Has BPM Innovation Hit a Plateau?
Disruption and BPM cannot even go together in a single sentence (except this one). I would love to be proven wrong when I say BPM is extremely starved of innovation of a major kind in years! When was the last time something exciting happened in Business Process Management? When a lot is happening in other product categories, why is BPM left behind devoid of any major innovation at all?
I will take up 3 different areas where a lot of innovation is possible, yet no BPM vendor (big or small) has made a product release with even one of these areas:
Innovation around Functionality - Was there a major leap after Rules Engine and CEP?
Innovation around Technology - How about BPM tools with AI and machine learning capabilities?
- Innovation around the paradigm - Why should BPM tools be so archaic?
Innovation Around Functionality
The last time there was a major stride in BPM was at least 10 years ago. The advent of rules engine was spoken about with a lot of gusto and excitement among the BPM community. It empowered process owners to change a specific policy without affecting the overall setup. Rules engine helped implement processes with tricky validations, complex paths, and a lot of rule-based checks. It helped bringing several types of rules such as:
- Process Rules - Rules that automate workflow management
- Decision Rules - Rules that pertain to decision tables, decision trees and decision maps
- Declarative Rules - Rules that compute values based on other values and related changes
- Transformation Rules - Rules that transform according the different systems they pass through
- Integration Rules - Rules that decide the right system to trigger in each situation
All of these types of rules could also be incorporated into the existing BPM systems and that added a lot of value to organizations back then. However, today’s reality is a lot different from a decade ago and we must admit that there has been nothing major that has gone into BPM software from the technology angle.
Complex Event Processing was another innovation that touched the BPM circles and that was again a long time ago.
After Rules Engine and Complex Event processing, there has been no major functionality that has gone into most BPM products. This gap of over 10 years for any functional innovation to happen is way too high. This is one of the reasons to firmly believe that time is ripe for disruption.
Innovation Around Technology
Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, and bots are changing the way entire systems operate. There are virtual personal assistants managing people’s schedules and controlling their day-to-day activities. Artificial Intelligence has already entered mainstream manufacturing and healthcare industries. It is certainly making inroads into the office. It is about time for BPM products build these capabilities in them so that they are ready for the office of the future.
Machine learning capability is going into a lot of software such as CRM, customer support management etc. In the future, in order to be inter-operable and co-exist alongside these systems, BPM tools are going to have to be able to handle scenarios involving machine learning algorithms. That is the only way they can make a meaningful impact.
However, reality shows us a very different picture. Although a paltry number of BPM experts and influencers speak about the need for these capabilities to go into BPM software, no vendor really has read offerings on these lines. There is massive scope for disruption in this space and vendors are yet to venture into these potential high-impact zones.
Innovation Around the Paradigm
The landscape of enterprise software is ever-changing. Today, a lot more features and functionalities are accessible to more consumers at a fraction of the cost, thanks to the advent of cloud-based solutions that have made enterprise functionality open to practically everyone. What used to be unimaginably complex challenges have become extremely simple and the price one has to pay is miniscule. However, we haven’t seen a paradigm shift of this scale with respect to BPM software.
BPM software is still very expensive. Apart from the obvious costs, there are several hidden costs such as setup costs, training costs, implementation, consulting, change management, etc. Affordable BPM software is still a distant dream to so many companies, especially the SMBs.
Let alone the cost, even from a usability standpoint, BPM has a long way to go. Most BPM software still use a user interface which literally needs the user to go back to the 90s. When apps are redefining the meaning of intuitive and are made easy as simple as they can get, BPM software and applications built on them alone are still archaic and often puzzle the end user. It is badly in need to undergo a paradigm shift.
IT has evolved so much to a point that it has broken several walls within an organization. It has helped establish flat structures for seamless flow of information. It is evolving into a more democratic paradigm where end users become the centre-piece of any initiative. With that being the case, BPM is still somehow ideologically centred around rigid power structures. There is traditional hierarchy that the entire idea is built upon and that paradigm is changing rapidly.
Companies follow a flat organizational matrix and that has major binding on how everyday activities are carried out. To be able to incorporate changing processes in this new hierarchy (albeit quite minimum) where powers and tasks need to be equally distributed across several levels, a lot of BPM tools fall short of those capabilities. The rise of the citizen developer also plays a role in the new-age process execution. Users are getting increasingly empowered, and that means the underlying framework needs to be adaptable enough to take into account this new breed of users.
Inclusiveness in BPM
The true intent of BPM is to make business teams depend less on IT teams. However, BPM isn’t as inclusive as it is perceived to be. The controls still remain with a few process controllers (they may or may not be process owners) and, often times, end users need to depend on these process power centres for execution of tasks. While every single person in the team has a stake and a role to play in the overall completion of the process, very few actually have a say in the entire construct of the automation. Most systems don’t allow two-way communication in the context of process and automation design. While it may not be the best of ideas to make the process design very democratic, especially in medium and large organisations, it would make sense to involve the actual end users in the automation process. Their ease of use of the system and understanding of the process design goes a long way in successful adoption of BPM.
While all this makes complete sense theoretically, it is still largely manual. A smart BPM system that inherently provisions for a more intuitive and inclusive design of process automation is still a dream that every organisation prefers to have. Innovation around making BPM more inclusive by itself is an area which no BPM vendor has ever ventured upon although they claim themselves to be building iBPMS applications.
Case in Point: Lack of inclusiveness in Manufacturing
A lot of manufacturing companies use BPM for streamlining their processes. But most of the manufacturing companies deprive a lot of its workforce of computers (mainly factory workers). This manual workforce is a mixed of skilled and semi-skilled laborers who are at different comfort levels of using technology and computers.
It won’t be uncommon to see many manufacturing companies still using kiosks where workers are required key in security codes and passwords. A lot of BPM suites aren’t made to handle such requirements. Large manufacturing companies actually place such feature requests with their vendors and incorporate such really archaic ways of carrying out processes which is almost manual. This defeats the entire point of bringing automation in the system.
How better can this be done? Well, vendors need to bring in BYOD, CYOD & OTP to enable workers to access BPM systems. It eliminates complexity such as email, passwords etc., makes them use technology they are already familiar with & also is quite inclusive in its scope.
It is also a prevalent practice in some manufacturing companies to use technology like code-scanners and badge-scanners which are used to track completion of different phases in the manufacturing process. While we can’t deny that it hastens the go-to-market process and cuts turnaround time, these objectives have been met a long time before. There needs to evolve smarter ways to manage manufacturing processes. It is about time BPM contributes to some bigger objectives that changes the way the manufacturing industry operates.
Manufacturing technology is making major leaps in bringing about robotic automation. However, BPM implementation is far from anything innovative and doesn’t add any meaningful value to the setup. On top of it, it isn’t inclusive enough at the same level across the organization.
With ample scope to innovate, it is rather surprising to see that innovation around BPM technology has come to an abrupt standstill. While it is essential to have some main functionality in Business Process Management software, it is quite possible to reinvent some basic aspects of the technology itself. It is about time some disruptive innovation happens in BPM for it to save itself from dying once again.