Gartner Blog Network

Has BPM Lost Its Luster?

by Elise Olding  |  February 6, 2013  |  10 Comments

It seems each week I’m hearing more and more challenges – political battles, lack of support, methodology wars and skills shortages. Some highly acclaimed enterprise-wide BPM programs have bit the dust recently. Is the shine is wearing off BPM? 

I have some thoughts about why this is and will keep the list short:

  1. Tinkering – many BPM projects tout results from automating paper intensive routine activities, many times with little, if any breakthrough re-thinking about the work. This is often because the automation is at the task or activity level. Getting a bunch of people in a room and asking them how to improve their work in a two hour meeting can’t possibly yield innovative results.
  2. BPM is Special – some organizations create a BPM empire from scratch and don’t play nicely in the sand box with already mature disciplines like enterprise architecture, project management and applications development. Some seem surprised to discover that business analysts can do process modeling! BPMers tout breaking down process silos while they blindly build their own methods, governance and competency centers.
  3. We Do BPM – the BPM group becomes a bottleneck because they are doing the detailed work. Pretty soon transformation teams, aligned with strategic processes begin to sprout up – especially in large organizations.
  4. One Process For All – standardization has become synonymous with BPM. Whether right or wrong, I hear many execs refer to “standardizing business processes” as their view of what BPM achieves. As an expectation, this road is fraught with politics at the front end and shadow processes at the back end.
  5. Cost Cutting Mode – doing things more cheaply is not always the answer. Bloomberg Businessweek, 1/28/13, alludes to Boeing’s focus on cost savings as one factor in the Dreamliner challenges. Efficiency is a short term win – there’s only so much efficiency you can wring out of your organization. Then what? Effectiveness is boundless and radically rethinking how work is done creates long term value that pays forward.

The advice here is obvious – think bigger, play nice with others, tackle unstructured and knowledge work, embrace effectiveness and focus on long-term value. BPMers need to radically rethink what the role of visibility, accountability and adaptability will be for the future of their organization. How can you make these  enterprise competences? Get out and understand the work your enterprise does, find the unknown opportunity. Invent, rethink. Promote everyone being responsible for improving and innovating, not just the elite few. Be really good at communicating – really, really good.  This includes listening.  

This blog really isn’t about how giving advice on how to fix this. Hopefully your blood pressure is going up and you are murmuring how wrong I am. I’d like to get your thoughts – are you hearing the rumblings?  Can you add to the above list? Are you in violent disagreement? Do you have a success to share? 

Want more?  Come to the BPM Summits (London, Washington DC, Sydney) where I will be presenting “Stop Tinkering, Start Innovating.”  If you are a Gartner client – set up an inquiry and let’s tackle your challenges and put you on the path to process success.

Additional Resources

View Free, Relevant Gartner Research

Gartner's research helps you cut through the complexity and deliver the knowledge you need to make the right decisions quickly, and with confidence.

Read Free Gartner Research

Category: bpm-strategic-planning  gartner  

Tags: bpm  bpm-failure  business-process-improvement  

Elise Olding
Research Director
7 years at Gartner
32 years IT industry

Elise Olding is a Research Director covering the complex challenges of organizational change and business transformation from a people perspective. Her areas of focus include organizational change, communications strategies and emerging trends in employee engagement from a hands-on practitioner view. Ms. Olding provides research on a worldwide basis, advising clients on best practices to achieve sustainable change and business transformation. She is a member of Gartner's Business Process and Transformation team. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Has BPM Lost Its Luster?

  1. Joel Kiernan says:

    There is something very fundamental in BPM that programs and practitioners overlook or forget over time. BPM is about adding business value by focusing processes. BPM is not about process modeling or BPMSs, although these can be useful tools provided they are used to add business value.

    Processes represent a significant portion of most firms’ overall spend. Managing that spend (think investment) effectively is essential. Processes also create key operational and strategic benefits to the firm. BPM, in a sense, provides the means to maximize the process ROI.

    With business value as a foundation, BPM execution becomes more straightforward. Problems such as tinkering are reduced because the focus is always on the big picture. Why spend time automating a report distribution when you can focus on $250M in working capital tied up in inventory. There’s a big business value difference between a 5% improvement in each of these improvements.

    Is the shine wearing off BPM? Maybe, but if it is, it is for the wrong reasons.

  2. Elise Olding says:

    Great comment Joel. You and your organization are certainly shining examples of how to do this right.

  3. Ivo Totev says:

    Customers I meet with are forging forward with very compelling BPM initiatives that are now much more forward looking then they were in the past.

    For example the analysis and design of business processes seems to become much more of a collaborative exercise within enterprises including social and mobile capabilities. This naturally increases the broader support and buy-in for those projects, leading to faster and better results.

  4. When I speak to our clients, BPM has certainly not lost its luster. I am seeing organizations that are just realizing the value within their first BPM implementation and others who continue to see value coming out of their 30th implementation. This is especially true for organizations that invested in the reporting and analytic capabilities of BPM where they can see and share the value it has delivered across their organization. These results are leading to lines forming outside of their office doors by the next group that is eager to take on a BPM project.

    From my perspective, I see the best days of BPM ahead of us: transforming how a next-generation of knowledge workers will approach their daily work, changing how IT interacts with an supports business needs, and creating a shift in how new applications are delivered to an enterprise and its customers.

  5. Elise Olding says:

    Hi Derek, that’s a great view from a vendor perspective. Is there something specifically that OpenText is doing to help customers deliver business value?

  6. Doug Hadden says:

    Kind of wondering whether BPM ever had ‘luster’:)

    BPM suffers from the ‘when all you have is a hammer, every problem is a nail’ syndrome. There are diminishing returns to trying to articulate business processes to the granular level. We are seeing that collaboration and agility, as witnesses in social networking, is required in business. Creative work can not be articulated or parceled in small chunks.

    So, smart organizations recognize this need to ‘call out’ from rigid workflow to enable better human decisions.

  7. Bertram Geck says:

    The luster of BPM is still shining. It just lifts itself to the next level of abstraction. Analogy for that is in the history of programming languages, the level ob abstraction has been lifted several time.
    In this case, for BPM, as soon as the network of collaboration gets complex, the enterprises understand more and more the value proposition of BPM for its the business. In future process models will be available of-the-shelf. Many Innovations will be generated by combining existing processes, few will be totally new.
    The winner will be the enterprise with the maturity to understand, that using the models helps to ease the process of defining processes again and again and again. Reinventing the wheel doesn’t make sense. Better invest in innovation and invent new processes.
    As an increasing number of companies gains maturity, the acceptance of BPM increases accordingly.

  8. Here is my take 20+ years of seeing the IT industry just flounder when it comes to people and process The key must be knowledge in hands of customers to demand more of vendors?

    BPM needs to move forward with better supporting software?

    Over the years questions have been raised about BPM projects where there has been disappointment with outcomes. There are those that question BPM “survival” as evidenced in the recent question here but they are missing the point. BPM is a discipline not a technology. It is the supporting technologies that will determine the effectiveness or otherwise of a “BPM” project in an organization.

    If we look at how early BPM projects started they were fairly light weight local processes that were simple but not mission critical. The supporting technologies were correspondingly “light” but did achieve some of the objectives. As ever the world moves on and we now are seeing a need for the BPM discipline to be applied to the enterprise level requirements and as such the rise of a number of new “product lines” such as Adaptive Case Management which come under the BPM umbrella. The real issue is not what is built it is how it is built. With the focus on the dynamic people and process requirements it is important buyers now need to have a better understanding in order they can assess skills required the likely outcomes of a project.

    Such knowledge is called being the “intelligent customer” and to achieve that questions have to be asked of the software technologies being used to deliver. This is all the more important as the market of enabling software is now dominated by few very large US vendors. As such the big vendors do not innovate with new ideas but more spend resources embedding acquired technologies into their core offerings. Real innovation comes from smaller players and many are focused on niche modules that included early support for BPM.

    To deliver the end to end BPM supporting application requires a tightly integrated system that mirrors exact requirements as opposed to a well-integrated set of application modules? In order to understand what capabilities are available there are important questions that need to be asked in relationship to the use of BPM supporting software to build and run collaborative and transactional applications. It is about practical functionality to deliver value for money and adaptability for future proof investment in applications. These are simple questions but will be quite revealing in the answers that will aid good decision making before enterprise level BPM projects begin.

    1. How adaptive is the software to support both iterative build and future change and how is this achieved?
    2. How is the specification handled in terms of both being understood by users and developers and how then translated into build?
    3. How much custom coding is required to build custom applications is it accessible and how is future change handled?
    4. Does the core technology support reusable features to speed up future development and does it support being used as a shared service?
    5. Are process, workflow, rules, state and calculation engines contained in one development tool? If not how do they handle these essential requirements?
    6. How does the user interface present information to ensure all relevant data is available to the authorised person at the right time and that new information is easily entered only once into the system?
    7. Can a working prototype as a first pass of the solution be built quickly to test requirements and engage policy makers and users for feedback?
    8. Is there a method to estimated time frames for delivery of the application?
    9. Can the development environment provide an exact record in a business friendly format what has been deployed?
    10. What capability is there to deliver intelligent applications giving flexibility to users dependent upon circumstances?
    11. How does the architecture of the technology fit to connect to legacy, how does it scale and does it require SOA?
    12. What is the total “file size” of the integrated tool?

    The IT industry has largely failed to support people and their required processes to deliver the required outcomes. As a consequence this key area is a bit of a mess and needs to be addressed. Business recognises that good processes are assets but to remain so they must remain adaptable to business change. Bringing together people their processes and “digitisation” is just makes common sense but needs that essential flexibility/adaptability.

    To achieve the desired outcomes requires knowledge; as industry strategy and thought leader Naomi Bloom says “It really matters how your vendors build their software, not just what they build”. So before a “BPM” project of any size starts some research will be a good investment and we should see the BPM discipline move forward supported by next generation software applications?

  9. John Antos says:

    Over last 40 years, a number of approaches and methods have come, have been modified, and/or gone or at least have decreased in popularity.
    Quality was popular in the early 1900s turned into TQM which morphed into a simpler subset called 6 Sigma. Activity Based Costing became Time Driven ABC and extended into Activity Based Management. KPIs morphed into BPM.

    I think BPM will continue to be used by some organizations where the top executives is bought into the concept. My experience is the CEO and/or President of the organization or SBU has to be ACTIVELY behind the consent.

    One CEO used the Balanced Scorecard on paper for a year before automated. The software was not the key, it was his buy-in. The software is an enabler. If the CEO is bought into BPM they will sooner or later approve the staffing and budget for BPM. Although the software is important, having the right:
    * processes,
    * KPIs
    * critical success factors
    * linkages
    * alignment, etc.
    * compensation related to your BPM
    * action plans created and implemented to fix problems
    are initially more important. Software enables a good BPM system.

    All too often i have seen organizations spend large sums on software before getting some of the above items implemented correctly. CEOs want improvement and achievement of goals. Unless employees understand, are held accountable and act upon the BPM software reports, BPM will disappoint.

  10. Elise Olding says:

    Thanks for the insights John! Agree completely.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments or opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors only, and do not necessarily represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management. Readers may copy and redistribute blog postings on other blogs, or otherwise for private, non-commercial or journalistic purposes, with attribution to Gartner. This content may not be used for any other purposes in any other formats or media. The content on this blog is provided on an "as-is" basis. Gartner shall not be liable for any damages whatsoever arising out of the content or use of this blog.