K2’s CEO Adriaan Van Wyk on why too much process modeling is a waste of time (transcript)

Most BPM projects start with the process of mapping out your business processes. By drawing and capturing what’s really going on in your organization - so the thinking goes - you can identify opportunities for improvement. But is it time well spent?

Not according to Adriaan Van Wyk, CEO of K2 software.

"Too much time is spent and wasted with people driving an outcome that is paper driven or static, rather than something that can be used directly in the organization," he says in this PEX Network interview, part of our Boardroom Perspectives Interview series . Here Van Wyk talks about the importance of focusing on the real outcomes of BPM, the danger of "rip and replace" of legacy systems and where he sees the BPM industry heading next.

This is a transcript of podcast – to listen to the original podcast please click here. Please note that this transcript has been edited for readability.

PEX Network: I'm always intrigued by entrepreneurs who set up their own businesses. You started K2 in 2000, back in South Africa, and since then you've grown to support over 1 million users with over 270 employees across the globe. What was your big idea in the early days of the business?

Adriaan Van Wyk: We had a services company in the early days; it wasn't a computer software company at all. But we realised very quickly that some thing we were doing over and over again for our customers. We sold that services business to a public company and we used the money from that sale to fund what became K2.

In the early days, we had this idea to build a piece of software that will allow us to make it easier to build and solve business problems for our customers. That was the seed that would eventually grow into the tree that's called K2 today.

PEX Network: What are some of the key changes then that you've seen in BPM technology over the time period that you've been involved with it?

Adriaan Van Wyk: When we built the first versions of K2 - and I say first versions because, to be honest with you, nobody ever bought version one. We managed to hang in there and we were pretty sure that what we were doing was going to be big, we just had to get a little bit better at doing it.

Our business really started to grow when we released version two and then version three, which was called K2.net 2003, in 2003. One of the fascinating things for us at that point was that a lot of our customers were spending a lot of writing down their business processes. But almost none of them had a mechanism for very rapidly turning what they were documenting into software solutions that would impact their business.

It was one of the key differentiators very early on that drove thinking within K2, and it's still the core underpinning of our software and our company today. When we engage with a customer the output that we measure and the moment when a customer becomes successful – is when the solution is implemented live, running and every time somebody touches a keyboard or a smartphone, it impacts the way they do their business. The measure of success is not just finishing modeling your process.

We felt - and still feel - that too much time is spent and wasted at the beginning of the process with people driving an outcome that is paper driven or a model that is static.

That was the early differentiating element that we wanted to drive towards. I must say it worked really well for us. We saw customers jump onto that once they understood it and it was quite amazing what happened and how they adopted the methodology. It wasn't a very formal methodology but they started to adopt a methodology that meant "my problem is solved when my staff is using it to do better business, rather than when I have a document and I understand what the problem looks like".

I sat down a week ago with the senior people from a company that is among the four or five biggest companies in the world today. That company had decided to use K2 and are making quite a big investment in us so I asked them, why did they decide to use K2? They said that for the first time, they can take their models and turn them into solutions. It's one of the biggest single reasons why they decided to invest in K2.

PEX Network: Changing tack a little to the topic of legacy systems. These are one of the things that are a major pain point for many organisations. Obviously they hinder our ability to quickly adapt IT systems and processes and can even be exceedingly difficult to use. So how can today's technology help to overcome some of the challenges with legacy systems?

Adriaan Van Wyk: Integrating with or leveraging their existing assets is probably one of the two most expensive areas that we see when we engage with customers. There's a lot of information and a lot of money invested in those legacy systems but they are very expensive and very difficult to integrate with.

The other challenge we see is on the user interface side. Clients struggle to deliver these solutions to their users on modern mobile devices. We have a technology in K2 which we started developing in 2005/2006; it's patented and it's called SmartObjects. What SmartObjects does is it uses all the latest innovations in industry standards to take legacy systems and make the information that's in them available as logical, everyday business objects. Clients can then use these in their own applications.

I do agree with you, that legacy systems can make it difficult for companies to rapidly innovate. But if you combine legacy systems with some of the modern, new capabilities, like our SmartObjects, that old system very rapidly becomes part of your company’s assets that you can build new applications around.

PEX Network: It sounds like you use some of these new applications or new technologies as a bit of glue in between the legacy systems?

Adriaan Van Wyk: That's correct, yes. We believe that it's a mistake to rip and replace; money can be spent much more effectively elsewhere. But you probably have to put a modern veneer over those old systems and make it easy to gain access, in a very agile way, to the information that's inside them.

That's why we developed the SmartObjects technology in K2 and why we spent a lot of time and energy and engineering to solve that problem and it's been working really well for us.

PEX Network: Where do you see the BPM technology industry, as a whole, heading next?

Adriaan Van Wyk: I think it's about agility and about your ability to adapt. If you look at any modern day business and the speed at which things change, you have to get ahead of the curve.

That means that when you implement software or when you implement methodology that is supposed to help you be competitive, it has to be a methodology that is underpinned by its ability to adapt to those changes very, very quickly and very rapidly. Only then can organisations stay ahead of the curve of change and be as agile as they should be.

I think that's going to put the BPM industry under a lot of pressure because historically it was an industry that was focused on certain principles and wasn't as dynamic and as agile as it should be. The modern day solutions that are going to succeed will be the ones that will allow their customers to stay ahead of that agility curve and will allow them to adapt to change within their organisation.

A different way to think about that is to say "if I invest in a piece of technology, will it allow me to accelerate how I adapt my business to changing needs? Or is it going to force me to slow down and take longer?"

PEX Network: That leads me quite nicely into my final question, which is what is it that you think sets your company, K2, apart from other BPM software vendors?

Adriaan Van Wyk: I think the thing that makes us different is the same thing that caused us to start the company. It’s this: if we see a problem - or if you see a problem, as the business owner of your business - we want to address it. You measure the result or the success of addressing that problem by how quickly your people that work in your company can start using the software that allows you to address that problem.

We purposely didn't invest in modeling technologies early on. We invested in automation technologies that allow you to take the problem and turn it into a piece of software that will affect your business rather than investing in modeling tools that will turn it into a piece of paper.

I think that's a big differentiator between us and other players within the industry. If you pick up K2, within a matter of hours you will have a solution that's up and running ready to address your business problem. There are not a lot of other businesses out there that have the technology depth and the intellectual property and the understanding of how to accomplish that.

K2 will be among the BPM Software Vendors presenting case studies and product demonstrations at our upcoming online BPM Open House. It's one week of insightful presentations into what BPM Software can do for you and a chance for you to hear what results companies like Lockheed Martin, Jabil Circuits, Bank of Tenessee and more have achieved through BPM. Register your free place at www.bpm-openhouse.com.