For the Second Decade of #BPM, Design Matters

  • February 22, 2010
  • Scott
  • 10 Comments

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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