If BPM is so Great, Why isn't Stanford Doing it?

Post by
Scott Francis

Turns out, the folks at Stanford are doing BPM.? Last week I had the good fortune to visit my Alma Mater (Stanford).? I had heard through the grapevine that Stanford was embarking on BPM, so I took advantage of the excellent mass transit in the Bay Area (Austin, are you listening?) and went to visit Lee Merrick at Stanford. Lee is in the Office of Research Administration and he's the driving force behind BPM at Stanford.? Lee was gracious enough to let me track him down in his office at Terman Engineering, where we spent a couple hours talking BPM strategy, tactics, and vision.

Quoting from Stanford's SeRA project page on vision and purpose:

SeRA Vision and Purpose

  • Major administrative systems overseeing research will operate cohesively
  • Investigators and staff will be able to effectively manage their sponsored projects from conception through closeout
  • Administrative burden will be significantly reduced for investigators, departmental staff, and central offices
  • Streamline research administration processes to minimize inefficiencies and eliminate duplication
  • Improve turnaround time, reduce audit risk, collect better data

SeRA will be a system of inter-connected modules, pulling data from existing sources or prior modules to eliminate points of duplicate entry wherever possible.? The system will be developed by critically looking at current business processes to eliminate non-value-added steps and provide full process transparency for faculty and departments.? The system will be designed with significant input from stakeholders and subject matter experts involved in research administration.

In short, Lee and his team are attempting to revolutionize the way Stanford manages research in order to make research more efficient and effective.

With Lee's permission, I wanted to share some of the takeaways from our discussion.

  1. The problems driving corporations to BPM are not unique to corporate entities - academic institutions are also being pressured to reduce expense, waste, and inefficient use of talented PhD's. Stanford's efforts are focused on freeing up time for research while providing higher quality transparency to both the university and the federal government.
  2. The processes Stanford seeks to address don't fall into the sweet spot of any commercially available shrink wrap software packages.? BPM allows Stanford to address a space that doesn't fit these packaged software offerings well.
  3. The processes Stanford seeks to address require agility. Lee's team can't predict how their processes will change, because much of the process change is driven by external factors (e.g. The Federal Government).? Stanford needs to be prepared for both the changes they are planning, and the changes they haven't anticipated yet (Jim Sinur would call this Scenario Planning).
  4. Focus on producing material, hands-on results in the bake-off. In Stanford's BPM bake-off, they really focused on how much of their solution could be built by their team in a finite period of time. They evaluated two pure plays and a stack vendor, and actually building a solution in the BPM suite was what really differentiated the products to the SeRa team.
  5. This isn't a 3 month project, this is a significant investment with a serious team. Lee and his team on the SeRa (Stanford Engineering Research Administration) project are embarking on a 3 year effort, with a staff of more than 10 people focused on this project.? That's a significant commitment against the backdrop of budget cuts going on at Stanford at the moment (recently Stanford reporting canceling or postponing over $1B in construction projects, for example).

Stanford is going to be a great contributor to the BPM community, and more specifically to the Lombardi community.? They have an interest in sharing best practices, design patterns, and even software solutions to common problems.? I fully expect that Lee and his team are interested in bilateral or multi-lateral sharing. I think that their long-term perspective will help counterbalance some of the very tactical focus on quarterly efforts in many corporate solutions.

I left our meeting with renewed optimism for BPM, Lee has a certitude and optimism that makes you believe he and his team are going to deliver.? And they have the ambition to really tackle the hard problems and build good solutions around them.? I think we're going to learn a lot from these guys in the next 3 years.

I took the train ride back to San Francisco to meet my wife for dinner, and on the way back I started thinking about opportunities to collaborate in the Lombardi community.? More to come on that thought process in another post.? Thanks to Stanford and to Lee Merrick for taking time out to share their BPM story, I hope we have opportunities to collaborate in the near future - on best practices, methods, and/or technical solutions.

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