Putting a Human Face on BPM

Ann All

If there is one thing that most IT departments love, it's automation. Taking people out of processes reduces potential for error and makes everything nice and predictable, just the way IT likes it.


Problem is, points out a recent well-done article on Intelligent Enterprise, an all-encompassing focus on automation results in viewing people as little more than "being there only to handle specific exception steps when things go wrong in straight-through processing."


It's pretty tough to get all-important user buy-in with that kind of a viewpoint. As we've blogged before, technology should be there to serve people -- even though some IT folks approach their jobs as if the inverse is true.


So now experts are advising companies to put people back into the process.


The idea is to create new opportunities for process improvement by giving business users the capability to perform at least some process modeling and to share suggestions for improvement via collaboration tools. Gartner predicts that fully half of collaboration and user productivity interactions will be integrated with process technologies such as BPM by 2010.


Another Intelligent Intelligent article features a product that fits squarely into this "put people into process" philosophy. Intalio's latest iteration of its BPMS software features support for standards geared toward making it easier for business users to model processes, notes the article.


The first article referenced above offers some suggestions from Forrester Research that echo advice given by Transformation+Innovation President Nathaniel Palmer in his IT Business Edge interview, Pick the Right Project for BPM Success.


Rather than simple automation, says Palmer, the goal of BPM is "really changing operations in a way that is going to be beneficial to the organization."


A logical starting point is a small yet highly visible process such as the new hire process. It lends itself especially well to BPM, Palmer says, because it affects the entire organization, is an understood -- but not rigidly defined -- process, tends to be fairly straightforward and can offer a compelling ROI.

It's generally one where you could go to the CEO and say, "We want to make this experience better, cheaper and faster. It's going to be key to our success as an organization. We also want to use it as a proof point for how we are going to transform the organization by taking a more process-oriented approach. Can we get your support in doing this?" It becomes an enterprise-wide initiative without trying to boil the ocean all at once.

Subscribe to our Newsletters

Sign up now and get the best business technology insights direct to your inbox.


Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Oct 10, 2007 9:20 AM Francis Carden Francis Carden  says:
This is a very timely article for what we too are seeing in the market. The 3 elements to success here are BPM, Automation and People working in unison and not one against the other.In fact, we see BPM being pushed to the user, as well as driving automations where applicable and manual interactions where critical. The 3 can co-exist and at the same time need to be fully interconnectable, from any direction, and from within the "process". Francis Carden, OpenSpan Inc., Reply
Oct 11, 2007 9:09 AM Jose A. Herandez Jose A. Herandez  says:
Probably, IT will give a touch of down to earth, to combine BPM application to processes with the mixture of internal control actions. It will prepare condition to have feedback about the efectiveness and efficiency reached in each process Reply
Oct 11, 2007 5:37 PM Dominic Hart Dominic Hart  says:
Here's something I wrote a few months back trying to get the point across that people processing 'service requests' were undervalued and poorly supported.BPM, or automation, as an approach to reducing headcount is flawed.BPM, automation and collaboration should be seen as the elements of an approach to achieving customer service excellence.Of course users should be actively involved in that approach;it is they after all that 'model' processes (often dynamically, in real time and within the constraints of existing systems) to satisfy service requests and it is these same users that know exactly where the waste is...................because they spend up to 80% of their day dealing with it.People:The forgotten middleware sub-type.Author:Dominic Hart Dated:1st April 2007Wikipedia offers the following definition of middleware:In computing, middleware consists of software agents acting as an intermediary between different application components.It is used most often to support complex, distributed applications.The software agents involved may be one or many.That may be the intent but in truth what is used most often to support complex distributed applications is people, and they too may be one or many.It does not take too much of a stretch of the imagination to think of these people as highly advanced &optimised middleware.However there is one fundamental difference between this human middleware and the technological counterpart:The technology only acts as an intermediary between application components whereas people are acting, more often than not on behalf of a customer service request, as an intermediary between far more than just the components of an IT infrastructure.Despite this more direct relationship with customer service, companies fail to provide this very expensive middleware with the level of support its potential value demands.Service Level Agreements for disaster recovery plans, for example, talk in minutes or less for breaks in system continuity;they dont mention the weeks, or even months, it might take to train a new workforce.Studies have shown that 50 80% of the work carried out by human middleware, as with computing middleware, provides no additional value beyond pure processing capability.This situation poses a serious threat to the viability, and future, of a business:If, as a result of inadequate support, a critical and expensive resource is running at 20% productivity how could any business scale to meet the demands of an increasingly competitive market.That 20% will only be enough to satisfy customers if they dont know they can get better elsewhere.This poses a very serious question:What is adequate support for human middleware?The answer lies in the deconstruction of what it is this particular resource actually does.Put simply human middleware carries out work in four ways:It waits for something to happen e.g.it waits for a form to arrive, it makes a decision e.g.decides what to do with the form, it processes data with transformation as part of the process e.g.it copies the data from a form into an application, or it routes the data to a location that has the required transformation capability e.g.it passes the form to another department.It is on the basis of this simple description that Workflow, and by extension Business Process Management (BPM), technologies have flourished.However, simple is not enough, within these four bulk activity types are very many granular activities which exist outside the scope of traditional technologies, and which are not just menial but provide no discernable increase in value from a customer service perspective. Reply
Oct 11, 2007 5:37 PM Dominic Hart Dominic Hart  says:
In fact they could quite easily be explained as a waste of quality when customer retention is, or should be, considered a strategic necessity.How then to support these granular activities, in such a way as to allow the business to focus on customer service quality?By examining how, and with what, this human middleware carries out its function and then expressing that function in an optimised software application would seem an obvious answer.Of course not everything can be fully automated (the cost/benefit ratio needs to be the right way round) and whilst Straight Through Processing (STP) might be the endgame in most peoples eyes it has to be accepted that a person will have to be responsible for the second bulk activity type:Making a decision.Its in the support of that decision making, at its very many varied levels, embedded within the same software application that automates the other three bulk activity types that the secret to true support for human middleware lays.Most Workflow and BPM vendors would have you believe that this can be achieved with their offerings.What they are not keen for you to understand is that if it were at all realistically possible it would be at the expense of months of analysis &development and thousands of lines of unique code.Whats really needed is a development environment that lets you:Dispose of the waste (latency, redundancy, error, rework, etc.) in business processes and focus on supporting the decisions that drive quality into customer service.Building applications that really do support your most valuable asset, Human Middleware, should be a strategic imperative. Reply
Oct 11, 2007 5:52 PM Nandish Patel Nandish Patel  says:
As an academic, I have been researching the role of people in IT systems supporting business processes.I have proposed that people or 'process owners' should be permitted to design processes in particular business contexts. I am will to work with industry to research this further. Reply

Post a comment





(Maximum characters: 1200). You have 1200 characters left.




Subscribe Daily Edge Newsletters

Sign up now and get the best business technology insights direct to your inbox.

Subscribe Daily Edge Newsletters

Sign up now and get the best business technology insights direct to your inbox.