Back to the Future

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"Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future."

  • Nobel prize-winning quantum physicist Niels Bohr

Every new wave of industrial and information technology has brought prognostications about what it would mean to the workplace. Usually, these predictions are either wildly utopian, claiming universal application, or dystopian, warning of dire consequences. Typically, neither extreme comes to pass.

As the authors of many of the popular books about business process management (BPM) have pointed out, process-oriented management is not a new concept. What is new now is a set of technologies that promises to deliver new capabilities and leads us to take a fresh look at what technology-enabled process management can deliver. While a few quiet voices have cautioned against thinking of these BPM technologies as the new "silver-bullet," unfortunately, they are largely drowned out by the pundits and marketing brochures that have a vested interest in forecasting "orders-of-magnitude" ROI and near utopian push-button ease of use.

Here are some lessons from experience and sober research into other "past futures" that you may want to consider in planning your next BPM/S programs.

1) This new BPM systems (BPMS) technology will not replace all the technologies that you use today. It will be an addition to your technology inventory.

2) Similarly, BPMS-enabled BPM solutions (BPM/S) aren’t likely to replace the way we get work done today. They will add a new dimension to it.

3) Implementing BPM/S isn't going to cause a massive loss of jobs. There will be some displacement and realignment. But typically, newer, "smarter" technologies in the long run create a demand for more people. Everyone once predicted the demise of middle management. But, Department of Labor statistics show that to be the fastest growing segment of the U.S. job market today.

4) Using BPM/S to simply automate the processes you perform today will yield only short-term benefits and actually will inhibit your ability to gain the full advantage of the technology's capabilities to enhance decision-making and knowledge, to respond rapidly to change and to deploy innovative approaches to delivering value to customers.

5) Implementing BPM/S isn't easy to do. You will have to invest time and in education to use these new techniques and technologies to your best advantage.

6) With BPM/S, remember: People-Process-Information-Technology are all part of the solution. Focus on only one or two of these, and you will sub-optimize the result.

7) Is enterprise-wide, top-down, executive-driven or project-by-project the best approach for BPM/S? There is no one-size-fits-all right answer. You have to determine the best strategy to fit your business.

8) Creating a BPM/S strategy, building a process team, buying BPMS packages, these are just the ante into the game. You won't really be a player until you've delivered at least your second business solution.

"The best way to predict the future is to invent it." - Computer visionary Alan Kay

Those involved in BPM and BPMS programs can learn what to expect by a prudent look at past conjectures as to the anticipated benefits and consequences of new management disciplines and technologies. It is fun and exciting to envision what we will achieve. But it won't be as easy or as fast as some believe.

"The future ain’t what it used to be." - Famous malapropist Yogi Berra

Brett Champlin is the president and founder of the Association of Business Process Management Professionals. He is also a business process consultant with a large insurance firm where he leads business and IT process redesign projects. He has over 25 years of experience working in information systems and management.


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