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Thoughts on the next decade of BPM

Shifting focus from the implementation to the management of process

Phil GilbertPhil Gilbert, Austin, Texas
Vice President of Business Process Management in IBM Software Group

As a business leader, you are overwhelmed. You’re trying to keep your organization humming in the face of ever-increasing challenges and opportunities brought about by globalization. The same genius at the core of your IT organization that your business organization once leveraged to scale to 40 times the size of IT is now the bottleneck of your change initiatives.

Fundamentally, what you crave is organizational agility. You know that data is power and so the next generation of business process management (BPM) tools has to allow your process analysts to focus less on translating your requirements into IT specs and more on the metrics, key performance indicators (KPIs) and service-level agreements (SLAs) of how the processes you have in place are being run. You need them to manage the business processes and provide you, in real time, with analytics data you can use to make informed decisions and effectively implement the change you so desperately need via business-friendly rules management systems.

The democratization of BPM will put you in control

The good news is that you are very close to achieving visibility into your processes. Buried in your corporate email threads are 75 percent of all the processes your organization engages in. They are criss-crossing from one inbox into another, with no way to track the status of the work that’s being done in order to identify any bottlenecks that might occur. Once again, this is an area in which the BPM of the next decade needs to and will do better. I am referring to BPM, and not specifically BPM systems, because what’s needed is a cultural shift. We will see the democratization of BPM across the organization in a way that we have not experienced before. The cloud and the growing pervasiveness of mobile platforms will allow anyone from anywhere to be active participants in the management of process. You, the business, will be in control, able to push process changes without IT intervention and able to be alerted regarding the changes that you care about. BPM will once again, or perhaps for the first time, become the transformational force all of us in the BPM space have claimed it to be.

Extending agility across your dynamic business network

But the promise land does not end with reaping the rewards of greater visibility and measurement of processes to achieve business agility within the organization. Zooming outside of the boundaries of your organization, we see a complex network of suppliers, partners and customers. Once you are able to manage change effectively within your own organization, you will be in a position to scale that agility to the dynamic business network you rely on. You’ll be able not only to respond more quickly to changes in the network, but also to adapt your network quickly to changes within your business. The kids down the block came up with a location-based service that would significantly improve the way you interact with your customers? No problem. The genius in your IT organization will leverage SOA-powered connectivity to go live within days, if not hours, with the new customer relationship strategy.

Sometimes the best place to look for inspiration about the future is the past. In his 1964 book, "My Years with General Motors," Alfred P. Sloan postulates that “good management rests on a reconciliation of centralization and decentralization, or 'decentralization with co-ordinated control.'” This is where the promise of BPM rests, and that’s perhaps the biggest missed opportunity today. In empowering your business organization to make some critical changes, while maintaining real-time oversight over the results of those changes, BPM in the next decade will become a management discipline.