Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Adoption v Selection of BPMS

My little series of posts last week on document classification and tagging seemed to get away with a lot of other relevant blogging I could have been doing. As ever, some of the most interesting blogs I read were not really that time sensitive, but instead did a good job of revealing an individual blogger's experience at that moment in time.

The Workflow Blog talked about one of these experiences in "the look of workflow":
The interesting thing about this project was not the hours spent creating working workflow applications, but the weeks making things look pretty. Or in some cases not that pretty but to customer specifications. As a techie I am still struck by how most users would much rather have something semi-functional that looks pretty as opposed to something that actually works. I think in the end adopting a workflow system is not a rational decision based on return on investment but rather still an emotional decision.

When I first read this I thought that the comment on ROI surely couldn't be right. After all, every vendor gets pushed for the ROI they can offer, to help the internal project team further justify a hugely expensive IT project.

Thinking more deeply, it seems that the ROI between one deployed and running BPMS and another surely can not be that different? The thing is that much of the cost of a BPM project comes from analysis, design, and deployment upfront then a bunch of similar running costs. TCO of mature systems can't be so different to make a huge dent in an ROI to assist in making a justifyable decision, so emotional decisions start to play.

Re-reading the blog quote above, neither the adoption nor the selection of a BPMS is actually based on ROI. It is users that adopt systems, choosing through their own cooperation to work with a new system and work around its minor issues, or to choose to be inflexible and make the project and adoption of the system fail. As the Workflow Blog goes on to suggest, it is the emotional piece that vendors typically influence through "prettiness", and this affects both adoption and selection:
However as more and more companies start competing head to head it will not be the feature set that customers will look at in making decisions. It will not be support. It will just be, is it pretty to look at and easy to use. I am not sure any analysis by Garter et al really comes close to capturing this information.
Adoption is an essential thing to bear in mind when selecting a system. Every BPMS client application can be made pretty and functional though, so beware of being influenced purely by skin deep beauty. The real ROI that will make a BPMS a success can only be judged by how it can affect the bottom line and how quickly. The differentiation between systems comes from the day to day improvements to an organization's operations, how adaptable the system is to changing processes, and even more importantly can it react and optimize the processes under different circumstances like sudden shock loads and extended excessive demand. If you can manage user adoption by meeting the usability requirements, the deeper capabilities are what provide true business improvement.

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