Why BPM Is Unique & Important: Part 2 - Introduce The Work Of Business

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.


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.

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John Morris