For the Second Decade of #BPM, Design Matters

  • February 22, 2010
  • Scott

Theo Priestly on BPM Redux wrote about ArisAlign and its lack of “buzz”.  I’ve had similar feelings about Aris’ user experience, and the feeling that some of the enthusiasm espoused is a little forced – sort of trying to hard with the “I (heart) ArisBPM” pins, etc.

But the post reminded me of a theme that has been on my mind a lot over the last year: Design Matters in BPM. As if there was any doubt, I see more and more evidence that in the Second Decade of BPM, design will matter.  Not just a little bit.  I believe design will dictate whether BPM achieves ubiquity in the business. Design will dictate which tools will benefit from that ubiquity.

Apple serves as a good example of how much design matters in an industry that appeared to be commoditized (personal computing, cell phones).  Some might argue that BPM software isn’t commoditized yet, and therefore the focus might be on features/functions rather than “design”.  But I think the key elements of BPMS are, by enterprise software standards, fairly commoditized:  there are many players in the space, customers have a difficult time discerning the differences from a feature/function point of view, and ASP (Average Selling Price) is likely declining for most BPM vendors.  There are also a couple of open-source BPM software offerings on the make.

Combine the above with a trend toward putting BPM suites “in the cloud” and offering them in a SaaS model, and it really starts to look more like a utility.  But what takes it to the next level?  Here are some areas of BPM and my thoughts about how well they’ll differentiate vendors…

  • Execution.  I think everyone agrees execution is nearly commoditized.  There are *real* differences at the execution level, but the market doesn’t recognize these differences in a way that channels dollars to the best execution engines.
  • Simulation. Many of the vendors offer this.
  • More modeling constructs? Already, vendors barely provide a fraction of the BPMN modeling capabilities defined in BPMN 2.0 (or even 1.0).  So, there’s an opportunity here, but fast-following will be pretty easy.
  • Process Discovery? This holds some promise for differentiation in the short-to-medium term, in my view (there are only a few vendors who even claim this ability).
  • Optimization? This has potential, but the current solutions simply don’t achieve it.  They work really well on small data sets and don’t (yet) let you efficiently do “optimization” on enterprise production data.  There’s a significant software investment to make here, and opportunity for differentiation.  Pair optimization with process discovery and you’ve got something really interesting…
  • Modeling tools?  This is heading toward commodity rapidly.  Absent the advent of SaaS software I would have predicted an open source modeling tool would gain pre-eminence and get embedded in a lot of commercial products.
  • SaaS / Cloud offering? There are already numerous choices and prices are heading toward standard increments.
  • Community / Collaboration?  Outside of BPM, these are already fairly commoditized from a feature/function point of view.  Wikis, chats, Instant Messaging, Videochats, Communities – these features will not provide differentiation on their own.  In fact, vendors may rely on Wave or similar technologies to incorporate collaboration without making some of the IT investments that early adopters have had to make.
  • “Dynamic” BPM or “Case Management”.  Call me crazy, but I remember CASE tools being all the rage in the mid-90’s.  I think unstructured, dynamic, and case management style processes are important, but I don’t think the technology required will offer differentiation to vendors for long from a feature/function point of view.  What they offer is a “better fit” to these use cases, but they’re not solving a problem that couldn’t be solved before.  (Note: Better fit matters, its why you should use BPM tooling to solve process problems rather than just slinging some Java or PHP code or hoisting a SOA stack into place)  To the extent that these “case management” tools are better, its a result of better design to suit the problem, not a case of out-featuring the other guys…

The opportunity for BPM vendors will be to produce differentiation based on the design of their products and offerings, by producing designs that engage the users, that elicit effective and efficient usage.  Collaboration, Unstructured BPM, Process Discovery, and Optimization all offer the biggest opportunities for differentiation by product design, in my opinion.

In closing, I should clarify that product design is not just skin deep.  Some make this mistake when they look at Apple Products and see only the outer shell.  Good product design goes much deeper than the UI, than the outer shell of the product.

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  • sfrancis

    Good followup post by Jaisundar (trackback below, or follow this link:…) – picks up right where I left off and emphasizes a lot of the key points.

  • philayres

    Scott, this is an interesting round up of all the features and capabilities possible in a BPM suite. I agree with your thoughts that the largest differentiation may come from collaboration, unstructured processes, discovery and potentially optimization. I struggle with the latter, since I watched my previous BPM employer (you know who you are) struggle with getting the message across with optimization. It so often became a question of measuring and optimizing the productivity of individuals down to the saving of a few seconds that in many office environments it was meaningless. They did a terrible job of helping businesses optimize on to the broader, more valuable business metrics (such as profitability v. risk for all insurance products sold), and 'lean' terms were routinely thrown around with little understanding so it was almost embarrassing.

    As for Case Management, this is not 1990's Computer Aided Software Engineering (CASE). The Case tools I have been associated with are not trying to be 4th generation development tools. As you say, Case Management offers a good fit to specific business problems. They are designed to codify the best practices of managing processes that incorporate ad-hoc tasks, documents and information from multiple sources. Here is my most recent attempt at finally highlighting what Case really is:… (getting closer after 4 years into blogging about it, but maybe still not quite there!). As almost a convergence with collaboration, I understand why there is such a buzz around Case. Its interesting that the big players are catching on to this and pushing it so hard with Forrester. Maybe everyone needs something to grab as Gartner's BPM vision appears to be a shambles.

    And here's hoping we can all be the next Apple!



  • sfrancis

    Great response, thanks for taking the time to write that! Regarding optimization (optimisation for those outside the US;) – I agree the tendency for this is for it to be mis-used and abused. Focused too narrowly on shaving seconds.

    The optimizing features in another tool (you know who you are) are quire compelling in theory – you can correlate inputs with outputs – not just optimize for time, but optimize for *outcomes*! which is really the magic.

    But it needs a lot more work – and that's why I think there's a big opening for someone to drive a truck through with real innovation.

    Regarding Case Management – I know, its “different” than the old CASE 🙂 But you know, there's a reason we you don't re-use a label that has unfortunate historical context. And Case Management makes a lot of sense but to me it feels like slapping a new label on something that we've all been dealing with in BPM for the last 10 years! I welcome new tooling that is better suited to case management use cases, but I get a little tired of people pretending we just discovered this kind of work in BPM…

    And of course the real prize goes to the vendor(s) who can make all these interesting features play off of each other to produce a sum greater than the parts…


  • philayres

    To your point “I get a little tired of people pretending we just discovered this kind of work in BPM” – I absolutely agree!

  • The big issue with BPM and BPMS is that its far too rigid, too structured and has a horrible reliance on BA’s discovering all processes and every single permitation of them…

    Because of this there is no dynamic BPM, its only a term and cannot really deliver real adaptive processes. Vendors that ditch the whole process designer / flowchart tool as their rigid process will be able to deliver into more areas of the enterprise. BPM currently is only good for less than 20% of business processes across the enterprise, because it is only great and improving process efficiency of proceses that are highly structured, simple and repeatable…Vendors that become adaptive offer a great edge and are capable to deliver process efficiency across the enterprise

    However, that being said, the big difference between vendors will not be played out in just the BPM silo. Vendors who deliver a single silo for ECM, BPM and CRM provide a more holistic approach. This approach delivers far greater efficiency, but also reduces costs of delivery and ownership. The big problem with Social media illustrates the need for this…

    • Andrew, thanks for commenting – and the link to your article – its a good read. I think Phil Gilbert’s presentation at BPM2010 ( does a good job of discussing the same 80/20 split you describe.

      First, I’d argue that actually BPM does a pretty good job of addressing the “20 percent” (One can argue what the percentages are, but obviously structured BPM does not cover 100% of process use cases, and there’s no good way of calculating the total number… I think everyone can agree it is less than 100% and more than 0% however!)

      I think a few software vendors share your vision of a combined ECM/BPM/CRM vision – but of course the key to pulling that off is to have these three “silos” actually act as one integrated product – for the transitions to feel natural.

      Also, it happens that the 20% you describe are, generally, medium-to-high volume, high value, processes. This is based on both anecdotal data and data from conferences such as BPM2010. So, it isn’t as if implementing BPM is a bad idea for these processes even if they’re the only processes you can address with a BPMS.

      Finally, not all BPMS are created equal. Some BPMS are highly constrained, and others give the designers and implementers a lot more flexibility. In some cases that flexibility requires technical people like myself to get involved, but at least the flexibility is there.

      • I believe that for that 20% or those processes that are naturally highly structured or highy repetative, BPM does a great job for. I agree these are medium to high volume but not so sure on all being high value / importance. I think the win BPM delivers is great, but the win in other areas of the organisation would be even better (where BPM doesnt do a great job as yet). Lets say a solution does manage processes where current BPM cannot, it will still be able to handle those processes which BPM is naturally very good at too, so there you woudl have a solution that can actually span the enterprisethere, as opposed to claim it can…BPM Evolution?

        I agree not all BPMS are created equal, but even those that are more flexible still execute a rigid process. Changes are made by authors only, and a change will only be implemented for new items in the process. This is one of my points re how we think of BPM and how vendors execute it….In addition, the business needs to the people on the floor to be able to update a process if it needs be. Thats the only way in which to process in a truely efficient and quick fashion.

        I think we also have to look at the way in which individuals work, how they want to work and how they may well work in the future. I have read a lot now about a change in our working habits, rather working as individuals that communicate, we will swarm and work on the same peice of work at the same time more as a team. BPM solutions, at present, are too rigid to implement this.

        Finally (sorry for such a long response, but is a good conversation), ECM/BPM/CRM as a single silo I see as a single silo. There is no need for integration between the three, because we are talking about a product that delivers all three as one. To my knowledge there arent many out there that actually do this, rather they integrate as best they can across the three. But the problem there is, that you still have three silos at the back end. How do you ensure that any one understands CCS (content, context, status) of the others? My vision is for the three to be lost within a single silo…

        • Andrew, you’re comment: “Lets say a solution does manage processes where current BPM cannot, it will still be able to handle those processes which BPM is naturally very good at too, so there you would have a solution that can actually span the enterprise there, as opposed to claim it can…BPM Evolution? ” This is an assumption, that the solution for the long tail will also solve the highly repeatable processes that BPMS can address today. If true, then of course that would be preferable, but it isn’t true just by fiat. I’ve seen a few long-tail solutions that would simply not address the typical BPMS sweet spot. No integration capabilities, for example, to pull in context that lives in legacy or existing systems. And that’s just one example of many.

          But that doesn’t mean that the day won’t come for a solution that spans the whole spectrum.

          • Thats exactly where I am trying to take my company and our own product, workFile.

            We are aiming to deliver a BPM type platform that does just that. But throw into the mix adaptive ECM capabilities and active CRM and we get a far richer and more holistic approach, capable of dealing with long tail needs, the sweet spot that BPMS works well for, and much more….We can even takle the whole social media arena and problems (social bpm, social crm etc etc)…