In a recent blog post, Scott Francis, a Co-founder and CTO of BP3, posed the question: has BPM crossed the chasm? In case you're not familiar with chasm-theory marketing (Crossing the Chasm, by Geoffrey Moore), Francis is basically asking if BPM has become a mainstream technology in today’s IT environments. Francis goes on to conclude that BPM has not yet crossed the chasm and then proposes a recipe for BPM vendors to collectively drive process technology from the throat of the bell curve (early adopters) into the belly of the curve (early majority). According to Francis, key to this recipe is “really good success stories.” By highlighting them, he is, of course, implying that such success stories are few and far between, either because they don’t yet exist or because BPM vendor’s just aren’t getting them out there.
Toward the Problem with BPM
If there’s a malaise in the BPM space, it may have to do with difficulties in transforming real-world business processes into automated workflows. A couple of the complicating factors are the structure (or, rather, lack thereof) and instability of processes across vertical industries.
If a process lacks structure—meaning, it’s too complex to reasonably be represented in scripting logic—the notion of an automated workflow goes out the window, giving way to the more abstract, ethereal world of adaptive or unstructured process environments (modern, advanced case management). No knock, here, on case management, mind you. It’s just that the value prop with case management may not be as clean cut as the in-your-face, better/cheaper/faster promise of structured workflows.
If a process lacks stability, its structure may not matter. In other words, if a highly structured process is constantly evolving, the cost of transforming it into an automated workflow, both in money and time, may make the process a bad candidate for process automation.
Of course, I’m just scratching the surface of an underlying pathology that may be holding BPMS back.
A Process Technology that Works!
Contrast Scott Francis’ blog with one written by Jim Sinur, a Gartner VP and BPM guru, about document generation, a burgeoning niche within the BPM sector. Sinur’s blog recounts the story of a sprawling government agency that had reduced the time it took to generate ultra-complex contracts from three months to three hours using a document generation process platform. The point of the post, though, wasn’t the extraordinary efficiency improvement the agency had achieved but, rather, the resulting risk mitigation—the agency’s document generation process app had all but eliminated legal altercations resulting from human error in the contract generation process.
Document Generation—the Killer Process App
The story Sinur recounts has it all—a huge efficiency factor, the imposition of governance on an unruly process, a radical decrease in risk with a correspondingly large increase in compliance. And what’s more, the government agency that Sinur is speaking of is just one of thousands of large organizations that have experienced enormous ROIs with document generation.
The fact is, the idea behind BPM is sound as a pound—transforming real-world, dark processes into automated workflows will yield tremendous benefits, assuming, of course, that organizations can actually pull it off. Some processes lend themselves to effective automation, while others don’t. Consequently, organizations looking to apply BPM broadly need to choose their battles carefully.
With that said, document generation is a process technology that yields predictable results. The road map for success is well defined. Potential pitfalls are well marked. And virtually every business—whether large or small—has repetitive, rule-based legal documentation that could be transformed into process applications that will yield the kind of results that BPM technology has been promising for years.