BPM.com's Peter Schoof recently posed the question, "is zero code the future of BPM?" That got me thinking about the future of BPM itself. Over the past five years, new terms have emerged, each vying to be the "next big thing" after BPM. These terms often include words such as: Dynamic, Adaptive, Predictive, Case Management, Skins, Smart Processes, and the list continues.
But after the storm of words (much like George R. R. Martin's A Storm of Swords), no new king has emerged. The industry has remained fixated largely on what we began with: BPM. That is what customers search for, that is what BPM providers deliver, that remains the focus for analysts and pundits alike. Any new technology that attempts to replace it is dismissed as a clever spin.
And so, is BPM here for good, here to stay, in for the long haul? Has it irrevocably entered the pantheon of products which just won't go away (CRM, ERP, ECM, HRMS, etc., etc.)?
The simple answer is yes.
Organizations just need Business Process Management. They have processes which need to be....well, managed. And that's something that doesn't change with the passing of a decade or perhaps even decades. Basic need, basic result.
And yet something tells me that the world is never as simple as all that. Something tells me that if we could turn the clock forward ten or fifteen years, we'll be using an entirely different lexicon altogether.
And so...for the predictions. Now this is largely speculation, you may even call it science fiction (I'll try to avoid that), but here goes:
Please don't laugh. If I had said 3D Printing ten years ago, would you have laughed? What I mean is that today all of our processes are mapped out on a 2D canvas. But life isn't 2D, is it? It isn't even 3D. There are four dimensions, and the fourth is time. Perhaps in the future, we'll be able to map out and operate business processes in an interface that actually mirrors the real world, the world where business procedures occur in space and in time. This could add a dimension or two to the current BPM tools that simply isn't there. A way to define how procedures are acted out in depth, and how long each step is meant to take. Think about it. Of course, we'll need our 3D screens (or perhaps holograms, Google Glass?) to be working in order to enable 4D BPM.
We've all heard of fuzzy logic, that soft type of machine thinking that doesn't go according to a fixed set of rules, and yet somehow produces a friendlier result. Well, perhaps that sort of fuzzy logic could be applied to BPM. We'd have processes that don't execute the same way each time. Perhaps there could even be a random element applied, something that experiments along with way with different variations, never settling on one, always trying out another. Will hard-nosed CIOs and Line Managers accept fuzzy processes? They will if it improves their bottom line.
One of the most powerful algorithms in computer science is the recursive algorithm, that function which calls itself. Recursion is almost never applied to BPM workflows (ouch, right?), but what would happen if it was? Perhaps this type of logical wormhole could be applied to crack knotty business problems or cases that resist being solved. Just an idea. Just don't divide by zero.
Big Brother BPM:
Part of the challenge of BPM is modeling real life processes. But how can you model something that is going on outside the boardroom, in real life? Big Brother BPM might solve that. If we could somehow capture the actual lives of the process participants (well, their work lives at least), via an all encompassing always-on recording eye, perhaps that data could be used to construct processes which actually mirror what happens in the real world. You'd need a very powerful processor, but then again, might the results not be worth the effort, privacy concerns aside?
Yes, this is what you think it is. An amalgamation of CRM, ERP and BPM all in one. Why really, do we need these three so crucial business systems to be compartmentalized, when all we talk about is how to integrate one with the other? Why not unify all three, and presto, the problem of integration is eliminated.
Nanotech-processes controlled by quantum computers. Clothes that help the wearer complete tasks. Products that build themselves. Enough said.
And last but not least... Simultaneous BPM:
What's faster, a process that is executed in linear time, with chronological actions taking place one after the next, or one where all the actions are executed at once, simultaneously. Sound impossible? Imagine if process participants could "team think" and make decisions together at once. This sort of "hyper collaboration" is the next step after Gartner's Extreme Collaboration. Still not convinced? Well, perhaps simultaneity may only be possible after the singularity, when computers will exceed human thought. Ah, but I promised that we would not cross the line over to science fiction...
Ok, I admit, I'm not really saying that all the above will come true. Some of it may be just a wee bit fanciful for business reality. Yet we've already seen how some BPM vendors (my company PNMsoft included) have been able to create Intelligent Processes that learn how to improve themselves based on real time analytics. That's artificial intelligence. Is that fantasy? Actually, it's history. So I will predict, quite seriously now, that we are all in for marvelous surprises in the field of BPM, and when they arrive, we'll be asking ourselves how we ever managed without them.