How Smart Can Processes Get? Discussing the Future of Processes with Jim Sinur

Schooff: Hello, this is Peter Schooff, Managing Editor at BPM.com. And today, I have the pleasure of speaking once again with a name all of you are familiar with is Jim Sinur. Just a quick bio, he's the past BPM Analyst for Gartner and really one of the biggest names in BPM. Jim Sinur also has a book out that he co-authored with Peter Fingar titled Business Process Management: The Next Wave. And I'm pleased to say also that Jim will be the keynote speaker at the upcoming bpmNEXT, which is going to be taking place March 25th through the 27th, in California and I would venture to say that is one of the premier BPM events at the moment. So Jim, thanks so much for joining me once again on a BPM.com podcast.

Sinur: Well thank you Peter. I really appreciate it.

Schooff: Likewise. Now, everybody's talking about the "Internet of Everything", how does this impact BPM would you say?

Sinur: Well, for those processes that are connected to physical devices or markets where patterns can be detected, now the "Internet of Everything", basically, says that you have a bigger context and a bigger context could include devices. And so processes are going to have to be able to pick up the patterns and respond appropriately to what the "Internet of Everything" is saying and admitting. So it is a big linkage. You see that a lot where physical devices are involved like surgical centers, farms, etc.

Schooff: Gotcha. Now, you're one of the proponents of smart processes, exactly how smart do you think processes can get?

Sinur: Yeah, they can get very smart. At bpmNEXT, I'm going to go into some of the detail of exactly how smart it is but I'm going to give you five areas where I think processes are pushing the edge. One, is just plain raw intelligence so it’s the idea being able to recognize those patterns, applying big analytics, and big data to big processes, and doing some machine learning; that's the raw intelligence part.

Then there's the social intelligence part where you include collaboration and deep knowledge work and its more skills driven, etc. The third is agility, the ability to adapt. So have a really smart person that can socialize but they can't change. Process is going to be the same way; they have to be able to change so that's important. Then the next area of smartness is the kind of freedom and autonomy. So certain people are smart, they're social, they can change, and you give them a trust level, can you allow them to act on their own or not. So those are four out of the five. And the fifth one is the visibility, being able to show that brightness, and smartness, and make that visual whether it’s a simulation or gamification. So those are the five pioneer areas for smart processes. And there's an implied message here that processes have to get smarter to assist people and to assist businesses to deal with the speed of business.

Schooff: Gotcha. Now, something I frequently read on your blog is machine assistance and intelligence. How do you feel going forward? Do you think it's going to be machine assistance and intelligence will be accepted this time?

Sinur: Yeah, the first time around it was used a lot in manufacturing and particularly over in Japan and we see the results of that. We see smart transmissions. We see smart manufacturing. And for the most part, the white-collar people just basically baulked at it. They weren’t ready for it. Today, there's so much flying at people in businesses that they have to take assistance where they can, whether it's from another employee or it's some kind of machine assistance, particularly when you get into heavy real-time analytics. The pressure is causing it to be accepted. If you're looking for help and you're drowning, do you care whether it’s a canoe, a boat, or a Coast Guard cutter saving you? So I think it's pretty simple people are going to accept it this time.

Schooff: And that leads directly to the next question. Best practice is a big part of BPM. Now with smarter processes, is it going to be these best practices or do you think we're just going to head to something more like better practices?

Sinur: Well, I think you're going to see a hybrid of both. I mean there's some things that are very prone to best practices, things where there's not a lot of change. But where there is change, and where knowledge is shifting, and there's a lot of knowledge and skills that need to be applied, you're going to have some better practice patterns and the knowledge worker might pick from one of five better practices that have proved to get the kind of business outcome or organizational outcome you want. So I think it's going to be a combination. I think the old world was best practice "period" because that's what you could program inside of computers and make it rigorous enough to code it.

Today, we're going to have more dynamic processes, its self-defining code in real time and so that way you can have a set of better practices by watching how people collaborate on cases, for instance, and automated process discovery that uses mining techniques for finding these better practices. Technology is there. The need is there. We can't force people to interact with our organizations in a standard way and that's where best practices flourish but there's certain parts of what companies do that are best practice and other parts that are better practice.

Schooff: Definitely. Now, one of the big equations is people, so how are people supposed to deal with these faster paced processes? I mean are they expected to become as Agile as the technology? Where do the people fit into this?

Sinur: Yeah, this is a two edged question. One is how do people deal with the speed of the business that's flowing through these processes and the other is how do they deal with the speed of changing these processes. And it used to be the technology was in the way. You always had time. The people always had time to digest change and slowly simmer on the changes. And so now people are -- technology is no longer the way, people are, organizations are, so one of the key skills that I just wrote on yesterday is the ability to deal with change.

And so the notion of people being able to deal with how work is changing in the workflow, in essence, or work stream is one aspect and I think people will adopt to that a little bit faster. But how do you deal with the changes in process, particularly, if the process is so smart it can change itself? And there are instances where that’s happening. I think people are going to just have to get used to being able to change quicker, organizations are going to have to have a better approach than let's boil the frog slowly so the frog doesn’t realize its being boiled to the point where the frog is actually planning the menu and implementing the meal.

Schooff: Very interesting. And that leads directly to the next question of governance. And what about ethics issues like in the future and are we going deal with it all?

Sinur: This is the biggest unknown for me because I'm not a lawyer. But there are issues about what about these smart systems? What happens when they break? Who do you blame? Do you blame the process? Do you blame the person that built the algorithm that caused the process to think wrong? And there's going to be privacy issues. This is going to be using big data across a lot of different areas and who are you going to blame when it's wrong? I think there's going to be whole new areas of law and ethics.

And then of course governance when you have processes that can roam free. This one's a little bit easier in that you can constraints. It’s a lot like having a teenage daughter going out on a date instead of repeating all the rules you taught her all your life. You say, well, you can do anything you want but don’t do these two things. So that's how constraints work. You don’t have all the rules laid out, you just say you can do what you want but don’t do these two things.

Schooff: Fantastic. Now, you're a keynote at bpmNEXT. I'm really excited to see you there as well, once again. Your talking about, Is my process smarter than me? Can you give us just a little overview of your keynote.

Sinur: Yeah, basically, I'm going to kind of poke fun at me, which is really easy and my wife always gives me a great hand at that. And basically, I'm going to show how one individual is not going to be able to handle the work that's coming at them so you have to have a process assisting you. In essence, your process becomes your bot, in essence, and helps you out. And it may be you collaborating with the person next you but it's built on the idea that no one person is an island, they can't do it themselves because of the complexity of the work, also, because of the speed.

So we've got increased speed, increased complexity and it's going to talk about how your process is going to be smarter than me. I haven't figured out whether I'm going to use the process as a personality and have a different voice for it, then you'll probably take me away in a rubber jacket or someplace. But it's going to be about how processes are going to be smarter than you collectively.

Schooff: Well, I'm really looking forward to it, Jim. This is BPM.com's Peter Schooff speaking with Jim Sinur. Thanks so much and can't wait to see you in March.

Nathaniel Palmer
Author: Nathaniel PalmerWebsite: http://bpm.com
VP and CTO
Rated as the #1 Most Influential Thought Leader in Business Process Management (BPM) by independent research, Nathaniel Palmer is recognized as one of the early originators of BPM, and has led the design for some of the industry’s largest-scale and most complex projects involving investments of $200 Million or more. Today he is the Editor-in-Chief of BPM.com, as well as the Executive Director of the Workflow Management Coalition, as well as VP and CTO of BPM, Inc. Previously he had been the BPM Practice Director of SRA International, and prior to that Director, Business Consulting for Perot Systems Corp, as well as spent over a decade with Delphi Group serving as VP and CTO. He frequently tops the lists of the most recognized names in his field, and was the first individual named as Laureate in Workflow. Nathaniel has authored or co-authored a dozen books on process innovation and business transformation, including “Intelligent BPM” (2013), “How Knowledge Workers Get Things Done” (2012), “Social BPM” (2011), “Mastering the Unpredictable” (2008) which reached #2 on the Amazon.com Best Seller’s List, “Excellence in Practice” (2007), “Encyclopedia of Database Systems” (2007) and “The X-Economy” (2001). He has been featured in numerous media ranging from Fortune to The New York Times to National Public Radio. Nathaniel holds a DISCO Secret Clearance as well as a Position of Trust with in the U.S. federal government.