The BPM Podcast

Podcast Feed
Full Feed

The BPM Podcast

Process Automation: Myth or Reality

Process Automation

Nathaniel Palmer:
Thank you for joining us for the BPM.com Podcast, Process Automation: Myth or Reality? Today we're joined by Paul Stone who is a founding member of FlowForma. Paul has 27 years of experience in software development and today is FlowForma's go to expert for leveraging process automation as well as sits on the innovation council where he helps lead innovation and the product roadmap for FlowForma. Paul, thanks for joining us.

Paul Stone:
It's great to be here, Nathaniel. Thanks for having me.

Nathaniel Palmer:
The first point there is a still persistent myth that you can't do complex process automation with no code or low code tools and there's a kernel, like most myths, of reality there. What we saw in the original flood of tools is a focus really on simplistic workflows, basic forms routing, no real ability to define in kind of a business logic. What we're seeing today in the market is the emergence of tools like FlowForma, which are able to deliver that same level of process, complexity and nuance in process flow that we would expect of what we used to call the stack or the heavy framework, also as automation tools, but delivered with a design that afford. That lends itself to the low code or no code. Paul, what's your thoughts on this math and when you encounter this with customers where they assume that you can't do complex process automation with a no-code tool like FlowForma?

Paul Stone:
Absolutely. Often, the conversation with our customers starts off with something simple, something basic, and but then they're often very surprised of what can be achieved in a low code environment. And I think that big difference is that the tools these days are built specifically to build processes in with no code. So they're actually over time they've been refined and designed to specifically deliver results in a no-code environment. And they certainly evolved a lot over the past 10 years and even in the past few, three years or so. So, the markets really matured in this area and you can get a lot more around the tools than you used to be able to do.

Nathaniel Palmer:
Part of what continues to further that myth and confusion around the market is differentiating between low code and no code tools that have arrived fairly recently but really still are focused on fairly simplistic flows, tools such as Market Shop Flow or PowerApps. And I know that from the standpoint of a vendor such as FlowForma, there's probably some challenges in providing differentiation there with customers, given that these tools are, you know, largely marketing themselves in the same way.

Paul Stone:
Yes, certainly first appears to be a very crowded market with so many productivity products out there and they're all focused on making it easier to carry out digital transformation in your business. But when you take a closer look at many of the tools they're targeted at specific domains. So most tools are focused, you know, in making it easier for information technology professionals to create new applications to solve simple business problems. And, but they still require a system developers mindset to build an application that has any real value to the business. So you're still required the IT department or your IT partner to be involved when you're building out the solution. And that's a big bottleneck on the road to success. And it's got a lot of risk along the way. And FlowForma, on the other hand, was designed from day one as a tool for business developers to give them the opportunity to build their own solutions without a dependency on IT, and that really differentiates us in the market.Before we launched FlowForma back in 2013 we looked at where business users saw the value and solutions and decided to focus, you know on business process as the backbone to drive value, and business process on it's own is not enough. You then have to manage data and communications, complete documents and so on. If you're going to build a system that delivers measurable value, and that's what we do at FlowForma. It's one tool that covers everything you need to do in a process to achieve your business goals and that's also something that's different to many tools out there. Really just have one interface you want to, it's designed for business people. This really allows you to apply it in a different way within your organization. Does that mean it's a direct competitor to tools like SaaS Power Platform for example, well we'd say no, you know, different tools for different jobs. If you want to drive digital transformation through business processes and using your business resources then FlowForma would be a perfect fit.

Nathaniel Palmer:
One aspect, that you raised Paul, is the notion of being able to address multiple stakeholders and particularly the key stakeholders defined by the IT enterprise, and those defined by the business enterprise. And to be able to augment tools that you might find already in the domain, which is Microsoft Flow that puts a burden on demonstrating the value delta, really being able to demonstrate positive ROI. I think that's something which is clouded the space is the thought that you can't deliver a positive ROI with low code.

Paul Stone:
Yeah, sure. Like, back in the old days and BPM, required quite a large investment in skills to get up and running and then you needed to engage with process consultants and IT delivery resources to get systems into production. In fact, it was so much effort that it was hard to whatever ROI at the end of the day, it was always hard to justify that initial big investment. Like the former approach is very different. The training cycle is as little as a day to get a business person ready to build the first production ready process. And then once your process is in production, the system is automatically capturing performance statistics and an audit trail. So it's very easy to see how your processes are performing and where the bottlenecks are, and with all of that detailed data you can start to refine the process and improve performance. So you're getting up and running very quickly with FlowForma. And also it's sold on [inaudible 00:06:02] as a service agreement. So you can start really small with a low investment, prove its value, and then grow as you need to. And I think that's a real difference to how BPM used to be approached where there was a big investment upfront. It was a big decision. But FlowForma, it's a small decision and it's easy to get going cause you're using those business resources. So that's really the terms of proving ROI. That's our approach to it, and certainly works very successfully with our clients.

Nathaniel Palmer:
That's another great point Paul, that notion that it has to be big bang, that instead you can start off and prove value and build it out incrementally. And that really shifts the focus from it being just about the technology to really about technology which enables stakeholders and key people, ultimately key projects that you're going to be automating require key people to be successful.

Paul Stone:
Yeah, that's very true. I mean based on experience with our customers, because back in the old days, you know, the key people were the guys with the budgets, the guys with the big budgets that were going to make those decisions to make that big investment. And that's not quite the way FlowForma works. It's almost a bottom up approach. Like you need someone at the outset to be the champion of the concept of business users building role solutions. So you need a person who believes in that as a way forward, as strategy going forward. And then the people in these roles, they're typically people who have been in the business for a while, have a good understanding of the business or their own business unit, and have a strong internal network, because essentially these people will be selling the idea internally. They start by building process solutions themselves. Remember that small scale start. Demonstrating the results to their colleagues and so on, and then helping new users initially giving them more support and so on. While in the longer term the business could set up a center of excellence to support a more wider adoption, but it's that champion at the outset that gets the ball rolling more, more than anyone else, is the key person need to be there right from the very start.

Nathaniel Palmer:
You hit on some really key points there that the value of the champion, the need to really create sustainment through a center of excellence, to get to that point, that critical challenge of adoption. And that has been really the biggest challenge in process automation and digital transformation. What do you do to facilitate adoption?

Paul Stone:
Yeah. Like I'd agree adoption is certainly the key challenge, no matter how easy it is to build a system. If it's not adopted, you're not going to get the returns. So we've seen this in a number of industries, particularly in those that are moving away from paper driven processes to fully digital processes. And so, take construction for example, and this industry overall is lagging behind the curve in digital transformation, many large complex construction projects still have the dependent on paper. FlowForma was implemented one such project, they focused first on pain points or problems that they knew, if we can find a solution, there's going to be general enthusiasm for that solution. So, they were generally regarded as poorly executed and the constant bugbear for management and so on. But a case really was very clear for digitization. In this case that they chose one and they had a production ready digital process built in two weeks. However, the digital skills of the business users were low, but they were able to engage those business users in trials, keep them engaged, refine the solution quickly, show results quickly, and maintain the momentum. And within three months the solution was in use generating significant returns. And this was herald as a great success because it never been done before in the industry as such a scale and it went on to win an industry award and so on. So it was really a big success. But I guess the key to that success was having that ability to get a draft, if you like, of a system in the hands of the business users, get those business users come back to you, say, Oh Hey, no, this isn't going to work. And then fix it quickly and get to fixing that quickly. Keep the momentum going.

Nathaniel Palmer:
That brings up one of the last points I wanted to discuss, which is we're seeing on the topic of adoption and where organizations are going with their investments. There's a pretty heavy focus today on moving towards Office 365 to go really dominated a lot of enterprise IT initiatives and transitions, where you can provide a leverage point to make that environment more successful, more agile, to get greater value around that. I think it's a real key value driver for any vendor. But I think that there's a particular opportunity or leverage point for FlowForma. Can you talk a bit about how do you help organizations maximize investments in Office 365?

Paul Stone:
Yeah. We fully integrate with the Office 365 platform, and we see it as a great productivity platform and we love the fact that it's cloud enabled and so on. And we actually use Office 365 to restore information. So as you progress through a workflow, all that workflow detail is stored in your Office 365 environment. And so we see Office 365 as a great opportunity and we do see a little bit of a gap there in what Office 365 does because it doesn't quite cover off business processes. And yet business processes so critical to the actual successful implementation and demonstratable returns of a productivity system like Office 365. So implementing a process management system, it shows real very clear benefits that can be associated with the implementation of productivity system like Office 365. So yeah, we see Office 365 as something that's very widespread, being very widely adopted. Microsoft is doing a fantastic job at keeping that system current, keeping it up to date with new features and so on. But I guess for most companies it's sometimes difficult to turn around after Office 365, and say, okay, Hey, what do we get out of that? But using FlowForma to enhance that with business process management, gives a really nice kind of clear figure that says, okay, you know, this has generated so much benefit, and here's the number that's actually a result of that. It's a great kind of complement to the Office 365 environment.

Nathaniel Palmer:
Well, that's a terrific point to end on. Paul, thank you very much for joining us.

Paul Stone:
Thank you, Nathaniel. Hope to speak to you again soon.

Nathaniel Palmer

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.