Blog post

Mapping Process Problem Spaces to Solution Spaces

By Janelle Hill | April 06, 2010 | 4 Comments

My thanks go out to Paul Buhler, Chief Scientist at Modus21, LLC ( ) who alerted me to blowback from a comment I made at our recent London BPM summit ( . In my presentation on best practices for selecting a BPMS , I remarked that the right answer is often more than one BPMS, matching the BPMS’ capabilities to the needs of your process improvement project. Sandy Kemsley heard of this remark second hand ( )  and erroneously concludes that Gartner is  “…bowing to pressure from platform vendors that have multiple fragmented BPM offerings (e.g., IBM), and that it’s not a good thing for customers.”

Since Sandy has picked up the quote second hand, it is no surprise that the quote is taken out of context and that Sandy is misinterpreting it. Therefore, I thought I’d take the opportunity to clarify here.

In fact, our view is quite the contrary to Sandy’s assumption! My comment was made in the context of my discussion of the weaknesses in conventional and recent approaches to categorizing processes, (including Tom Davenport’s in Thinking for a Living). Most categorization approaches tend to oversimplify the endless variety of interactions between human, system and information resources that happen in any process. Processes range from the routine — which tend to be those that are highly structured and can often be automated with applications — to processes that progress in unpredictable ways and often require the interpretation and judgment of experienced individuals in order to be successfully completed. My research finds that different styles of processes still need different technological implementation approaches because of the inherent complexity in the work interaction patterns themselves. Even when the buyer’s needs are appropriate to a BPMS implementation approach – in other words, he/she requires visibility into the work in the process pipeline, adaptability of both work items and the process design and accountability for state changes to the work (all key indicators for a BPMS approach) – few BPMSs on the market are proven yet for handling multiple process styles. 

Consider the broad range of unstructured processes. There is no BPMS that is well-proven at handling the full range of unstructured styles – including case management, network optimization, dynamic task management and content collaboration  –  equally well. For example, Singularity, Pallas Athena, Global360, Appian and EMC handle case management especially well, whereas Metastorm, K2, Agilepoint, Handysoft, and Fujitsu handle dynamic task mgt especially well and Adobe handles content collaboration especially well! Furthermore, of the over 70 BPMS vendors we follow at Gartner, Pegasystems is the most-proven BPMS for handling a broad range of process styles spanning structured and unstructured processes, with Lombardi and Savvion not too far behind.

In a market that is still in the “early majority” stages (reference G. Moore’s Crossing the Chasm), it is no surprise that mainstream buyers will not be happy with my recommendation that “3 BPMSs may be the best choice”. This reluctance underscores the work still to be done by BPMS vendors to deliver the “whole product” that will appeal to a mainstream buyer and drive this market across this last chasm. Yet even as BPMS products move to the mainstream, I predict that no vendor will deliver the “be all, end all” platform solution for every process challenge, especially as process challenges are addressed through dynamic composition rather than new application development to automate prescribed behavior.

Readers should note that I do not mention the largest software infrastructure vendors at all in this position……….Happy BPMS shopping!

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  • Alana Schock says:

    Thoughtful post – and the full context is helpful to understand what you clearly recognize is an unpleasant recommendation. It does a good job of illustrating the burden of unmet business process automation and management needs to the business technology consumer.

    I agree that any buyer looking for a \be all, end all\ solution from a BPMS vendor will likely never find it because that’s a pretty unrealistic expectation. However, I don’t think that what many of us are demanding of any BPMS are radical, specialized features unique to complex and ad hoc business processes proprietary to individual firms. Rather, I believe much of what’s missing in some of the leading BPMS offerings are features that quickly accommodate the input/output naturally occurring together in most mainstream business process ecosystems – for example: friendly/smart connectors to or interoperability with third party document management systems, client relationship management systems, ERP systems, etc. Based on my experience, the notion of human-, document- and integration-centric BPMS offerings is unnecessarily divisive in this respect – and it imposes a bias on a business process that I’m not sure really exists outside of “vendor land”. The vast majority of the core business processes at our financial services company have activities that require all three types of features. My understanding of case management tells me that most often all three are also required for this ubiquitous business process pattern.

    I would be willing to bet that many people buy a leading BPMS for its greatest strength (of the three categories – document/human/integration) and spend substantial portions of their IT development budget to customize it to compensate for the shortcomings in the other two. Given this, I am actually quite hopeful about the potential for smarter solutions from BPMS vendors. Any vendor that really stays in touch with what its customers are doing to customize their application will probably find that their own customers have already implemented many of the missing features/unmet needs that might cause other customers with far more cash to seek another BPMS. Much of the work has been done by their own customers already in lots of different ways with lots of different third party vendors. For example, I wonder how many people have customized their BPMS to integrate with a third party ECM system for document management integration (an extremely common business process activity input and output)? A vendor study of these various implementations of the same class of integration would probably yield a great deal of functional requirement information (along with a lot of directly reusable code) and permit them to adopt the best implementation as part of their suite or come up with an even better solution based on what they learned. This would help the vendor bring in more deals and save a customer about 3-4 months of fairly intense integration work – or the purchase of an additional BPMS for document-centric processes…

  • Janelle
    The points are well taken. Document management will be certainly very different than case management. There are also other parallels. Microsoft’s SharePoint dominates the workflow is standard operating procedures. It is probably the best way to a create CMMI environment. When you create a project folder you can standardize the locations of all the documents and templates.

    At Innovations we have a product for Basel II risk management, the Credit Risk Rating Platform. It is highly specialized for the creation and frequent testing and publication of probability of default (PD) models. In addition, the platform supports specialized workflow for the approval of business rules changes.

    So, there is a divergence of practices that come under the umbrella of workflow or business processes. I seriously doubt that any one BPM or workflow vendor is going to overtake all others.


  • Janelle, I wholeheartedly agree with you on: ‘Most categorization approaches tend to oversimplify the endless variety of interactions between human, system and information resources that happen in any process. Processes range from the routine — which tend to be those that are highly structured and can often be automated with applications — to processes that progress in unpredictable ways and often require the interpretation and judgment of experienced individuals in order to be successfully completed.’

    Correct, and any process can move from one category to the other at any point in time — given the chance. That is especially true where a variety of inbound and outbound content is involved (80% of processes!) That is the reason that hardcoded process or case management systems are so expensive to implement and maintain.

    How about a system that has no hardcoded functionality but represents BPM, ECM, CRM, BRM, CCM, and any other TLA (Three Letter Acronym) based on the object model it deploys? Would that not solve those issues? Our Papyrus Platform most certainly does. A case/process always is built from data, content, goals (activities, actors, outcomes), rules, and user presentation. Only a system that enables all five to be freely defined and managed in a runtime executable model will be truly flexible and ADAPTIVE — created and maintained by business users.

    Any system that requires substantial methodology and COEs to run is a business disabler not an enabler. Unfortunately all that is becoming irrelevant as businesses are so confused with all the TLAs that they will simply step onto the next best thing … Sharepoint 2010.

  • Janelle Hill says:

    Thanks for thoughtful input Max.

    For me, I’ve always describe “BPM” as a set of management disciplines for better managing business operations. I’ve never equated BPM with Taylorism or Demming or other past process-focused thinking. In fact, in many of my presentations, I’ve described how BPM is radically different than these past approaches. But, clearly, the world doesnt “get it” yet….

    One big contributor to the lack of understanding around BPM (IMHO) is that most people think that “process” means stepwise, predictable, sequential order of tasks or activities. In fact, the word doesn’t mean this at all! According to multiple dictionaries, “process” simply refers to a series of changes to state, converting inputs to outputs. The definition inherently does NOT imply sequence or predictability. Clearly, a better way of describing how effective work happens is needed…What is that word though? Knowledge? Innovation? I think effective work depends on effective interactions across the resources – people, machines, information, money and time. Effective work requires optimization of these constrained resources.