What Exactly is BPM?

As many of you know from my time at the ebizQ Forum, I have asked this question, What is BPM? before.  But seeing how quickly BPM changes, it seems I could ask this question every six months and get a different assortment of answers.  Not from everyone, of course, as I'm very aware that for many, a process is still a process, something businesses have been doing and refining since the beginning of time.

But seeing how the speed of enterprise IT has been accelerating, I was quite curious how this discussion was going to go.   This was mostly due to my thoughts on an earlier question I had asked the BPM Forum, which was, Is BPM at a Unique Point in its History, or is This Just Another Step in BPM's Long Evolution?  There are many arguments you could make that BPM is just on a continuum of change, and this is just another point in the continuum   

But the one thing I don't think you can argue is the impact today of technology on business, and the fact that the era of the IT illiterate CEO is nearing an end.  That's why I think all enterprise technology is going through a tectonic shift today, and BPM (combined with mobile, social, and big data) will be more valuable to a company than ever.

So the question I asked the Forum was: 

What is BPM?

Right off the bat, Theo Priestley kicked off the discussion with: Might be easier to define what BPM is not. 

I was worried that this was the direction the discussion was going to take.  I had asked for a concise answer, and now I was wondering if a concise answer on BPM was even possible. 

Ashish Bhagwat added to Theo's response: It's almost a way of life for doing business right... combined with functions! 

Emiel Kelly agreed with Theo, saying: Processes are daily business, so everything companies do to execute and manage those processes to make them do what they promise is BPM.

All certainly correct so far.  But still, with all the brainpower we have in the Forum, I thought there must be some kind of actual definition, some kind of consensus we might be able to reach.

Patrick Lujan gave the quick and concise: Automation, integration, continuous process improvement. 

Ashish Bhagwat followed with:

A Management Practice for organizations to align their resources (people, information, systems), internal as well as external, in a systematic and continuous manner, in order to achieve adaptive and responsive business operations to deliver customer value. In essence, BPM is a strategic competency for enterprise performance and agility. 

Then he concluded with: Leave out any part of it and it could mean anything else, not BPM. 

Kevin Parker chimed in with a real-world view: For my customers it starts with Basic Process Management and leads to Big Process Management and ends up being Business Process Management. 

The real world was also echoed by David Chassels with: BPM supporting technology ready to deliver Enterprise Adaptive Applications empowering people reflecting the real world of work  

Dr. Alexander Samarian broke it down for various layers of a company. The one I found of most interest was: project managers: a way to speak the same language within the project.

I think this is an important point, as in our love of the latest gadgets and apps in IT, one thing that is often overlooked with BPM is management, and one of the key parts of management is communication.

Michael Poulin chimed in with: BPM = be purpose minded!

I thought that was good, and catchy, but perhaps a bit difficult to implement.  Keith Swenson wrote the following excellent breakdown: The practice of developing, running, performance measuring, and simulating business processes to effect the continued improvement of those processes.

Scott Francis went right after our insular IT bubble with the thought that too many of these definitions were too IT centric, writing: BPM is about managing business processes, and there are lots of "kinds" of business processes out there.

He followed with: I know it is frustrating to some to have a term not have hard boundaries, but isn't that true everywhere in technology. 

So we're back to BPM being almost too big to define, except with a certainty that it is about managing business processes.  

Sharif Aboulnaga finished the discussion with an excellent additional point, saying that while the definition hasn't changed: one key difference today is the availability of a variety of tools that can be used.

How Would I Define BPM?

In a way, I pretty much agree with all the definitions.  Have just returned from the iBPMS Expo, and seen all the vendor presentations and demos, it really is surprising how vast and varied the BPM market is.  So what is BPM?  It's exactly what the business at that time and process maturity level needs it to be to improve their processes.

Peter Schooff