly an approach designed to mollify more BPM advocates than many of his previous arguments that BPM is dead!  He goes on to list 7 categories that he believes replace BPM in usefulness of describing the work we do to improve process.

However, I have to file this under wishful thinking.  Why? I look at history.  In ERP there were many different applications that got rolled into ERP. Scheduling was a separate category with thriving vendors (i2, Red Pepper, Manugistics) who got rolled into bigger ERP offerings as they were acquired.  Accounting software, HR software… Many categories of software roll up into ERP. It doesn’t mean those categories (e.g. scheduling) don’t still exist – it just means that the taxonomy of enterprise software has evolved to treat them as sub-categories of the super-category that is ERP.

Now look at BPM.  Keith’s proposed categories:

  • Management of Business Processes
  • Business Process Analysis
  • Process Driven Server Integration
  • Social Content Management Systems
  • Human Process Management Systems
  • Production Case Management Systems
  • Adaptive Case Management Systems
  • And two more optional/potential categories: Page Flow and Work Flow.

There are certainly specialists in each of these subsets of BPM.  And there are suites that attempt to address the majority of these subsets (to varying degrees of depth).  And there are people, teams, and projects that attempt to only focus on one of these competencies (or a couple of them) rather than all of them.

That’s all well and good and reflects a maturing market understanding of BPM.  But it isn’t that these things replace BPM, it just proves the point we’ve been making at BP3 over the last 3 years – they’re all a part of what people (customers mainly) think of as BPM.  I hope the four letter acronyms don’t catch on too well – my brain is already overloaded with acronyms. But I think Keith has given everyone a useful breakdown of what the market looks like. And new categories are likely to emerge – e.g. Process Discovery or Process Mining – which might be considered a subset of analysis or as something that feeds the analysis.

At any rate, I still think BPM is the one TLA to rule them all…

 

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  • Warren Boon

    I seems to me that rather than in some way replacing BPM as Keith is suggesting, these catgories just help to define in more detail what is/should be about.

    •  I agree it is a very useful refinement, and only if you understand each of these categories are related to #BPM… we’re in violent agreement :)

  • Scott, this is a great post, so let me add to the violence going on here. 

    Every time we have this debate, I see Pirsig’s ‘scalpel’ swooshing about in the air, and rather erratically at times I am tempted to suggest, slicing and splicing things coming in the way.

    This quote, IMHO says it well. The knife is “an intellectual scalpel so swift and so sharp you sometimes don’t see it moving. You get the illusion that all these parts are just there and are being named as they exist. But they can be named quite differently and organized quite differently depending on how the knife moves” 

    So it is essentially a good thing that we have these debates. But the important question is what should be the right way to to apply it, organize things,  what would work best in the larger interest of the customer – whom we forget more often than not.

    I share your PoV on this and I believe our scalpels are in sync. 

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  • Scott, nice summary.   I have been arguing for clarification of terms for years, and pointing that there are different flavors of BPM. Discussion of “what BPM can do” is meaningless if BPM means different things to different parts of the conversation.  You have consistently argued that BPM should be the amalgam of all the various approaches.  The post you linked was a capitulation on my part to this point of view.  Your comments played a significant role there.

    What that means is that I can’t insist that BPM is any single one of those categories, and I am forced to the AUDACITY of inventing a couple of new TLAs.  This is really the last thing I want to do, and the likelihood that any of these will actually become accepted is small. It is quite possibly wishful thinking.  However, it is an offering and a proposal.  The industry will be more successful if we can use some means to be clear about what we are talking, whether we use these or other acronyms.

    Now that we violently agree that BPM is the one TLA to rule them all, let’s get to the challenge of clarifying exactly what constitutes the sub categories.

    •  Keith – I think the taxonomy is useful – but I hope the TLAs don’t catch on too badly :)  My cup runneth over with TLAs already!

      I’m with you on the challenge to clarify the subcategories – should be fun new ground to argue, er, discuss!

  • Gknudson

    Agreed. The art of explaining BPM to anyone is putting it into the context of their requirements. Whether for a procure-to-pay application, case management solution, or tasking system, BPM Suites can be used to design and implement almost any type of web-based, process-driven application.