"There's an app for that" can be said about almost anything. Implementing each app into an organization comes at a cost. Purchase of the product of course. But don't forget the training. Many employees are already overwhelmed by the number of applications they have to deal with.
Installing BPM as infrastructure means that employees have a single way to interact with a task list and with the BPM system. Each process brings new capabilities, but in the same, familiar environment.
Most BPM products do not charge by the process. So it's even cheaper compared to buying many off the shelf products for all those internal processes.
That said, I don't see anything wrong with process-oriented projects that happen to use BPM either.
It's nice when BPM technology is used successfully for a given project. It's even nicer, but much rarer, that BPM is the standard for any and all process-oriented projects!
In a book from 2011, Charles T. Betz, probably known to a many in the BPM.com community, says as follows:
“The business case for infrastructure is notoriously difficult to make on financial terms but not impossible”.
Architecture and Patterns for IT Service Management
Section 4.10, The Business Case, Page 301
Let's examine "business case".
I like to distinguish between "use case", "business case" and "investment case". BPM has a great use case, and as an enabler for a given project, often a good business case.
But an infrastructure BPM programme is an "investment case". And much more challenging to sell.
An investment case is distinct from a business case in that an investment case concerns general changes or innovations in how business is done. Such innovations could apply to either current business models or new business model initiatives.
Geoffrey Moore (of "Crossing the Chasm" fame) has updated his work this past spring (see "The Four Zones"), writing about how to manage and sell sustaining versus disruptive business model innovation projects.
This post by Mr. Moore from April 22 of this year is almost a recipe for making the investment case for BPM -- and then selling it. (The word "process" appears 28 times!)
Once you've invested in a BPM product, it only makes sense to apply it (and the logic behind BPM as a philosophy) as often as possible not only to get the biggest bang for your buck, but also to harness the power within that product to manage all the miniscule things your company must manage outside of projects. Of course, it takes time to set up an infrastructure, and sometimes it may feel like you're recreating the wheel, because there is most assuredly "an app for that" already. Is it easier to just use a deck of disparate apps, especially if they are free? Maybe. Do your employees end up duplicating work and wasting time with each of these different apps, maybe even resisting their use as a result? Probably. Would it be worth the investment to create a "one-stop-shop" for your company to use as an in-house management tool that combines the functionality of these apps? In the long run, I'd say yes.
The answer is yes. But I yet have to see a business that uses BPM for anything else than cost cutting. Therefore the business case for a BPM infrastructure is not acceptable. As the cost cutting happens primarily through staff reductions the lame argument that BPM is used to free the staff to improve customer service is false. Whenever we argue for quality improvement the answer is that not enough customers are complaining about bad quality. So the vicious circle of less and less staff continues and once the complaints are loud enough then there is no one left to actually improve quality so the service is if possible outsourced or removed.
John mentions Moore as the guru to sell this business case, but his approach is as lame as his argument about crossing the chasm. While he is right, he is actually promoting that as the right way to do business. He says that large businesses will only work with large vendors that promise stability. The last thing those large vendors do is to innovate on the level that actually should happen. They just do more of the old thing they know.
BPM the way it is being sold and implemented is too old and too rigid and certainly not innovative. We can't get businesses to let go of the step-by-step model and rather focus on goals and outcomes. Why, because the large vendors and consulting firms do not know how to do it. It is to them a foreign way of thinking. Step-by-step they get.
And there the vicious circle closes. Goals and outcomes require humans with brains who know what they are doing and how they can satisify the customer. But these people cost money and therefore it does not promise reduced costs. Additionally are current BPM projects extremely complex and thus long and expensive and that increases the need for rather extreme cost cutting.
In principle, yes there is a business case. In practice, there is not.
"BPM infrastructure" is what the Big Guys would like to pitch you, because it fits their legacy sales model so nicely. When you're talking to the CIO of a Fortune 100 giant, it doesn't make sense to present an inexpensive solution that can be deployed incrementally from the bottom up. Oh, dear no; instead, you'll be pushing yet another 3-letter software suite that costs millions of dollars, takes 18 months to implement, and which will, we promise, revolutionize the way you do business.
"Infrastructure" is a word that does not connote flexibility. When the Earth shakes, infrastructure falls down (take my word for it, I live in California). The challenge of building and maintaining an infrastructure that can change on demand is, of course, a major driver in the move from the datacenter to the cloud. Unlike file servers and freeway bridges, though, BPM is flexible. It can, and should, first be deployed tactically, directed at specific issues that need to be addressed immediately. Then, as it spreads, BPM will organically form a loosely coupled, easily manipulated infrastructure that can deliver real strategic value.
I reminded of the line in Terminator 2, "It's OK mom, he's here to help". Arnold Schwarzenegger's cyborg used to be bad, now he's good.
Same with infrastructure.
Sure, as several commenters have pointed out, infrastructure can be a recipe for big vendor lock-ins. But there's a major win waiting for any CEO/CIO/COO who can see "infrastructure-as-your-friend".
Infrastructure is just a word. Beyond that though is a place where process is a first class citizen of business culture and technology.
A generation from now (and sooner for early adopters) we'll be able to look back from a new world of BPM enabled, business friendly, process culture. I expect by comparison our current reality will look like a straightjacket of code and and the wrong kind of complexity.
There is a basic problem here - BPM was late to the party.
The minute a company starts up and a task is repeated, a process methodology should guide the next steps.
As the company grows, new processes dovetail seamlessly with the old ones, creating rich data which improves every process.
With closed loop reporting, you can see when processes stop improving and delivering value and the company can focus on what to transform, what to continue to iterate and what to replace.
That is the powerful business case for a BPM infrastructure. And it gets ever more compelling as we add machine learning to the mix, to create an ever optimising and evolving organisation.
But most organisations BPM people are selling into are preBPM companies.
Often they are automating paper-based processes which have evolved through HiPPO (Highest Paid Person's Opinion), not through data-driven decisions.
Here different parts of the company are evolving at different speeds. There are not only legacy technologies to contend with, but legacy people and methods.
BPM end to end would be like - as Douglas Adams put it... "It'd be like a bunch of rivers, the Amazon and the Mississippi and the Congo asking how the Atlantic Ocean might affect them… and the answer is, of course, thatthey won't be rivers anymore, just currents in the ocean."
Or as Bran Ferren put it about the Internet:"Trying to assess the true importance and function now is like asking the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk if they were aware of the potential of American Airlines Advantage miles."
But John Maynard Keynes summed it up well when he said: “The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as escaping old ones“
BPM should be the root and trunk of the company, not just some branches. But companies are too set in their ways and risk averse to let it be. That's why they are declinging and being replaced by companies which do have process at their core.
What a great debate. So, my 2 cents:
Infrastructure is what CIOs/IT dept used to buy strategically. The CIO is no longer the buyer, line of business is. The line of business buys tactically. The new world looks like this:
( Tactical + ROI ) x multiple projects = strategic.
I've got to say that I've got strong doubts that "BPM Infrastructure" really has a broad business justification beyond specific solutions.
My doubts stem from these observations...
1: In practice, business process solutions are seldom built from scratch. Instead, most business process solutions bring together an ever expanding collection of products and services. Choreagraphy and Orchestration (C&O) of these products and services into efficient workflows is core to the success of each solution - but the "best way" to implement the C&O is extremely dependent on the specific products that are being leveraged. For example, if SAP is a key business component you'd take a very different approach to implementing a process solution than you would if Oracle is at the heart.
2: In practice, business process portals aren't practical for managing workloads. Work that is managed by BPM infrastructure is a mere fraction of the work that needs to be done. Workers and managers need a unified view of work in order to make the best use of their time... and solutions have to feed their task information into these unified views (rather than providing their own limited view).
3: In practice, business process analytics don't tell the whole story. "The real process" involves much more than the activities managed by BPM infrastructure. Workers and managers need a unified view of all of the work that is taking place, and analytics across all of the work that has taken place... and that includes insight into the processes as they truly exist (process mining) rather than what's been modeled.
Having said all that, I want to be sure to state that I firmly believe that BPM infrastructure is crucial for the success and maintenance of process solutions... but in practice it's best to match the infrastructure to the solution to make sure it's really a good fit.
At one of my current clients which moves to “managing by processes”, there is no “BPM infrastructure” project or business case. But there is a corporate unified business execution platform (for which BPM is one of the pillar components). This platform is built in the following way:
1) architecture group provides some initial minimal common capabilities and
2) each business project contains business and technological improvements and contributes into this platform with new services/capabilities and extra computing power.