Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Real business solutions are more than a process

Kiran Garimella talks about The Arrogance of IT on his BPM blog on ebizQ. It made me smile, since its obvious that the disconnect of IT and the business is so wrong, but so pervasive that it makes me wonder why it always happens:
Consider that the IT-business divide is difficult to bridge precisely because IT keeps thinking of “special technical solutions” for what are essentially ‘end-to-end’ problems in business processes. Rules can’t be managed? Use a BRMS. Data can’t be managed? Use EDM. You don’t know what the data means? Use metadata. You don’t know what happened? Use BI. Need to manage customers and prospects? Use CRM. Can’t find all your documents? Use ECM. Need to comply with SOX? Buy some shrink-wrapped panacea.

Boxing things up into categories is one of the only ways that technology can be understood as it gets more complex, and there are more "special technical solutions" to more and more problems. Kiran warns of this categorization:
A few years later, this company is saddled with a BI application, an ECM suite, a CRM package, and a bunch of other applications. What’s more, there is now a huge IT staff maintaining all those applications. However, the executive is no closer to solving the original problem that brought on all this investment. To crack that problem, this hapless executive (or their equally frustrated employees) must now run to all of the above applications and try to make sense of them.

This is no surprise. We escaped the clutches of the monolithic mainframes to a world of well separate and segregated application boxes that rarely integrate, let alone do something meaningful and sensible when they do. So, Kiran suggests something better:
It is called BPM. It is the one platform that ties all these functional capabilities together and gives them a complete business context. How it accomplishes all this, and how it should co-exist or coordinate with these compartmentalized solutions and legacy systems (which do have specialized uses), are deeper issues.

I agree with Kiran that "BPM isn’t just one more application package". It certainly provides a way for the business to define what they do and how they operate, as executable and enforceable business processes, while looking back to see that its actually having the desired business effect.

Big but... BPM is not a panacea.

Sure, it can tie together the technology boxes we previously bought, but the business analyst is not going to be able to do that; these boxes present IT friendly APIs, not something a business analyst can utilize. For that we need a business view of these boxes. This is why some smart people invented SOA - it presents technical solutions as meaningful and reusable business services, within a technical framework that IT can embrace. SOA is not an application package, but your BPM platform needs to support SOA, and even better enable the backend boxes to expose business services that a business analyst can hook their processes up to.

Then of course, many critical business problems involve people working together, producing documents, communicating with customers and partners, researching data, discussing issues, checking boxes to track what they've done. And it needs to be done within the context of process activities. BPM doesn't easily model or deliver this level of collaboration or unstructured process within the structured business process previously modeled by the business analyst. In my view, Case Management is an approach to this. Not another technology box, but a combination of many of the tools required to deliver meaningful and pragmatic end-user focused applications, alongside backend systems and human-centric business processes.

Kiran's is a great post, since it highlights the disconnect between IT and business. I'd just suggest that any possible solution to a business problem still requires the underlying technology boxes to be in place, remodeled to work together to provide meaningful business services, then tied together with business processes, collaborative case management and all of the other tools that business people might interact with to do their jobs better and faster.

Real business problems are now a combination of technology boxes, business processes and knowledge workers. Don't bring in a platform that only addresses one of these. So, as a business executive, when the IT manager says to you, “Sure, what you need is a BPM platform”, make sure it can demonstrate how it solves your real business problem: make sure it gets your technology boxes to talk to your people, within processes that make your business run better.

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Kiran Garimella said...

Your observation that BPM is not a panacea is spot on. BPM depends on many specialized technologies and applications to implement business processes. In fact, I see BPM being deployed in a way that can leverage existing IT assets. We are never going to have the luxury of a clean slate. I think of BPM & SOA as the yin-yang of business architecture (I'll blog on that in the future!)

Human interactions and case management are definitely under-represented in BPM today.

Phil Ayres said...


I look forward to seeing your views on the ying-yang of business architecture.

Thanks for dropping by - I look forward to some really good discussions on BPM.

Cheers, Phil