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In Focus: The Don't-Fix-It-If-It's-Not-Broken School of BPM

Plenty of business process management (BPM) buzz phrases focus on "changing processes on the fly" and "continuous process improvement," but most BPM practitioners I've spoken to don't take process change lightly.

Plenty of business process management (BPM) buzz phrases focus on "changing processes on the fly" and "continuous process improvement," but most BPM practitioners I've spoken to don't take process change lightly. They've typically gained huge advantages just by integrating disparate systems, eliminating paperwork and creating a consistent documents process with an audit trail. They're not going back to modeling (and the modeling team, if there was one) to consider incremental changes.

Sure, BPM systems let you capture all sorts of process data--how many instances were completed, how many are in process, how many required exception handling--and perhaps even basic business data such as cost per transaction. And you can certainly use this data to better manage in-flight processes as well as to analyze exceptions and adjust the process itself for greater efficiency and changing market conditions. But beyond responding to out-of-variance alerts, most companies are "barely pursuing either one of these goals," says Gartner Analyst Janelle Hill, let alone doing it in real time. "Businesses all too often want to 'perfect model' before they get started," she adds.

Our recent coverage has included a long list of BPM implementations--Anico, Hasbro, Horizon Casualty, MasterBrand, Owens & Minor, Pfizer, Sappi Paper, TransUnion. Yet thinking back, I can't recall any of these organizations discussing ongoing process change. Most of the "agility" out there seems to be in the one-time achievement of getting to a faster, better process. Rollout times get shorter and shorter with each new process, and companies are reusing process components for faster deployment. But there seems to be a collective "we're done" attitude once new processes are in place.

The few who aren't satisfied graduate to business activity monitoring and deeper analytics. Coors, for example, rolled out a performance management initiative on the heels of its process management success. The idea was to build dashboards to keep tabs on processes in real time, but the immediate goal seemed to be better management within the context of the existing processes.

We recently let BPM vendors know that we wanted to share user insights on advanced analytics, simulation and closed-loop process improvement. For the most part, all we heard back was the sound of crickets chirping. Some claimed such deployments represent competitive advantage that users wouldn't discuss. Refreshingly, Hank Barnes, vice president of marketing at Ultimus, asserted, "the biggest segment of the market is still people trying to figure out what to do and how to do it. The first step is process selection followed by automation. Analytical simulation is not even on their radar screen."

I hope I get e-mails from users setting me straight and detailing their ongoing process change. Someday, software will make processes self-learning and self-healing, accomplishing the "continuous" ideal automatically. But until that day, I suspect most organizations will be satisfied with one-time improvement and, at best, periodic adjustment.

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