9 Keys to the Business of BPM #bpmNEXT
At bpmNEXT this year they tried something new, a set of sessions about the business of BPM and predictions for the future. I really liked the format (setting aside my own session), as it really appealed to those of us who are involved in technology AND business (and really BPM is all about that intersection).
In this post, I’m going to focus on our business of BPM session, in which I had the honor to share the stage with Miguel Valdés Faura of Bonitasoft, and Denis Gagne, of Trisotech. At first blush, you could view any of us as competitors or partners. We’re likely, at different times, both. But in practice, we compete rarely for the same business and we have a lot of mutual respect for each other. Moreover, Denis and Miguel are two of the best people I know, so really fun to do this together.
No surprise, but Sandy had the best coverage of our talk over on her blog. I think we might have done better with a panel discussion and Q&A than mini-presentations, we were asked to each give 10 minutes on our businesses and then open it up for questions. Overall I think it worked well. Her thoughts on Miguel’s talk:
Not surprisingly, Miguel sees open source as an important part of the BPM ecosystem because it creates more of a meritocracy in the development of BPM capabilities, allowing many more people to participate actively in BPMS development and be recognized for their contributions.
Had we had more time, I would have asked the question that I think many are wondering – if I contribute to open source (say, Bonitasoft’s platform) or another platform – how do I make money as a person or firm that isn’t the one that drives the platform? As an individual contributor I might bank on my contributions in the future to land a job somewhere, but as a company, what’s the financial incentive or sustenance that makes these investments possible and worthwhile? That’s the big challenge for open source in (relatively) niche markets. I see this struggle with most of the open source projects in BPM.
Denis Gagne covered standards and building the Business Process Incubator community. He really believes in community and the value of community to the BPM ecosystem and participants within it. I thought his discussion of standards being divergent in BPM rather than convergent, was interesting: basically, the idea is that the standard formation drives research and then companies shoot off from there in different directions, rather than the standards bodies finding consensus in what is out in industry and driving convergence.
I think it is a fairly natural ebb and flow – DMN feels like convergence to me, but how people go forward will be divergent as they look for ways to differentiate their value propositions. We saw the same thing with BPMN, in my view. Initially it represented convergence but even before the spec was finalized the divergence was already starting.
For my own portion, let me relay a bit of what I talked about:
1. Brand Values that you believe in
First, have brand values that are consistent with your internal / core values and execution. If you can’t do that, change your brand, or change your values. For this reason, we didn’t see ourselves as defined by being an “IBM Partner”, but we considered it our mission to be the very best IBM BPM partner. And I think we have clearly succeeded in that mission. But our values were and are:
- excellent customer experience
- extreme competency
- process innovation
The first one really drives the second two, and almost everything else we do.
2. Find your own Customers
Second, find your own customers. You can absolutely benefit from someone referring customers to you, but you don’t have to start and stop there. Find your own, work on channels to create those leads. And, it should go without saying, take really good care of them.
3. Build supporting businesses, Ignore anything that doesn’t Fit
Third, Gradually build business capabilities that support each other, or leverage partners. This is how we ended up running a professional services operation alongside a subscription support operation, alongside a product development operation.
4. Think Long-term about Recruiting and People
Fourth, and a point that I didn’t make in the talk because I skipped over it inadvertently, is the long-term investment in people, recruiting, and your business. Often you see consulting companies “run out of gas” as their teams get more experienced and older and don’t have a refresh of new talent coming in. There’s something about the mix of old and new that really revitalizes a company. But too often I talk to other small businesses and they’re thinking short term. How do I get the next milestone, how can I recruit 10 college recruits this year etc. What I tell people is if you want to recruit 10 college recruits, plan to do it in 3-4 years. And this year, find some interns, and interview grads, but don’t expect much. Each year, raise the bar for your expectations of the program. And invest in those interns to create a good buzz around your intern program.
Examples of long-term thinking at BP3. Several people here I’ve hired 2 times in my career. One of them: 3 times. There are many people here with whom I have a decade (or two) of working relationship. There are people here that I’ve known for 2-3 years before hiring them (via college recruiting or just working with them in industry). If I, and BP3, are in any business besides “BPM”, we’re in the people business.
5. Be the Best Place to Work
Fifth, another point I’m not sure I made in the talk, we’ve made it our goal to just be the best place to work for BPM professionals. There’s no question we have achieved that relative to the IBM ecosystem, but our goal is to be the best place to work bar none in the USA for BPM professionals. That virtuous cycle has paid off many times already.
6. Focus Focus Focus
Sixth, Focus is critical. More scarce than time or money, and a lack of focus can cost you both. BPM by itself frays your focus, but how many times do you see companies try to do BPM and lots of other things too?
7. We Always felt our Brand of BPM could Travel Well
Seventh, so how did we end up multi-vendor? Well, we just always felt our method would travel well, and the software investments we’ve made have helped in that department, by making it easier to apply our method when we take on other projects. If you’re a BPM consultant, don’t think that product #2 will be easy. It won’t be. You have to build the expertise. We don’t have the same “unfair” advantages on other BPM platforms that we have on IBM BPM. But we have different “unfair” advantages thanks to our methodology and core team and software assets.
8. Technology-enable your consulting business
Eighth, Be technology enabled, like every other business. Nothing is just people’s time these days, even restaurants are technology operations.
9. Growth is a side-effect, rather than the goal
Ninth, growth is a side effect of great customers and execution, not a cause. We grew 60% last year and for four years in a row we’ve been in the Austin Fast 50 (and would have been six had we applied the previous two years). We’re the largest independent BPM services company in the world now, to my knowledge. And one of the benefits of the growth is our increased ability to invest in our business and our customers’ businesses.
If you can say one thing about the other presenters – they live their brand values. They have great organizations that are known as great places to work. They are technology enabled. They’re in it for the long-term. Great company to keep.