BPM Futures

Renewing BPM for the coming decade

Isn’t it time we re-thought the definition of BPM? It seems to be getting increasingly jelly-like – wobbling and spreading to encompass every possible interest group. Check this out – the ‘official’ definition (at least until the editing debate settles down) from Wikipedia: “Business process management (BPM) is a management approach focused on aligning all aspects of an organization with the wants and needs of clients.” Presumably contrasting sharply with previous generations of business management methodologies, which focussed on aligning all aspects of an organization with the wants and needs of small furry animals. I love Wikipedia, but if this is the wisdom of crowds, then civilization is surely doomed.

My recollection is that the term BPM came into usage in the late 90s as a way for new entrants (Savvion, Lombardi, Metastorm and Ultimus come to mind) to the existing workflow automation market to differentiate themselves from the incumbents. A key aspect of these newcomers was a serious attempt to make the process definition environment more friendly and useful to business process analysts/modellers, for example with simple BPMN flowcharts and built-in simulation.

However, the newcomers could not emphasise this aspect alone, partly because the incumbents already used graphical process definition (albeit, they would argue, a less business friendly version), and partly because their prospective clients were also concerned with other features, such as ease of integration and reporting. So “BPM” became associated not only with built-in business modelling/simulation but also better integration and reporting (think Business Activity Monitoring) – something not contested by workflow automation incumbents, since some already had excellent integration and they could swiftly match any reporting improvements. Very quickly, everyone sold “BPM” products.

And everyone bought them. The tremendous success of BPM technology, particularly in banking/financial services, telcos & the public sector, over the last 12-13 years (since the explosion of new “BPM” products in the late 90s) has had a further, diluting effect on the terminology. BPM projects are now routinely enterprise-scale, and are therefore attracting a spending level significantly higher than most process improvement /modelling initiatives. This in turn means that a much wider constituency of professionals wants to be involved in BPM projects – and often rightly so, given that enterprise roll-outs do require a wider range of skills, particularly in relation to business (process) analysis. Unfortunately some of these folk are taking positions in relation to BPM terminology that owes much more to their history in process improvement than to the technology that created BPM.

Is this just technology bias? Well, consider your favourite BPM project, and imagine the impact if all of the BPM technology was suddenly removed. What new analytical or process improvement method would remain to distinguish the activities of business improvement folk today from those you might have seen 15 years ago? Six Sigma, Lean, more general process improvement techniques are tremendously important – but have they changed so much in recent years that they constitute a new business management methodology called BPM?

So is BPM defined by technology alone? Think again of your favourite BPM project, and this time remove the entire concept of process improvement, Six Sigma and Lean. What are you left with? I suspect something that looks a lot like workflow automation, at least in its primitive form – a process defined and automated … then the project finishes and the process improvement team (suddenly reappearing) pulls out its Visio charts and starts to negotiate future change with the IT department.

If BPM is to have any substantive and paradigm-changing meaning, it must include both technology and process improvement in a way that reflects their roles and illuminates their synergies. A suggestion:
BPM is the superior state of process management attained when business process analysis and improvement activities are supported by technology workbenches that are themselves deeply integrated with the systems in which the processes are to be executed.

This definition addresses the relationship between BPM, process modelling/simulation, workflow and ERP (and other types of ‘Core’ systems). The following statements become true:
• “BPM” products that do not include deeply integrated workbenches for process modelling, simulation and analysis are not BPM – they are workflow. Nothing wrong with that – many, perhaps most, of the world’s “BPM” implementations to date probably fall into this category and they have provided significant return on investment to their customers.
• Where a workflow product does include deeply integrated workbenches for process modelling, simulation and analysis it is indeed BPM or, perhaps better, ‘BPM-enabled workflow automation’.
• ERP (and other) systems that include deeply integrated workbenches for process modelling, simulation and analysis may also be classified as BPM – or perhaps ‘BPM-enabled ERP’.
• Process improvement professionals can state that they are practicing BPM (or process improvement in a BPM environment) if and only if they are using BPM-enabled technology. They might be practicing BPM in relation to processes executed in a workflow automation or an ERP system.

Such a definition would set a standard for all stakeholders and provide a target for both business and vendors to aim at, with a vision of process improvement and execution progressing in harmony that is both radical (in the context of where the “BPM”/workflow journey has actually been over the last 20 years – whilst a number of products would pass the BPM test above, many solutions based on these products remove the levers that would put process improvement professionals in the driving seat) and ‘back to basics’, in that this is very much what the pioneers of workflow automation envisaged in using ‘graphical process definition’ in the early 90s.

It remains a compelling vision, and one that could drive competitive advantage for those that adopt it in the decade to come. The first step is to collectively recognise the vision and the terminology under-pinning it for what they are, and discard all wobbly-jelly BPM definitions along with sub-prime loans and easy credit, as relics of the decade we’ve just left.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Renewing BPM for the coming decade « BPM Futures ERP Terms pingbacked on 7 years, 7 months ago
  2. What is "Good Enough" BPM - part II, BPM Components | ActionBase Blog - Thoughts on Collaboration Process Management Unstructured Compliance and Audit pingbacked on 7 years, 5 months ago
  3. Redefining BPM? Who wants that? « Welcome to the Real (IT) World! pingbacked on 7 years, 3 months ago


  1. As I try to write a little history about BPM I can not see a common definition for Business Process Management yet. Wikipedia seems to me not be a valid source to look for. The German side of Wikipedia is much more accurate than the English one.
    I do not see any organization being the accepted one for its definition.
    Gartner, who was one of the first speaking about BPM and publishing the BPM Magic Quadrant in 2004 (?) the first time is not autonomous as the other like Forrester Research are.
    OMG with a lot of standards to be used within BPM projects like BPMN, SVBR, BMM, OSM and the newly CMPM does not give a BPM definition as well. What may surprise somebody as they are offering BPM trainings including a certification called OCEP.
    What about the ABPMP – Association of Business Process Management Professional? They are offering a BPM Training as well and a certification called CBPP. No definition but may their training canon a definition what activities a Business Process Manager has to handle. ABPMP becomes international: in Europe the EABPM has been founded in 2006 and has 3 national proxies their (one in Germany as well).
    And let us look to the AIIM, the organization to define Enterprise Content Management (in beginning in about 1999). Since 2006 BPM ist one of the management activities within ECM. They have published trainings for BPM beside the ECM realted ones in 2008. Do they have the power to define BPM?
    What about the non for profit business club BP Group. It seems to me that they did train the most BPM professionals yet. Should we take their training canon as definition?
    And why don´t the BPM exports not speak the the Qualtiy Managers. They do have an internationally accapted standard, the ISO 9000ff. OK, its in much details a more technical one. But this standard was written to improve the processes as well.
    David, as you see, if there is no power on the market to handle a needed standardization process we may not try to create the 1001st individual definition. Although I like yours. And I like your look to the birth of BPM as well.

    | Reply Posted 7 years, 7 months ago
  2. * david moser says:

    Thanks for your comment, Martin. I agree with you that this is an uphill struggle, but I have started it because I think it is important. Current BPM definitions matter because their vagueness is ultimately driving poor buying decisions, and the cost and disappointment of these threatens to discredit the BPM and workflow automation industries more generally. I don’t want to see that happen – I have worked in this field for nearly 20 years and continue to believe that both workflow automation and BPM have a lot to offer business provided that they are clearly understood.

    I hope that others reading this – many with much more influence than myself, some perhaps even associated with standards bodies – will understand and pick up on what I’m saying, for the benefit of all. Perhaps someone will be able to re-word the definition so that it retains its meaning but is written a bit more elegantly. I’m encouraged that you like the definition I’ve put forward. I shall continue to bang this drum – it may be small, but the beat may still be insistent enough to cause a change.

    | Reply Posted 7 years, 7 months ago
  3. * Manas Sarkar says:

    Points that you have put forward on the key ingredients for BPM is excellent. In fact I had been having discussions with some of our clients on the similar line where people are commiting biggest mistake by taking workflow products to the business and trying to internally sell them as BPM tools.

    Also the BPM enabled ERP is another area which I think over the years have been ignored and slowly business community is waking up to the fact that ERP implementation is not going to provide the control that Business is longing to get. The simple fact that most ERP implementation is not able to measure business KPI and have a planned approach for continuous improvement is forcing people to think how to utilize BPM with ERP. In fact I have discussed few of the situation in my blog http://www.infosysblogs.com/bpm-eai/2009/12/importance_of_business_state_m.html#more and have seen Business State Machine capability of typical BPMS products, coupled with Business process modelling and simulation is adding tremendous value.

    | Reply Posted 7 years, 7 months ago
  4. * kswenson says:

    Good topic. I agree the wikipedia definition is inappropriate.

    I think BPM did not come into use until 2001, but otherwise I agree it was largely a repositioning of existing technologies.

    Bullet one of your definition uses “workflow” without defining that. You seem to align with the “workflow is the old stuff we don’t do any more” definition which vendors pushed 5 years ago. Many workflow products had modeling, simulation and analysis. You point is that BPM requires these, which I agree with, but I don’t think it is clear that products without these are necessarily “workflow”.

    I have always stressed that BPM is a management practice, while BPM technology, or a BPM Suite might be a product which supports, but is not necessarily required for BPM. This would mean that I disagree with your fourth bullet point.

    The definition from WfMC was:

    Business Process Management – The practice of developing, running, performance measuring, and simulating Business Processes to effect the continued improvement of those processes. Business Process Management is concerned with the lifecycle of the Process Definition.

    In absence of a widely agreed upon definition, any work to get an agreement would be welcome.

    | Reply Posted 7 years, 7 months ago
    • I have tried to find your “The definition from WfMC was” but could not find it in WfMC´s Glossary (last update 1999):
      There is defined what a business process is but not what its management mean. Can you please give us a link.
      The WfMC is advertising its organization as the only one dealing with only BPM aspects. But looking at their current definitions the upcoming new functionalities like Complex Event Processing, Case Management Process Modeling, Rule Engine, Business Activity Monitoring are not really represented here? It looks like stop working if going over the border of Workflow Management.
      But whom else can we trust in his definition of Business Process Management?

      | Reply Posted 7 years, 7 months ago
  5. * david moser says:

    Hi Keith and Martin – I can’t help with the location of the WfMC definition of BPM, which I must say is pretty good (apart from the final sentence, which I think adds little value).

    I’m glad you raised the “workflow is the old stuff we don’t do any more” perspective, Keith. I nearly went down that road in the original post, deciding against it for brevity’s sake. What I think is really interesting, when one uses integrated ‘modeling, simulation and analysis’ as the differentiator between BPM and workflow, is that in 2010, well over 10 years since ‘pure-play’ BPM products arrived on the market*, it seems to me that products that have either no, or only nominal, ‘modeling, simulation and analysis’ functionality continue to prosper and, arguably, even to dominate the BPM/workflow market.

    So, far from disrespecting workflow products, this definition arguably challenges the BPM vendors (and, perhaps even more importantly, the whole concept of BPM) – what is lacking in the BPM story (benefits? available functionality?) that has prevented BPM from wholly replacing workflow over this extended period?

    Is it ultimately customer-driven? The benefits of process execution are easily fitted into a 12-24 month return on investment, whilst those of process improvement must more or less by definition occur over a longer time-frame. So if a workflow vendor can demonstrate even a small additional saving or benefit in relation to execution (eg easier integration with core systems; built-in document management functionality; more flexible work management) this can easily outweigh – within the terms of a typical customer’s business case – the benefits of a more comprehensive modelling/simulation offering.

    The noughties have seen many truly enterprise-scope workflow roll-outs, and the results have tended to highlight the outcomes of this type of thinking. Positives include great productivity and customer service improvements, with negatives being frustration at both the lack of change in the way that processes are managed/ improved post-go-live (relative to the situation with paper processes) and an actual decrease in business agility that has taken place (ditto). As a result I think the next decade will see increasing demand from customers themselves for (true) BPM.

    This is why I raised the topic and gave it the title of ‘Renewing BPM for the coming decade’. The difference between process execution and management/improvement is a real, live issue in the market and there are years of development left in meeting that demand. And, of course, there’s a whole stack of upside for the customers, vendors and integrators who get it right.

    * As evidence for that dating, beyond my own memory, Metastorm’s web site states ‘1996 – Metastorm incorporates to become one of the first pure-play BPM vendors.’ My emphasis.

    | Reply Posted 7 years, 7 months ago
    • David, your estimation conforms with the positioning of BPMS on Gartners current BPM Hype Cycle. In the past 3 years BPMS has be moved from the peak of inflated expectations to the slope of trough of disillusionment. The estimation for reaching the mainstream adoption is 2-5 years.
      We are mainly working with smal companies processing tasks with 20 to 100 users. These companies are happy with workflow engines because they do not have the time to define KPIs or other high-sophisticated things. Such companies (e.g. 70% in Germany) are using their stomach to decide what to change for improving their processing. No need for Business Activity Monitoring dashboards. Seems that only the top 1000 companies may be interested in using BPMS, others are OK with WMS preferably bundled with DMS functionality.

      | Reply Posted 7 years, 7 months ago
  6. * david moser says:

    Hi Manas – thank you also for your comment. In relation to ERP, I was thinking as an example of IDS-Scheer’s ARIS product’s close links with SAP. I don’t know enough about the way that they interact to be certain, but it sounds as though together – perhaps with Netweaver added? – they could provide integrated process improvements to ERP, and thus be considered ‘BPM-enabled ERP’.

    ARIS is of course far from proprietary to SAP, and is used by others including Oracle BPM in 11g and, presumably, by its new owner, Software AG, too. Possibly a good example of a ‘BPM-enabling’ technology.

    One other comment, having read your blog. You may be interested to know that one of the ARIS modules does something similar to your Business State Machine. One can define KPI values in it, and It extracts log data from the target system and provides graphical reporting based on bringing the KPIs together with the log data. It’s been a while since I last used it, but that’s my recollection.

    btw I have no commercial links with Software AG/IDS-Scheer – I just thought this might be interesting. There may well be other products from other vendors that do similar things.

    | Reply Posted 7 years, 7 months ago
  7. David, the Wikipedia definition of BPM is a very wide one, clearly trying to avoid conflict and to encompass everything that deals with defining or refining processes. I would not say it is wrong and neither can you. On which authority? Do we really need sich a definition and fragmentation? Why and to whose benefit? I happen to believe that processes are in principle an illusion because nothing ever happens in exactly the same sequence with exactly the same intermediate states. So the general concept of a definite process flow is flawed when considered in the light of complex adaptive systems that the economy and its business entities are due to the individually acting agents. I have been fighting the idea of rigid BPM for as long as it was there. But who am I …

    ARIS and all other flow-paradigmes are old-style orthodox BPM. Reporting, logging and comparing KPI data has nothing to do with being adaptive one way or the other. I am glad you mention that all-out BPM actually reduces the agility of a business. Exactly my words for the last ten years. So is there anything good about BPM as a concept? Yes, there is. It defines process owners and their goals and thus focuses on outcomes and not on structural organization. Is there a need to work according to flowcharts towards those goals? Absolutely not. Can technology empower the actors to be more efficient? Absolutely. Can technology provide up and down the line transparency to actually make BPM work? I would not know another way!

    Till today, when one does not offer a flowcharting tool it is clearly not considered BPM. We have offered the state/event driven and tool/material controlled processes mostly focused on content with Papyrus since 2001: That’s not BPM I was told. It was not yet Design-by-Doing (adaptive in Jim Sinurs diction) then, but processes could dynamically changed at runtime. We added to that user-definable business rules in 2003, but no, that was not BPM either, but clearly it was Design-by-Doing. In 2007 we introduced the User-Trained Agent that would kick off activities based on a machine learning principle and that is Design-by-Doing ALL THE WAY. Nope, we were told by analysts and customers – no flowcharts means it is not BPM.

    Question: As soon as you empower the process owner and his team to execute any way they feel works and you get the most efficient execution, does anyone care if they use a flowchart or if it is called workflow, BPM or collaboration? Absolutely not. BPM is mostly bureauracy today and linked to inhumane Measure-to-Manage management paradigmes such as SixSigma and Balanced Score Card. If you focus on errors and numbers that’s what you get. No more. By what means would that improve outcomes for people – employees and customers? Well, it doesn’t.

    So why is everyone trying to expand BPM now? They do not want to admit that possibly BPM is not the final wisdom that it was proposed to be for so long. Now that there is a movement that they know in their guts will kill old-style BPM, they at least want to retain the name because then they won’t have to admit to have been wrong. I see history repeating itself. When we introcuded dynmic document formatting in 1994 a customer got up really upset: “Why are you doing this? Forms worked fine and as soon as our competitors will pick this up, we will have to do it as well!” The same is happening now. I had someone ask exactly the same: “Why are you rocking the BPM boat? Once someone starts to do Adaptive Processes, we will have to follow along and all the money we spent on BPM will be wasted.” Sorry, guys – I told you so for a long time. Now the time has come.

    I for my part don’t really care whether the solutions I offer with the Papyrus Platform are considered BPM, ACM, ECM, CRM, BI or the most powerful application development platform available. And it fact it should not matter to my customers either.

    | Reply Posted 7 years, 3 months ago
    • * david moser says:

      Hi Max, and thanks for your comment. The topic of adaptive processes is an interesting one, and one I’m certain we’ll be seeing much more of over the next few years. It has clear appeal for ‘project’-type processes with very low frequency, a fair degree of complexity and benefits to the organisation that might be hard to express (tho’ still potentially significant). Event management, change management, even low frequency management reporting – the concept of a system that will tell you “You have previously started this process 6 times and successfully completed it 5 times, in 60% of successful cases the steps you took were [a,b,c]; 93% of other people’s attempts at this process were also successful and in of 83% of cases the steps they took were [c,a,b]” or similar must surely become a normal part of our working lives.

      Whether this can be extended to high volume back office processing, where BPM has provided the greatest benefit over the last 10-20 years (choose your period depending on your definition and history book), I’m less sure. In this environment, process sequence is one dimension – the relationship between resources and volumes and, in particular, case prioritisation is the other. Are these variables (which drive what each individual should work on next) also supposed to be adaptive? Easy to say, just possible to conceive …. has anyone engineered it yet?

      Another potential challenge is that in the ‘paper factory’ there will always be some rules. In a mortgage process you simply cannot do a title search without first knowing the property address; you may well not be allowed to order a valuation until you’ve checked that the individual is employed (because valuations cost money); and well-established metrics may show that whilst individuals may wish to experiment with [c,a,b] versus [a,b,c], overall efficiency is clearly maximised through a division of labour whereby some do [a,a,a], others [b,b,b] and still others [c,c,c].

      My hunch is that adaptive processing will eventually become popular in this sort of business environment as a hybrid model of Adaptive BPM (for want of a better term), combining some very clear and prescriptive rules – maybe still using flowcharts! – with some process areas that offer workers choices that will be measured, fed back … and perhaps eventually baked in.

      I think what you are doing is BPM, btw, in that it is technology that models, executes and improves processes – the difference lies in the type of modelling (more individual rules, fewer sequential flows) and perhaps improvement (where ‘adaptive’ does suggest a degree of automation or at least end user direction, rather than business analysis support per a traditional BPMS). I’m not sure whether you’d view that opinion as a good or a bad thing, mind you….

      Anyway, good luck!

      | Reply Posted 7 years, 3 months ago
      • David, thanks for the comprehensive reply.
        Answer number one: Yes, we have engineered ADAPTIVE PROCESS and our customers do it as a normal part of their routine.

        Two: I clearly have a ‘paper’ or content focus and so has the Papyrus Platform as an integral part — the major distinction to all other process oriented solutions.

        Three: I have been saying to all ACM proponents that there is not much wrong to call what we do BPM and it will most probably be considered that anyway.

        Four: Adaptive process IS NOT JUST about ad-hoc, unstructured and unregulated work. It is about the USER being able to create the process as structured or unstructured as necessary and keep modifying the instance or the template as a normal part of processing. Should some process be the way it is needed, it will simply stop being changed. The main point is who models and when. Not unstructured versus structured. Yes, we do BPMN also because people just can not perceive process right now without it and for some simple flows it is usable. But it is also a limitation that must not be mandatory. Some processes looked at throught the BPMN lense are just an assembly of tasks, controlled by states,events and rules.

        Five: I see the distinction between orthodox BPM and ADAPTIVE process as linked to the management paradigm. Executives either want to manage old-style, command and control or the see the empowered emplyoee as the driver of innovation. More here: http://isismjpucher.wordpress.com/2010/05/15/the-knowledge-between-your-ears/

        Posted 7 years, 3 months ago
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