1. Peter Schooff
  2. BPM Discussions
  3. Tuesday, February 23 2016, 09:49 AM
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I'm seeing more and more references to the digital business. So how would you define a digital organization and how big of a role do you see BPM playing in it?

John Reynolds Accepted Answer
I just can't get enthusiastic about the term Digital Business. It's probably my background in electrical engineering... Digital is ones and zeroes, analog is continuos waveforms. One would think an analog business would be more desirable.

BPM should play a huge roll in businesses that want to surf the waves of opportunity and peril spawned by a globally connected economy.
This is a symptom shared by smart folks of our generation, I believe. The whole thing has looked digital to us for decades. The idea of "digital business" being something somebody just discovered seems... odd.
  1. E Scott Menter
  2. 11 months ago
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Dave Duggal Accepted Answer
Blog Writer
Hi Peter,

Good question, I'm not sure there is a canonical definition, it is more of an objective like and related to agile.

A Digital Organization is agile because it has chosen to represent human, physical and virtual resources as software objects, which are flexibly composable and dynamically bound. It represents the last step in transition from monolith architectures and bloated application stacks.

Business Process Management as a concept will endure, it's fundamental and existed prior to Information Technology. However, human tasks and Cloud, IoT, Network and System automation necessarily and increasingly intertwined to support integrative end-to-end solutions across business silos, organizational boundaries, industry protocols and technologies.

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Digital as an adjective means the usage of digital (including information and communication) technologies to better enterprise functioning (including adoption of disruptive business models).

Architecturally, digital is explained in ref1.

Considering that, digital businesses must successfully function in uber-complex environments (intangible assets, management at light speed, involvement of robotics and bionics actors, on-going predictive planning, etc.) the coordination of work in such conditions must be very explicit (even to be understandable even for Things).

At present, only BPM (as a trio of discipline, tools and practice) provides a rich and coherent set of explicit coordination techniques. Thus BPM is indispensable for any digital business.



  1. http://improving-bpm-systems.blogspot.ch/2015/03/entarch-view-on-ditigal.html
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Another scheme to sell research/consulting and justify a new Chief of Digital Business plus empire.

At least that is my take after listening to a short audio at http://www.gartner.com/technology/research/digital-business/

I am not accusing Gartner of inventing this- the audio gives the impression that "digital" started with leadership and one of the reports in the Gartner Special Report deals with 'how".

It seems there could be a disconnect going from the message to implementation resulting in failure to align cross functional initiatives under an overarching governance process.

No kidding.... We could have anticipated that.

Impact on BPM or posible contribution from BPM?

Definitely . . . strategy's main preoccupation is to make effective use of resources with a view to increasing competitive advantage. The leadership picks initiatives, ranks them then allocates resources.

At the operations level if there is a 1:1 between an initiative and a particular ROI, then at a Case, you can install the objectives for the ROI, use BPM to guide the work, allow ad hoc ACM interventions and record/assess progress toward objectives at a Figure of Merit matrix parked at the Case.

If an initiative has many facets, then you map your various Case objectives to Key Performance Indicators and similarly assess progress.

Governance (what Garner is looking for/ aiming at) is everywhere - at steps along BPM processes, at Cases (as oversight/gatekeeping for any mix of ad hoc and structured interventions) and at consolidation routines that map data to KPIs.

Once the world figures out that you can have BPM where

a) any customer inreach or outreach can be accommodated at any BPM step (too much of this and no work will get done),

b) all data picked up by the performance of work can be shared with any number of subscribers (each using ttheir own native data element naming conventions both for reading and writing),

my prediction is "digital business" will achieve liftoff.

Sounds theoretical that leaderhip is driving "digital" - that topic does not seem to come up a lot on golf courses.

I hope the outcome is not that thousands to top executives will spend most of their time staring at "balanced scorecards".

They should look up Donald Rumsfelds pronouncements on "knowns" and "unknowns" - the info you don't get in government or business typically is a lot more interesting than the information you do get..
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Anatoly Belaychuk Accepted Answer
Blog Writer

Digital Business is a generic term for new business models that have become possible due to the progress in information technologies. More specifically, these technologies makes it possible to replace human workforce by software "robots" in many areas.

As for the BPM, it plays important yet supporting role. Digital model assumes transformation both of customer-facing part of the organization and its internals. The former is more critical yet BPM is still too focused on back- and middle office.

Just look at typical BPMS web portal - who is its target user? A company's employee. Mobile interface? Once again, it's a handy tool for company management - process owners, process managers, line managers. Cool "one-button" mobile interface to our business process for external users (customers and partners) is a challenge and an opportunity for the BPM industry (meaning the BPM software here).
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Walter Bril Accepted Answer

Ah...yet another definition matter. Just digitizing of analogue artefacts doesn't make much sense to me. So that's not it. . I believe you still need to understand the what, when, why, who and how, and throw the magic into the mix (did I mention information?). Then you can answer whether and how much you can / need to digitize and/or automate (not the same IMO).

To make a long story short: BPM can do without automation (and digital), but automation (and digital) cannot do without BPM...
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Ian Gotts Accepted Answer

Companies are reinventing themselves to take advantage of the technology in the hands of their customers, partners and employees. If they don't, new well-funded start-ups will unseat the encumbents. Back in 2011, Mark Andreessen summarized the current phenomenon with a simple phrase, "Software is eating the world." EVERY company is now a software driven company i.e. digital. Try running a company without power or internet.....


Andreessen argued that every business in every industry would feel disruption from technology, and the new entrants to the market would have a lasting effect. This was more than a bubble or a blip: "We believe that many of the prominent new Internet companies are building real, high-growth, high-margin, highly defensible businesses."


For new disruptive companies to be successful, they need to be lean. There's less and less margin to work with, so profit comes from scale and a light touch. A company can't afford to have expensive sales, support, and consulting staff helping to sell and onboard new customers, and then teach them to be effective using the app. This means that apps need to be intuitive, with just the right level of help delivered in context—"nudges"—and more complex functionality that exposes itself when the user is ready to accept it. It also means that the company needs to focus on its own operations and aim for process excellence; a great UX; integration of customer-facing apps; and the back office, insightful metrics, and tools to support a culture of innovation and continuous improvement. That is BPM.


Software is eating the world, and BPM makes sure it doesn't get heartburn.

  1. http://techbeacon.com/cloud-social-mobile-big-data-stage-set-disruption
I like your second to the last paragraph. I would suggest that BPM is only a piece of that, the heart, though. With analytics & decisions being the brain.
  1. George Chast
  2. 11 months ago
Your comment of power is indeed a good one.

That's why I bought the sun and the wind. They were still cheap now you can buy a tanker full of oil for a few bucks.
  1. Emiel Kelly
  2. 11 months ago
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E Scott Menter Accepted Answer
Blog Writer

As I alluded to in my comment on [url="http://bpm.com/bpm-today/in-the-forum/how-would-you-define-a-digital-business-and-how-big-of-a-role-do-you-see-bpm-playing-in-it#reply-3406"]John's post[/url], seems to me that "digital business" isn't exactly a new thing. I was working on digital systems for securities trading in the 90s, and a friend and colleague of mine at that time was helping to invent the first credit card with an embedded chip.

In terms of the new wave of digitization (and, I swear, the next person who says
[i]digitalization [/i]
is going to have to answer to me), BPM's role is
, and it's a long established one. Digital business has been around for a long time, but the ability to generalize the digital approach to virtually every kind of business problem—and in particular, the opportunity to create new ways to interact with customers, suppliers, and partners—is born of BPM. And it's BPM that will be nursing (to stretch the metaphor a bit further) the development of digital business for quite some time to come.
http://www.bplogix.com/images/icon-x-medium.png Scott
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John Tesmer Accepted Answer

I think you're all missing the point and showing your age. Get with the times, man!

How many organizations do you work with or otherwise integrate with that are stymied by traditional notions of how work gets done? Old farts think:

"documents" rather than the content within the document,
"spreadsheets" rather than the underlying data driving them,
"flowcharts" rather than the processes driving their creation.

Saying "here comes digitization again" only exposes your blinders. Digitization is way bigger, and it's about removing middlemen in business in much the same way that Amazon disintegrated the retail supply chain and reinvented it from the ground up. It's the kind of break-through innovation that makes a retailer the world's most trusted hosting company.

Digitization is the disintegration of business as we know it. It's happening all around you and you likely don't see it because you're too busy trying to keep up with the productivity gains your organization achieved by not filling those vacant positions. It's only going to get worse. Or better? Depends on your perspective. I for one welcome our new millineal overlords.

There are PaaS and SaaS plays everywhere that are breaking apart business processes. Name one part of a traditional value stream that is not available as an API today. That's digital business.

Traditional silos are crumbling around us and we won't see it until its all done and the hot new job title is "organizational strategy orchestrator-slash-api plumber."

Digital business is not about the systems, it's about the fact that we can now disintegrate the information and operate on it as efficiently as possible.
Emiel - you don't need wires anymore! Current mobile technology is amazing! And it will result in you working *less* and getting the same amount done. So you can tend your garden in the morning, work over lunch, and go back to mending fences in the evening at your cabin in the woods.

I'm happy to bring a beer to the cabin next time I come visit, just send me a Slack. :)
  1. John Tesmer
  2. 11 months ago
@John - yes, business as we know it.

I've spent some time with the startup community in Tampa, Florida and worked very closely with "digital natives" for the past year. These are people who get real work done using SaaS tools. These are the tools that have literally replaced traditional business tools. What I saw both scared and excited me.

What's happening is effectively the commoditization of processes that previously required very specific knowledge to achieve. This commoditization is happening because the information necessary to do the job can flow unfettered within organizations and in the most powerful sense across organizational boundaries. They're using tools like salesforce, freshbooks, servicenow, harvest, and in the cases where they have to integrate with this 30-something manager, tools like "Google Docs", "Google Sheets", and an archaic torture device called "email".

They don't own traditional productivity software. They don't use ERP systems. They design and build things using purpose built software as a service that are designed from the beginning to be decomposed, remixed, and built upon. They have solved wicked problems that have long plagued organizations of all sizes including identity management, distributed storage, distributed computing power, stats based artificial intelligence, and more. In an afternoon, a single individual can do what previously took all of computer science history to achieve.

Think about what would happen if SAP decomposed its ERP system into a series of independent modules with the Internet at the core, and each module was offered not by a single company, but by 3 or 4 companies competing to earn a fraction more monthly recurring revenue than the others. Now make the modules interact natively and without significant pain. Now make them successfully customizable by a global resource pool with little knowledge of your business. The value is no longer in knowing accounting, but in knowing how to chain together services in the most effective way possible. That and being a brilliant leader, having a vision, and of course charisma or instilling fear in people.

And you're right, the only thing keeping this cohesive is a standardized way of talking about "what" organizations do, "what" processes are needed, in which order, and the discrete information needed to execute them.

I disagree with you though that "the software to help organize that work is BPM software". BPM software has about as much future as a typewriter. Tools that are designed strictly to integrate other tools - phooey! (at least for now - give this a few more years)

All that a budding entrepreneur needs - and mind you these entrepreneurs can be disruptive to the status quo with their new tools - is a little JavaScript, a web host, and a few Saturdays. Enterprise customers are hamstrung by legacy investments in monolithic tools, but just watch what happens when the capital investments depreciate out and are replaced by SaaS plays at a third of the monthly cost and 98% less IT frustration.

The rate at which giants are added to the proverbial shoulder-stacking is increasing. The result is a dramatic shift in how work gets done. This is "mass customization" writ large across the face of business.
  1. John Tesmer
  2. 11 months ago
Business as we know it? Maybe accounting and cash flow are out of date too? Maybe the domain knowledge required to maintain and services physical plant is out of date? You are certainly correct John that there are changes afoot. But aside from a few dramatic examples, progress is more incremental than the hype from reading Wired would have us believe.

And at the base of everything new and old, there's work to be done. And the software to help organize that work is BPM software, where by definition the artefacts of work are first class citizens of the technology. Insofar as there is new work to be done, and faster, there's an ever increasing need for BPM.
  1. John Morris
  2. 11 months ago
Dis-integrate to Re-integrate. To enable other, smaller & innovative businesses to use & create business services from our micro-services. I think this is exciting.
  1. George Chast
  2. 11 months ago
I'm indeed too old.

I unplug my stuff and move into the woods.

  1. Emiel Kelly
  2. 11 months ago
@John Tesmer: Your comment should be framed as an outstanding example of evangelistic techno-futurism! Every paragraph is jammed packed with revolutionary memes.

Are your arguments sound? I'm sure there are lots of folks who would take issue with many statements (for example, I have a problem in particular with the idea that accounting no longer matters, if that's what you meant).

But allow me to engage with you on a single topic.

Consider the reason that ERP systems exist, whatever we think of them as dinosaurs stuck in primeval mud, the bane of organizational flexibility. Deploy an ERP and you've deployed maybe 10,000 data tables, or perhaps 3X that.

Why? Because these tables represent the *irreduceable complexity* and richness of life. The data elements organized by these tables and the rules that govern organizational information are enormously complex, because life is enormously complex. It is impossible to deliver what ERP delivers without duplicating in some what what ERP delivers. It is the work of years and 100's, not a few programmers in a day.

What can be achieved by small programmer groups on SaaS with APIs is amazing. But we should not denigrate the complexity and richness of business life -- and the powerful software infrastructure required to maintain the scaleable and secure systems on which civilization now depends.

(And for the record, all the big ERP vendors are working hard at disaggregating monolithic ERP; probably the motivations for doing so are mixed. . . )
  1. John Morris
  2. 11 months ago
As a CA I have much sympathy with the deep feelings expressed on the change required. However please recognise that as a business grows so does its accountability and "compliance" with regulators becomes ever more important. The audit trail of activity as information is created is essential and this is where BPM supporting software sits. The good news it will significantly reduce need for accounting records and will start the journey to retire those ERP inflexible/unfriendly systems!
  1. David Chassels
  2. 10 months ago
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George Chast Accepted Answer

I love the answers above - many perspectives and I agree with the commonalities.

Digital business is a direction to take advantage of electronic/digital/integrated transactions and operations because they are faster, cheaper & less error prone. I.e less costly and more volume. From the old EDI that we all knew could only touch the tip of the iceberg of business through EDIint, to today's API Economy and Mobile business. We see businesses strive to integrate & automate smartly.

Providing the right information to the point of interaction, providing the right content and options at the right time to optimize the outcomes. Capturing & processing it fast with
and delivering with precision. Finally, seeing it real-time on dashboards with Alerts that accelerate the event-driven business. This covers all aspects of business from onboarding customers, employees and partners to transacting & interactions of all kinds to payments.

This is not the BPM of yesterday. This is not just rules & analytics bolted on. More than ever, the digital business needs
[/i][/quote] automated,
[/b][/quote] carefully calculated with great insight and delivered via those APIs and Mobile devices. Process and Decisions are more critical -- I bet you can see how gathering requirements and designing these will be different when we do take into account the shift from manual to digital?

And, John, we've all used words to describe the current focus of our customers that we've previously used for something completely different. It's okay. Stay young, adapt! Acceptance removes the friction for understanding and leading others. That's why we are here, no?
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David Chassels Accepted Answer

As usual "digital" is a much over hyped term that is often used by people who really do not understand business...politicians use it to make good sound bites and just displays they know a lot about nothing! The reality is there are 2 aspects to digital. First the " public" who want that easy access to information and the interactions that help them get what they want sitting in their environment. Then the big challenge as the question asks the implications for business and governments to deliver a "digital service".

Digital organisations are about supporting people internal and external being interactive with information which in reality is about the "business operations"; it is not just the UI it is that vital direct back office support to deliver and receive data as required. This of course is precisely where BPM sits and help to quickly establish what is required. However that is too easy for IT where most business have a huge silo driven mess of legacy that business people are truly afraid to "change" thus a barrier to the required transformational change in the business putting people first...!

So what is the answer to how does an organisation tackle this problem that could accelerate the importance of BPM to drive next generation digital connectivity and cooperation to deliver what is required. There is no doubt a good architecture that can handle this need for real time data support is important. The harsh reality is that trying to change legacy is not the answer yes use it as required but should not be the driver.

You know business is actually quite simple when you focus on the required people support for digital, driven by BPM. Therein lies the real.challenge in an industry that just loves and benefits from complexity.....so do your research look for detail just how business operations can now be supported to deliver on that digital future.

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Bogdan Nafornita Accepted Answer

For the purposes of my start-up, I have defined a digital enterprise as:
[i]agile [/i]
and deeply
with its ecosystem (employees, suppliers, customers).

This sounds like hype talk, but there's a actually a clear digital concept behind each of these bullet points.

So BPM is paramount to a high-performing digital enteprise.


I don't believe in "digital enterprises" that are hacked on the back of the napkin. All the cool kids that are using:

- all sorts of bandaids for their SaaS operational needs

- the latest fads like the newest Javascript framework and 6th, 7th gen dev language

- the bleeding edge of NoSQL tech

if they live long enough to discover all these hacks don't scale really well, they go back to basic operations support (BPM anyone?), old-time enterprise architecture, Java stacks, RDBMS's, etc.

Or discover that, if they somehow scaled (through aggressive VC courting and techstar hiring), they can't make enough money because they don't control the primary technologies on which their app landscape sits.
Managing Founder, profluo.com
. . . like trying to build a cathedral with toothpicks . . .
  1. John Morris
  2. 11 months ago
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