BPM: out of date or coming of age?
Business Process Management (BPM) is a catch-all term to describe various methods to discover, model, analyze, measure, improve, optimize, and automate business processes.
What is a business process? Broadly, anything you do at work - whether it's flipping a burger or setting up an advanced robot production line. McDonald’s is the world’s biggest chain of restaurants because they understand their business processes to the nth degree; there are more parts to a new car than a Big Mac, but the principles are much the same: they are the outcome of a series of business processes, and how these are managed determines whether the product is a profitable success or an expensive failure.
BPM is a really fundamental part of a business that wants to avoid tasks being repeated, redundant time for staff, creating waste. In tandem with Lean Six Sigma principles, BPM is a set of powerful tools to lift businesses out of where intuition has put them and use data, statistics and innovation to find ways of ramping up efficiency and become ever more efficient at delighting their customers.
Great news, you may think. But surely the hot news at the moment is around Robotic Process Automation (RPA)? Isn’t AI where all the money and attention is going? Doesn’t some of this talk of flipping burgers and building cars sound a bit basic and obvious?
Does BPM risk being overlooked?
Dan Morris is a Principal at My Career Transformation, a BPM and Business Architecture on-line learning organization. We did a bit of research on IT and BPM project failure rates and found numerous sources that claim up to 50% or more of IT projects and an even higher number of BPM projects fail to be delivered on time, within budget, or to deliver expected capabilities. We knew the failure rate was high, but not that high. Skeptical, we double checked and found enough corroboration among the stats presented in different places to believe the numbers.'
Understandably, if BPM projects do not represent a good return on investment they will not attract much enthusiasm. (And despite the hype, even vendors are admitting that RPA may be going a similar way.) But as Daniel Morris says, it's not the technology that is at fault here: it's the skills of the individuals with the tech: ‘With modern technologies, just like with legacy technologies, the vendor trains the IT staff in the use of the tool. The students are then turned loose as trained experts in the use of the tool – although we think that is wishful thinking. Taking a course does not make anyone an expert in anything. Years of combined training, experience, and creative self-performance evaluation make an expert – nothing less really achieves that goal.’
There may be structural reasons why IT projects – including BPM – run out of steam. The bulk of investment in BPM solutions inevitably comes at the beginning of the project, even though this may be to the detriment of the project as a whole.
Continuous improvement is exactly that - continuous. There is no point in funding a project that is intended to run in perpetuity and then cut off that funding in a matter of months. Continuous Improvement, like BPM, is more of a cultural shift than a quick fix; innovation is a hamster wheel. As Peter Drucker said, ‘Innovation is the specific tool of entrepreneurs, the means by which they exploit change as an opportunity for a different business or a different service.’ You may have innovated your way into first place, but the rest of the world will catch up, technology will change, and the business that stays where it is becomes the business that quickly goes backwards.
- Understand that any technology project is there for the long haul: if a project is initially successful, but falters when the initial enthusiasm has worn off, you need to be addressing the issue that it's the attitude, not the software that is at fault.
- Be open to change on a cultural level.
- You cannot fall for the fallacy that expensive + new = better. 'The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.' Bill Gates. The latest technology may promise to solve all your problems – just as the last one did. You need to tackle the problems at their route cause – and sometimes the solution may be low-tech and obvious – so long as you’re looking in the right place and in the right way.
BPM is therefore a fundamental principle that businesses should be engaging with. Getting it right will underpin the success of further automation projects. Even at a basic level, it prevents businesses from running inefficiently and wastefully.
For a number of years, the PEX Network has been hosting the BPM Live webinars - free to attend online sessions that can be accessed by anyone, anywhere, in which thought leaders in BPM discuss the latest issues in the discipline, and the audience can put questions directly to them. PEX Network itself aims to be the first port of call for any business leader who wants to run their organization better, and we're committed to educating leaders from companies of all sizes. Registration for BPM Live 19 is open – join us to hear from the best in the business.
All my life, I've worked with entrepreneurs, start ups and businesses from blue chips to start ups. The majority of businesses are not started by people who've been to business school. They're started by smart people who have a good idea, and have the drive to make it work. One of the things that separates the successes from the failures is a willingness to learn, change and innovate.
Successful businesses are about culture, and the leadership drives the culture. There is no doubt in my mind that the best businesses are those who stay in touch with the environment in which they exist, learn from mistakes (ideally the ones made by other poeple), and are prepared to make a few of their own on the journey. BPM Live is just one way that PEX Network is able to tap into and service that community of people.