Surfing the wave of Business Process Management (BPM) history

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Dan Morris

As the Association of Business Process Management Professionals (ABPMP) marks its 10th anniversary, columnist Dan Morris looks at how approaches to BPM and business transformation have changed during his time in the industry.

I would like to start by congratulating the Association of Business Process Management Professionals (ABPMP) on their 10th anniversary. Started in 2003 by Brett Champlin, the association has grown to be a worldwide professional practitioners group that is focused on the advancement of the BPM profession and the sharing of information on techniques, experiences and innovation. They offer a widely recognized professional practitioner’s certification and maintain the highly regarded Business Process Management Common Body of Knowledge (BPM CBOK®) on business transformation.

Riding a wave: Business Process Management (BPM) has changed beyond recognition since the early days

This not for profit association is recognized as the premiere BPM practitioner’s association in the world. There are chapters and affiliates in countries on most continents (nope, not Antarctica), and for places without chapters, we have members at large who may one day organize chapters. With over 6,000 members strong, ABPMP is working to formalize BPM and advance the use of BPM and its supporting tools (BPMS – BPM suites) into a cohesive way to truly transform the way people think about business. (If you haven’t checked them out, I’d recommend you do so at

In the noisy and boisterous world of business transformation, coming up with cohesive approaches to business transformation is essential. To understand why, it helps to remember where we’ve come from.

For those of us who are a little older - and hopefully wiser! - the current form of BPM really began in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. By the mid-1990’s the experimentation had started and was well underway. Several of us gained our foundation experience in transformation during this time and some of us wrote books on what we had learned – I wrote Relational Systems Development in 1989 (business process had to drive IT support), Re-engineering Your Business (the first "how to" book on BPR) in 1994 and Just Don’t Do It in 1998 (how to identify transformation projects that were going wrong and how to correct them) - all published by McGraw Hill.

These books were accompanied by many great books from a variety of thought leaders and practitioners – people like Hammer, Champy, Spanyi, and Fingar.

But during this time we had several serious problems with business transformation – most related to a lack of tools to model and associate the large amounts of information we needed to pull together.


Well, find a need and fill the need.

The result was the advent of CASE (computer assisted software engineering). CASE took us as far as the technology at the time allowed and the technical community would accept – they were not traditional software tools and the technical community was slow to accept them.

But, we were learning what worked and what didn’t. And we were evolving the tools to try to get to the generation of computer code.

Again, find a need, fill the need.

Pseudo Code was born. This was touted as the programming language for the business user. It is always funny to me that technical people provide highly technical tools and think they are easy to use. Well, Pseudo Code wasn’t easy to use and it never caught on. Using our surfing theme, that was a real wipe out. The result was shark 1, Pseudo Code surfers 0.

In the early 2000’s someone finally figured out what was missing in our ability to generate application programs from models. It was rules. We had known for years that we could attach fixed computer/program code to symbols in models and we could arrange the execution of the program code by the placement of the symbols that represented them in flow models. We could also define and control the flow of data by defining computer screens.

But we still had a lot of problems with data.

In around 2003 or 2004 the modeling tools evolved to include rules and they figured out how to deal with data at a basic level. The modern Business Process Management Suite (BPMS) was born.

Of course, as the technology was evolving we were also evolving how we approached business transformation and its more focused cousin, business improvement. The techniques that we take for granted today were just forming at that time and we were experimenting with approaches, tools, techniques and concepts.

By 2005, the tools had matured enough to be reliable and the techniques and approaches were good enough to provide fairly consistent successes. This was the point in time that ABPMP was born. There was no consistency to how BPM was approached, how the tools were used or how business transformation was delivered. ABPMP was formed to provide this consistency and it has been working to do so ever since.

But, ABPMP has not been alone in its drive to stabilize business transformation. Lean and Six Sigma organizations and the disciplines they support have also been key in the movement. In the early days of BPM, whas now become Enterprise Architecture concepts such as those in the Zachman Framework, TOGAF, ITIL and others was also important. Standards organizations also have added to the mix.

But, recognizing significant differences, Business Architecture, Enterprise Architecture and other specialties have now become disciplines of their own. To some extent this sorting out is still going on in many companies. The difference seems to be one of perspective and the part of the business that each discipline focuses on.

These differences are not yet clearly defined or accepted by everyone and there is still a lot of dissention as to what activity should fall under the different disciplines. We will see if this dispute knocks some of the transformation surfers into the water and see if these swimmers make it back to shore to rethink what they are doing or become part of shark history.

What is clear, is that all are needed and all must be applied to business transformation level change. But, they are different. Each represents a specialization of knowledge, skills, experience and tools. As I mentioned, the way these disciplines will eventually work together is still under debate. It will be interesting to see what finally comes from this debate as the technology allows ever more speed and flexibility in what is done, how it is done and how it can change in the future.

By 2007 the BPM discipline was beginning to coalesce into what we see today. The BPMS tools were also now becoming "industrial strength" and capable of generating complex computer applications. Companies were beginning to recognize the value of being able to change quickly and inexpensively using BPM and BPMS. But, then came the current financial crisis and experimentation stopped. No one was spending anything they didn’t absolutely have to spend.

Some industries, however, still had vision and an understanding of what they must do and BPMS sales remained fairly strong – not up to predicted levels, but strong. During the next few years, BPMS vendors were bought and sold on a regular basis. Some were changed so much that the original was really sunset and some were linked into existing product lines.

Throughout this time, the BPM discipline evolved. ABPMP along with major research companies like Gartner and Forrester and a few training based companies have tried to help guide this evolution. The result is the ABPMP Common Body of Knowledge and the ABPMP BPM practitioner’s certification. As it has now evolved, there are two types of BPM certification – training provider certificate of course completion and the training independent ABPMP practitioner’s certification. Both are very useful, but also very different.

Today, the BPMS tools are evolving into something that I feel will change the very nature of how we look at business and supporting computer applications. The old ways and paradigms are now anachronisms. Business professionals, IT technical professionals and transformation professionals must now complete the evolution that has been going on for the past ten years.

BPMS tools are now advanced enough to generate computer applications that are fully scalable and can handle almost any transaction load. Some of these tools are looking again to the future and are embedding the ability to link to and generate "Digital" social media "apps" and tie customer interaction to the internal computer systems of the company.

At ABPMP we are asking questions like, "why do we need offices?" and how can we change business operations using crowd sourcing and other digital techniques? The fact is that in every aspect of this revolution to flexible, low risk, low cost business evolution has leaders who are way out ahead and proving things can be done.

For those who are innovative, creative in the way we look at innovation and who have the courage to question and suggest alternatives, these are exciting times. It is also clear that the companies that again encourage the trial and error of innovation will attract the best talent and lead the way. They will be first and reap the market share benefits.

It is also clear that visionary organizations like ABPMP will be in the forefront of the evolution and the revolution in business operations that is now possible.

History has shown us that business transformation is like a wave that sweeps through the ocean. At times it is gentle and can be ridden easily. At other times it builds from pressures like cost reduction and moves in a new directions. But, overall, the wave represents innovation and change. Just as a wave crashing against a shore changes it, so does the BPM wave change business and the way we look at delivering value to our customers through process and activity.

I hope that this experience based history was helpful in creating your personal BPM and BPMS framework. As always I hope this is food for thought. That is the real way we each grow in our professions. So, please question everything – always.

I welcome comments and questions – please let me and other readers know what you are thinking about.

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