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Part 3 Definition of BPM Technology: Technology For The Work Of Business

In previous sections we defined the concepts of “work”, “the work of business” and “automation”. Now we can ask “what is the best technology for automating the work of business”?

Clockwork

Part 2 Definition Of The Work Of Business

Most or even all technologists are to some degree technology enthusiasts. And that includes BPM software technology professionals. And certainly in our pursuit of the Minimum Viable Definition of BPM software technology, we'll have to dive into that technology.

However, before we do that, it’s important to understand the “why” of this technology. Let’s step back for a moment from technology and ask about the reasons why BPM software technology – or indeed any technology at all -- exists? The result may be that we have even more reason to be enthusiastic about BPM!

In a nutshell, technology exists as a force multiplier for human brawn or human brains. Technology thus helps us do more work with the same resources. As such, BPM software technology, like all technology, helps us with our work.

As technology, BPM specifically concerns the automation of certain types of work. In fact our definition of BPM stated that “BPM is the technology for automating the work of business”. So let’s explore the ideas of “work” and the “automation of work”; they are the “why” of BPM software technology.

All Organized Activity Is Work

Business or any organized endeavour starts with a purpose. And then that business executes on that purpose by the expenditure of effort. This is our starting point then: purposeful effort. And that’s called work. All organized human endeavour is about performing “work”, the expenditure of effort in support of some purpose. And in a macro organizational context, organizational work then adds up to a value chain.

The job of management is to organize work in support of that value chain. Specifically, the job of the executive is to decide what work should be done, i.e. what effort should be expended in support of defined purposes. All business or government or non-profit managers and executives want to organize work. That’s what managers do.

Following from this, if work is what organization is for, then the use of technology to be more productive in our work would be very important.

Automation Of Work Is The Goal

The application of technology to work to improve productivity changes how work is done. This change is called automation.

What is a helpful and specific meaning of automation for this discussion?

This Paper uses the term “automation” in its most general sense, which is the use of technology artifacts as force-multipliers of human effort in the performance of work.1 This meaning of the term automation is already in use, as in the following sentence said by a business manager: “We need to automate that department.

One could argue that the word “augmentation” may be in some circumstances more appropriate, but augmentation implies an human actor that may not always be present.

Another term, the new “digitalize”, is often used to describe a big-picture automation program; the term however is not focused on “work”, which is our point of interest.

Note that BPM software technology itself is not a synonym for automation. There are lots of instances of automation achieved without BPM; the idea of automation is distinct.

Some readers will recall the original meaning of the term automation as narrowly defined in terms of industrial control systems. But interestingly, the International Society for Automation now concurs with a broader use of the term automation, defining automation as "the creation and application of technology to monitor and control the production and delivery of products and services.”2

Business leaders then will choose to automate work if there is a good business case. This is the "why" of BPM.

Notes

1Business process automation vs. business process management: A primer by Kristen Caretta, Associate Editor 10 Nov 2009

2“What Is Automation” www.isa.org/about-isa/what-is-automation/

PointerNext up in the Series -- Paper I, Why BPM Is Unique & Important: Part 3 - Link Work of Business And BPM Software Technology: What is truly unique about BPM? And what are the big three first-class BPM functions?

 Paper Road Map

There are four papers in the Series: Explore BPM Technology As Revolutionary Enabler:

  1. This first Paper, “Why BPM Is Unique & Important”, introduces the exciting topic of BPM software technology and why BPM so relevant to business today. Work, process and modeling are revealed as built-in to BPM software, enabling rapid construction of new business capabilities. Published in five parts.
  2. The second Paper, “Minimum Viable Definition Of BPM”, introduces the whole BPM ecosystem but then zeros in on the Minimum Viable Definition. Promotion and adoption of BPM software technology is facilitated when the unique value of core BPM is clearPublished in one part.
  3. The third Paper, “Challenges Of Being A BPM Pioneer”, highlights technical keys to success for a BPM programme. BPM software technology is not mature, and “results may vary”. However, there are ways of narrowing the “cone of outcomes” for your BPM programme.
  4. The fourth Paper, “Adoption Process & BPM Institutionalization”, covers how BPM software technology adoption can accelerate beyond the current technology grid-lock, a process which is less about technology and more about community.
Chess

What’s the problem? Why does a lack of committed leadership typically surface among the top few barriers in practically every survey on the obstacles to successfully transforming operational performance? This article outlines that while there are no pat answers, the success of BPM and other operational improvement projects can be enhanced if leaders were to focus on four key areas.

World Technology

Part 1 One Technology Helps You Put Your Ideas Of Work To Work

So many technologies! So much business pressure to digitize! So much complexity! Where should we spend our limited time?

Business Process Management software technology is clearly a technology that might help us as business people achieve business objectives.

But what if BPM software technology (“BPM”) is more than just another technology?

What if BPM is in fact the technology that should be the core of our efforts? Knowing with confidence that we had a sensible place to start our digitization efforts would be very helpful.

BPM is in fact that place to start! This Paper will show you why.

This Paper itself is the first of a series on the revolutionary potential of BPM technology. Here is the plan for the series:

BPM Technology As Revolutionary Enabler Paper Series

  1. Why BPM Is Unique & Important: Work & Process As First-Class
  2. Minimum Viable Definition Of BPM: Power To The People
  3. Challenges Of Being A BPM Pioneer: Using Technology Effectively
  4. Adoption Futures & BPM Institutionalization: Technology As Social Process

Our series starts with a look at why BPM is important, at the real meaning of BPM technology, and how that meaning sometimes gets lost. The “Minimum Viable Definition” of BPM software technology helps us recover the core value of the technology. BPM technology includes both software technology and as well the social technologies and business practices which can be grouped under the label of "BPM methodologies" which are covered in Papers III & IV.

Minimum Viable Definition of Business Process Management (“BPM”) Software Technology

Let’s begin with a definition of BPM software technology. This is the “Minimum Viable Definition”; in the subsequent Paper II we’ll explore the background of the Definition.

BPM Is Unique

Definition of BPM as The Technology of Work

Business process management software technology (“BPM”) is the technology for automating the work of business. By definition, in BPM automation technology, and only in that technology, concepts of work and process are first-class citizens of that technology.

BPM software technology is unique because no other technology can be described as “directly about automating the work of business”.

And “directly about” is possible because of the first-class citizenship in BPM software technology of the ideas of “work and process”. BPM software technology has native support for the language of work and process that business people can directly use to express their plans for automation.

BPM Is Important

Meaning of BPM Technology for Organizations

Only BPM technology enables business-side staff to directly imagine, model, make and use automation artefacts for any desired business process, minimizing IT-side mediation.

New generation BPM software technology thus enables organizations to evolve business capabilities more rapidly and affordably than is possible with any alternative.

BPM software technology provides opportunity; for that opportunity to be realized, it needs to be combined with leadership and investment. That combination of powerful technology and business leadership will open the door to real, measurable, positive and affordable business change. For these reasons, BPM software technology is the ideal starting place for your digitalization journey.

See Paper II for a full exploration of the Minimum Viable Definition of BPM software automation technology. Paper II concerns technical challenges of BPM technology. And Paper IV covers social aspects of BPM software technology promotion and adoption.

A Little Background On The History of BPM Technology Adoption

For decades, and formerly known as workflow, one of the most seductively promising business technologies has been business process management software technology. Especially today, with the wide perception of business disruption and digitization, the intuitive allure that BPM is the way to build new business offerings is stronger than ever.

So, given that business intuition, plus the real experience of BPM success stories and even a decade of hype, BPM software technology should almost “sell itself”. And indeed, BPM software is now explicitly part of many company technology portfolios, and implicitly part of major software applications.

But as for “selling itself”, and as any sales person knows (and as a sales person I know this too), nothing “sells itself”.

Especially BPM software doesn’t sell itself. Despite it’s natural attraction, for multiple reasons the pace of BPM technology adoption has been fairly “slow”.1

What is the challenge in selling BPM?

Beyond the feel-good BPM sales slide deck, BPM technology often reveals itself as requiring a major IT commitment. There are lots of success stories, certainly, but fewer than we had hoped for. Even for those who have taken the plunge, current BPM software too often turns out to be exactly that – the big IT commitment and technology grid-lock that everyone fears.

Yet despite these reservations, the expectation of both business people and technologists remain, an expectation that BPM technology does indeed have huge potential. This is one of the reasons for this Paper series, to make a case for adopting BPM software technology that is beyond intuition. And as for the challenges in BPM adoption, improved BPM technology combined with good BPM software technology management can make all the difference for a successful BPM programme.

PointerNext up in the Series -- Paper I, Why BPM Is Unique & Important: Part 2 - Introduce the Work of Business What is business all about and what do we need technology to do?

 Paper Road Map

There are four papers in the Series: Explore BPM Technology As Revolutionary Enabler:

  1. This first Paper, “Why BPM Is Unique & Important”, introduces the exciting topic of BPM software technology and why BPM so relevant to business today. Work, process and modeling are revealed as built-in to BPM software, enabling rapid construction of new business capabilities. Published in five parts.
  2. The second Paper, “Minimum Viable Definition Of BPM”, introduces the whole BPM ecosystem but then zeros in on the Minimum Viable Definition. Promotion and adoption of BPM software technology is facilitated when the unique value of core BPM is clear. Published in one part.
  3. The third Paper, “Challenges Of Being A BPM Pioneer”, highlights technical keys to success for a BPM programme. BPM software technology is not mature, and “results may vary”. However, there are ways of narrowing the “cone of outcomes” for your BPM programme.
  4. The fourth Paper, “Adoption Process & BPM Institutionalization”, covers how BPM software technology adoption can accelerate beyond the current technology grid-lock, a process which is less about technology and more about community.

End of the Road

Peter Schooff and Clay Richardson from Forrester research continue their discussion. In this excerpt from the podcast, they talk about the how end-to-end process transformation is being replaced by improvements to the customer journey.

Technology

Remember the days in which data was managed exclusively by applications? Each application owned the formats, operations, and I/O methods. Oh, the long nights we used to spend examining COBOL or FORTRAN code for data semantics just to write a meaningful new report program.