I am currently traveling on our ISIS Papyrus Roadshow 2013. The theme of our event series – as well as my keynote – is ‘Customer Engagement and Experience’. It was therefore sensible to include an intermediate stop at the Gartner Group Customer Strategies & Technologies Summit in London



The core theme of the event was ‘Understand. Engage. Deliver: Earning Customers for Life.’ That fits extremely well with the subject of our 2013 event series that focuses on Customer Engagement. Understand is meant to cover ways to know what customers want. Engage relates to customer interactions. Deliver covers the means to actually perform the services that improve customer satisfaction and drive up loyalty. I could not agree more.

The event was well attended and organized. While talking to many prospects at the show floor I did also attend a number of presentations, of which unforunately some left me dissatisfied. I found there was still a lot of talk about advertizing, targeted marketing, lead and sales management and some new themes related to Social media. Yup, they just gave CRM a new name.

The list of subjects was grouped into:

  • Social and Mobile CRM
  • Single View of the Customer
  • “Big Data” and Customer Analytics
  • Differentiated Customer Experiences
  • The Future of CRM

In principle the theme of the summit was to the point, but I was not satisfied what the various presentations and also vendors on the show floor delivered. I am not complaining at all but I am wondering. Is the real problem of the current lack of customer orientation in large businesses related to new marketing channels and a shift to Social power? Is it the new complexity of Social and Mobile that are forcing organizations to rethink how they manage customer relationships? I honestly do not think so. The problem is the cost-cutting mindset in customer service that is still prevalent.

The keynote was held jointly by Gene Alvarez, Jim Davies and Ed Thompson introducing the segmentation of Understand, Engage, Deliver. They basically covered customer data collection, call centers, and data analytics. As future trends they presented Social, Mobile and Big Data which all will change the way customers interact with businesses. The most interesting chart was one in which they presented a survey in which executives had to judge their approach in relationship to innovation. Only 10 percent said that they wanted to be the first ones to try something new. The rest were split evenly between early adopters, mainstream users, or laggards. This coincides with my experience. It simply means that we as an innovator have only 10% of the market to sell to. That was a tough realization and explains why we have always only grown moderately.

While there is nothing wrong with rethinking CRM initiatives in the light of Gartner Group’s value model of vision, strategy, customer experience, organizational collaboration, processes, information, metrics and technology, in the end it all depends on what businesses actually do in front of their customers. And I have not found much at this event that actually improves customer interaction. They all just focused on how to gather more data about the customer and what one can do without talking to the customer.

Customer engagement without customer communication?

I propose that this mismatch relates to the survey model of analyst companies. They survey what a host of vendors are offering and then assume that this is what businesses actually need. They are buying it, so therefore it must be what they need. As it happens, these markets are skewed by the amount of money that the mega-vendors pump into advertizing and yes, into analysts. Behind all this there is no conspiracy theory or immoral behavior as analysts do nothing else than to follow the money trail and that means they have to look at the past only. We are often excluded from analyst reports simply because we are not ‘relevant in market share’ and therefore not of interest to their report buyers. I think you should really be aware of this.

Gartner does say that CRM is not about installing a piece of software but about changing to a customer-centric approach. My wording in the last ten years was: ‘A database won’t improve your relationships, only communication does.’ Gartner suggests that cultural changes are a key element and that coincides with the same recommendation for doing BPM properly. I am sorry, but I disagree again. Enabling technology comes first and then the culture can actually change. No one asked one billion people around the world to change their culture to buy iPhones or to go onto Facebook. It was the technology that drove change.

The problem lies in what the CRM software actually does and how it empowers people to turn towards the customer. I saw no such solutions at the summit. The only consumer-facing functions were about how to collect data from Web, Social and Mobile applications and not about how employees would more effectively interact with their customers. To do this doesn’t require ‘smart process apps’ that are way too limited, but the ability to create ACM adaptive processes from pre-defined and ad-hoc goals and human interactions.

Enterprises do not really do business via Social or Mobile apart from maybe Internet banking. The majority of transactions are still via paper. E-commerce is still a single digit marketshare, but Amazon is the largest retailer in the world. The majority of customer service interactions are via phone or email and to a growing percentage via Web. Also here no Social networks. As long as businesses want to use the new technologies to reduce cost and not to actually improve the service quality not much will change. Web and Mobile do not improve customer loyalty because they lack the emotional interaction.

There are two subjects that I will discuss in my next post, which are ‘Single View of the customer’  and ‘Voice of the Customer’ that were prominently covered at the summit and left me disappointed. All that is not Gartner Group’s fault as it is simply the way the markets work. I did rant a little about the purely artificial ‘Smart Process Apps’ market segment created by Forrester Research but I am aware that it is in the interest of all involved (bewildered buyers, pushy vendors and analysts) to play this game.

In my next post I will continue the coverage of ‘CRM’s new clothes’.

The BPM adjective war proliferates once more. I already commented on it in 2009 in ‘Agile-, AdHoc-, Dynamic-, Social-, or Adaptive BPM’ Since then more and more adjectives are being added to describe variants of process functionality in simplistic terms. Too often they do not have any sensible meaning such as ‘Smart’. Jim Sinur coined one of the more sensible definitions for adaptive processes with ‘Design by Doing’.

Forrester Research has recently added another populist term like ‘Apps’ and published a report on ‘Smart Process Apps’, which looks like an exercise for BPM vendors to sell to businesses who are now demanding less effort for process analysis and governance. Forrester guesses that smart process apps will be ‘an emerging $34 billion software category designed to support people-intensive, highly variable, and loosely structured business processes. Smart process apps will package enterprise social platforms, mobility, and dynamic case management (DCM) to serve goals of innovation, collaboration, and workforce productivity and to connect to core business processes.’

So let’s call a spade a spade: ‘With SPA we package a whole bunch of old software and sell it to you as innovation.’ IBM did the same for years by renaming all products under the WebSphere brand. The odd part is that our competitors and vendors do not admit that ISIS was first to offer consolidated process and inbound/outbound content applications in 2001. They go as far to claim that ISIS must have old software because we have been doing it for so long. I would call that mature and having the most experience! When we announced it at the time analysts could not see it in the market place as it was REALLY NEW. The difference between our ‘old software’ and what is now bundled and hardcoded into SPAs is that our software was already consolidated and highly integrated in 2001. Now that everyone tries to copy the concept, it is innovation? Strange, but more on analysts in another post …

In the SPA report, vendors and Forrester are describing a subset of what we have been offering as truly consolidated ACM functionality since 2009. Especially the integration with ECM functionality, particularly document capture and outbound content generation, has been always a key differentiator to BPM in my definitions of ACM. Many SPA offerings do not even cover content beyond MS-Office.

SPAs just offers the reusable process of ACM which in difference is user created and not pre-hard-coded. It would be frightening if SPA would be a new $34b category that ties businesses into legacy products. Now that ACM, adaptive, goal-orientation and content integration are becoming accepted – suddenly everyone innovates by applying the tag to everything. Businesses do not need a short-sighted shortcut that immediately becomes a legacy problem. There is the principle benefit that some vertical business knowledge is embedded in the SPA. Like with SAP you can now change your business to work like the software … (hey, its an anagram!).

Would I look at SPA differently had Forrester Research invited us to take part (damn, we don’t pay them anymore)? I don’t think so. We were included in DCM studies and I still said what I thought was wrong with its half-hearted definition. I would have still said that the SPA approach is nowhere near enough.

Why do businesses need ACM for processes and not Smart Apps?

The reason that I agreed to the term ‘Adaptive Case Management’ with the WfMC was the necessity of providing content functionality to the process performer. Case management was originally about providing a central folder service for all content of a case — plus work does not follow a flow. Adaptive is further not just a synonym for dynamic, flexible, intelligent, ad-hoc or smart. In biology, adaptation refers to both the current state of being adapted and to the dynamic evolutionary process that leads to the adaptation. Yes, SPA functionality is PRE-CODED and they do not support the evolutionary permanent change.

The first question is how can adaptive process functionality be described and second, how would a business know how to apply those functions? Or what language do we use and what do we describe with it? What you want to describe actually defines the language to use. These elements must be managed seamlessly and homogeneously in the process/content platform. Disconnected products like in SPA will make this a management nightmare.

Gartner On Process Types

Gartner On Process Types

Look at this chart from a recent Gartner Group paper. It actually does a pretty good job of analyzing and positioning the various process types in this graph. It is another form of the linear graph that I have first used as the process spectrum from transactions to social.

This graph refers to process run-time adaptation but what makes a system adaptive are the process-life cycle aspects. Process life-cycle describes what happens before and after a process is being performed. In orthodox BPM that is purely a governance bureaucracy issue. ACM facilitates all life-cycle changes particularly in the sense of performer creation, reusable processes, case fragments and goal-orientation that allow a business-driven creation of service goals.

My definition of ACM adaptive processes in 2009 already included the dynamic orchestration, rules, constraints (boundary rules), goal-orientation, business events and social. This is the spectrum of the business needs – all the way implemented in the Papyrus Platform and not in different products! Being focused on processes, the Gartner analysis passes on content functionality. In their iBPM report however, Gartner named the ability to capture inbound and drive content from within the process platform’ advanced functionality’.

How to achieve a better process outcome next time?

Ad-hoc, social, dynamic, process fragments, event-driven changes, and user decisions are all runtime modifications that do not by default translate to a better process next time. And better does not mean cheaper but achieving more if its well-defined goals and outcomes. Turning past executions into new processes and having the system learn to make recommendations on what actions improve process outcomes — THAT IS ADAPTIVE. Adaptive processes are therefore not about being chaotic, creative, un-structured or non-compliant but about using the dynamics of that to create a process that fulfills all goals, follows all compliance rules and can change at the drop of a hat — and can be reused for a better outcome NEXT TIME. That process or any parts of it might turnout to be quite rigid for one reason or the other. Performers can be restricted from modifying it. Adaptive is more about how the process is created than how much people can change it.

What are the definitions that make up an adaptive process:

  • goals (business view)
  • outcomes (customer view)
  • skill or resources (capability view)
  • work (task types, dependencies, checklists)
  • data (forms and silo interface view)
  • rules (for data and content, resources, work)
  • content (inbound, outbound, social, email, rules)

Orthodox BPM flow diagrams, BPMN or even the CMMN case management notation describe at best 20% of that. I have said so for more than a decade. If there is one good thing about SPA it is the admission that a process is not just a flow diagram. SPA is sold as an ‘improvement’ and a ‘NEW NEED’ while it has always been the same. In orthodox BPM the other 80% were hardcoded. Because SPA is built on orthodox BPM and ECM engines the 80% are still hardcoded. But now they are packaged as a murky app that will be hard to maintain. An encoded process (in SPA) is no more than an assumption of a happy path that hardly ever makes anyone happy, but is at best the cheapest way to achieve average outcomes. The ad-hoc elements and the social component are supposed to fill the cracks.

The business user must have the facility to create and modify all the above elements of a process given the right authority. All such changes must be logged and audited. The prime goal is to make it so easy that all actions are being performed inside the ACM functionally and there is no need to step outside to email or MS-Office. Clearly, not all business users will have the skill or the time to continuously make some changes. Humans tend to do things the way they were done before. The fear that people will continuously make changes is irrational. People are lazy. If you let them they will do things with the least amount of effort (=cost). That is the reason that the process must have goal and outcome definitions. But there must be the opportunity to improve on the fly and save it for the future.

The unpredictable drivers of business process change:

  • customer expectations
  • people interactions
  • business events
  • resource dependencies
  • decision-making
  • data dependencies
  • market competition

Once modifications have been made because of the list above how will the business know of these are just one-time changes or if they should continue into a more permanent change for future performances of the process? Often these decisions are not made by the performer but by a process owner or a process coach (if you must in a Center of Excellence). As you gather process knowledge from the actual process instance there is no need for complex process mining or external customer satisfaction surveys.

What functions are needed for evolutionary process adaptation:

  • saving case/process instances as templates
  • monitor related business targets
  • skill availability
  • resource monitoring
  • service level agreements
  • reuse of process fragments
  • discovering process patterns for events
  • chosing templates for best outcomes
  • customer rating of outcomes
  • performer ratings of templates

Can you ignore any of these and still assume that a process will deliver what the customer expects? No. Will simply providing all this information in a flashy dashboard be enough? Absolutely not. It is quite difficult to provide a user interface that will be seen as easy to use and intuitive. It is new functionality for the business so they find it difficult in any case. But if we can configure user interaction to match their understanding of what their job is, there is a huge opportunity for empowering the business. Don’t expect a single UI to be perfect for everyone. Does improvement have to be handled through a Center of Excellence? Absolutely not, but feel free to call it what you will.

Ad-hoc, social, dynamic, process fragments, event driven changes, and user decisions are all runtime modifications that do not by default translate to a better process next time. And better does not mean cheaper but achieving more of its well defined goals and outcomes. Turning past executions into new processes and having the system learn to make recommendations on what actions improve process outcomes — THAT IS ADAPTIVE. Adaptive processes are therefore not about being chaotic, creative, un-structured or non-compliant but about using the real-world dynamics of work to create a process that fulfills all goals, follows all compliance rules and can change at the drop of a hat to be better NEXT TIME.

From my experience the claim that processes have to be rigid because of compliance and regulations is simply an excuse. There are usually just a few checkpoints where the performer’s work has to be constrained, verified or the customer’s outcome be reduced. That can easily be done by rules. To work towards a process outcome does not have to and should not be one homogenous structure, but each department (capability and process owner) defines and maintains their own. Adaptive processes are created by linking to work goals of other departments without caring how they actually do what they do. If you want me to perform a work task for your process, you link a goal that I created in my library into the case. It will automatically be assigned to my team. Some like to call this Process As A Service …

Come on now, old broom, get dressed, these old rags will do just fine!

SPA: Come on now, old broom, get dressed, these old rags will do just fine!

Anyone who puts however processes, collaboration, content, rules, social, interfacing and more into separate software engines as in the SPA proposal and proposes to make them work together sensibly and allow an ADAPTIVE evolution of the resulting fragmented process definitions … is naive like ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ (J.W. Goethe).

PS: In case you disagree — take it easy! This is just my personal opinion differing with Forrester Research.

Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE is now jumping on the Customer Experience (CX) bandwagon. As it happens, I have been complaining for years about the lack of CX considerations in the times of maximizing shareholder profit and optimizing company productivity. Going against the grain of the times, we have first offered the closed customer communication loop in 2001. Now analysts, consultants and vendors are behaving as if this has always been their core focus. Even BPM vendors claim that they can improve CX through more and rigid processes. Amazing!

Analysts propose that the problem is caused by the use of different devices for engaging with a business across touchpoints. Therefore businesses have trouble to deliver a consistent cross-channel experience. I propose that this is just a minor side aspect. No one cares about that. The problem is after all caused by technology but not by the customer wanting it but by businesses who have used the technology to reduce customer interaction for cost reasons. If the customer can do it himself on Web or Mobile they need less staff and thus have lower cost. Well, cost cutting once more comes back to bite them. Customers that have no people contact also do not feel any loyalty towards a business or a brand. It does not have to be physical contact in a store, but Apple even came back to do that when everyone else thought ‘brick&mortar’ branches were dead.


But there is more broken. For a decade the idea of CRM was to gather more data about customers and use them to shove more stuff they don’t need down their throats. When the CRM craze started fifteen years ago I already said that a database does not improve relationships. Communication improves relationships. Customer Experience is about engaging with the customer in two-way communication. It is not about sending brand messages, but about actually listening to the customer and responding in a considerate way. It is the overall behavior towards the customer that makes him feel valued which creates loyalty. You can take all your loyalty bonus programs and just shut them down to cut your costs. They are not working. Put the money into customer engagement and communication.

Companies such as Oracle have acquired recently number of vendors to try and piece together an end-to-end ‘customer experience’. From marketing automation, via social marketing and social intelligence, customer service, enterprise search, knowledge management, to finally e-commerce systems. Do you see software for customer communication? I don’t! Not only will it be a nightmare to make them work together, but you are looking at a huge software stack that follows many different approaches to do the same thing and it actually does not engage the customer.

And technology is not the solution. Technology is at best the enabler. First you must change your business strategy.

Business principles as the key to Customer Experience

  1. Transparency
  2. Integrity
  3. Customers before shareholders
  4. Compassion
  5. Proactive

Which ones of the above are improved by a piece of software? None! To gain customer loyalty for your business you MUST FIRST show integrity and act in your customers best interest and trust them! When you look at all the terms and conditions we need to sign to become a customer then the one thing we do not get from businesses is trust. But we as consumers should be loyal? What the heck is this? I am not talking about ‘blind trust’ because clearly there are some people that are not to be trusted. But from a certain point in the relationship, namely after you have signed and paid, this trust must be extended.

To gain your customers loyalty you must be proactive and do good for the customer without being asked or being forced by Social media pressures. That is not a loyalty program, that is simply damage control. I do admit that even Apple is not that great in listening to the consumer and they are losing customers through that attitude. It is nearly impossible to get in contact with anyone at Apple outside a store. But at least they do have care programs that work reasonably well.

  • RULE NUMBER ONE: Customers will be loyal and become an advocate for your product if you make them better than they are without you! That is the only reason that they buy a product and why they will tell others about it. It makes them feel better. It is that simple.
  • RULE NUMBER TWO: If the customer says that what you do is too complicated, he/she is always right! While having a simple product is desirable too, that is not what I talk about. I talk about how simple you are to deal with in all aspects of customer engagement. How easy is it for the customer to get what he wants? Here is a giveaway: If your call center message starts with: ‘Your call is important to us and that’s why there is no one available to talk to you’ … then you clearly DO NOT care about this customer call. All you care about is cost, especially when the customer must wait in the loop AND pays a minute fee.

Customer Experience is about Customer Engagement

Once you got your mindset right you can start to look at what technology can help you to do this efficiently. Cool self-service Mobile apps do not guarantee customer experience. CX is improved by providing personnel with an engagement platform. Customer experience is neither a Big Data application that nonsensically tries to predict which messages at which time will make the customer buy. That is the same ridiculous approach as late-night infomercials: ‘… and if you call in the next five minutes you will receive a second unit for free!‘ The message?`You are too stupid too understand that the product isn’t worth half of what we are asking.’

Building customer data profiles with ‘clubs’ and ‘communities’ is ok if the core emphasis is the improvement in customer engagement and you actually have the means. If you only do it to gather more data, the last thing you are showing is integrity. Data and models do not ‘understand’ customers, only people can.

Maz Iqbal has written a great post on the subject of processes in Customer ExperienceMaz says that the BPM process mindset is on a different floor than the CX one and you can’t be on both floors at the same time. I could not agree more. The only way that such customer engagement can be managed efficiently is via ACM-enabled, goal-driven processes that follow the customer lead to achieve the engagement goals.

So what is the key problem in actually doing something about Customer Experience and Engagement once the C-level has warmed up to the new mindset. It is actually the current IT landscape with its ECM, BPM, CRM and a whole list of other products that stand in the way. IT is no longer the driver of this but it is now the DISABLER. A few days ago I heard from a large energy provider: ‘But Max, we have already so many customer care solutions installed and we are now looking at how we could integrate them.’ Well, here is the tough reality: YOU WON’T! It is neither feasible nor sensible because you still won’t get an engagement platform.

It is the engagement platform that will do the integration with the existing backend systems and that will give you the ‘Single View of the Customer’. And you will need to get rid of some existing systems to make it happen. It is called creative destruction. If you are unlucky you have tied down your IT and business in long running outsourcing contracts. Once again, the cost cutting mentality coming back to bite you.


We propose that the ‘Single View’ is actually achieved through a set of business goals that drive what you do for the customer, ideally proactively. We define engagement goals for the business to ATTRACT, ACQUIRE, CARE, RETAIN, and GROW where ACM adaptive processes enable service personnel to receive and deliver content in the case/process context as consistent customer engagement without additional effort to Web, Cloud and Mobile interactions. These goals are a direct derivative of your business strategy and your operational targets.

Therefore we also provide the facility to use the engagement platform for the management team to define, execute and monitor strategic objectives, operational targets and process goals for all end-to-end value streams of your business. That TRANSPARENCY is the true enabler for your Customer Experience!

PS: We have our OpenHouse 2013 coming up and the roadshow series to celebrate 25 years of success. Would love to see you there and show you the above!

Ever since Andrew McAfee started the Enterprise 2.0 theme, businesses have been implementing Social technologies to utilize the wave of innovation that swept in from the Internet with user-created content and person-to-person communication via text, voice or video. According to McKinsey over 80% of businesses use at least one social technology and two thirds utilize access with a mobile device. But after the initial rush and some fast benefits it becomes harder to increase those. Mostly, the main executive goal is to increase productivity, but that is not achievable without tackling organizational barriers. While organizational barriers are created by management methodologies such as BPM, one has to ask if productivity is truly the right approach to justify Social technology.

As I pointed out years ago, Social and BPM are not complementary.

Adding Social communication to a BPM platform does nothing if the methodology manages processes the old way – analysis, redesign, implementation, deployment, monitoring, improvement. BPM holds back the benefits that Social could bring. BPM rigidizes what Social tries to make more dynamic. The moniker Dynamic-BPM does not describe a process that is Adaptive or Social. But no one looks at the possible conflict of interests. Studies indicate that executives seem to believe that it is purely a social skill problem while consultants point to cultural issues. Both may have some effect but I propose that it is a larger issue in management styles and concepts that clearly has an impact on culture.

Managing processes in adaptive style is one way to bypass the barriers. Changing to a goal-oriented definition and execution of processes is the only thing that will bring a dramatic benefit. It does open up process management to become part of the social interaction. BPM flow-diagrams block Social.

There is another faith that says that the full benefits will only be realized when the Social functionality is moved to Cloud and Mobile. They say that internal deployment and the rigidity of IT procedures are still a hindrance. That too may have an impact, but it is the same issues of control and security that will reduce the ability of a business to deploy via Cloud and Mobile. Gartner does say that the Nexus of Forces – Information (aka as Big Data), Social, Cloud and Mobile – will drive the change in IT in the years to come. They are most probably right, but I think they overestimate the flexibility of people and most of all of executives and IT departments.

Is Social really about increasing productivity?

These considerations are in my mind only sensible when they take a practical view towards more than productivity. A key element in the Internet age is the empowerment of the customer. We have already moved so much of our customer interaction to the Internet. BUT … customers have no emotional ties to a Web or Mobile interaction. Studies have shown that even long-term customers switch vendors at the drop of a hat when there is no human contact.

Loyalty programs do not deliver new business with existing customers and new customers are five times more expensive than the same revenue with existing ones. I am not flying more with one airline because I get miles that I can spend. It is a silly discount scheme that I can offset by flying with cheaper airlines. I do not choose an airline because of the online check-in and because I get my ticket on my mobile. Flying has become this non-sensical ‘cheapest-fare’ game. I might pay only a $100 dollars for the ticket, but I pay another $70 to change my ticket, and when I want one additional suitcase it is another $50. And more money for the slightest improvement in service or a snack aboard the plane. It is ridiculous and makes me feel treated like an idiot. Only the mileage status that gives me preferential treatment by the staff  makes me fly more with an airline. So self-service via Internet and Mobile have really produced a negative effect despite the cost reduction and increase in productivity KPIs.

Can the customer disconnect be offset by Big Data?

I doubt it. Predictive analytics to provide the customer with additional offers produce nothing of value. Online sales leader Amazon tries to sell me more cameras when I just bought one. It is annoying to say the least. The few accessories they offer I already bought. While they do have a complete record of all the things I bought at their site, they are unable to use it. They are unable to go cross-market-segment and offer me books on photography about the particular camera that I just bought. Which means they lack the ability to assess the content and context of my purchases. The most useful feature is the user ratings of products (not just the number of stars but the textual content) and what other customers bought after they looked at or purchased a product. That is after all similar to what we offer at ISIS Papyrus with the User-Trained Agent when we recommend tasks and actions that other users performed in a similar situation in the case/process.

The key element in making ISCM – Information (content not big data), Social, Mobile, Cloud – really do more for the business is to look at it though the lens of customer engagement. Social has the ability to connect customers with employees but that is not what most businesses want. For the short-sighted cost-cutter the ideal way to do processes is lights-out execution or straight-through-processing. Keep employees out of the game to reduce costs as much as possible. Customer contact centers are stuck in optimized and thus rigid processes that are unable to achieve FCR – First Call Resolution – which is the key to increase customer satisfaction. To achieve that, the call center employee must have all the customer information AND have decision making authority! That is like blasphemy to many MBA-trained optimizers …

The information that allows FCR is not in a database table and is not controllable by simple rules because otherwise there would be no need for the customer to actually call. The information is in the CONTENT of the communication and it has to be interpreted by a human with a caring attitude to make the customer happy. More blasphemy coming your way.

“In 2013 Customer Service Is Moving From Cost Center To Differentiator.” (Kate Leggett – Forrester Research)

Businesses are now in a situation where marketing can’t fix bad reviews on the Social networks. It won’t be solved by simply buying and implementing Social or ACM products. It clearly is about empowering employees to create the positive emotional experience for the customer, because that is the only thing in the Internet age that will create customer loyalty. If your choice of technology is driven by cost cutting and short ROI time frames your business will go the way of HBOS and Kodak.

  • Companies have to learn from experience that customer loyalty is an essential driver of business success.
  • A goal-oriented approach to service processes is the only thing that will allow them to improve.
  • Just measuring some metrics and reward employees for achieving them does nothing.
  • Employees need authority, goals and means for the customer as well as recognition and security for themselves.
  • Adaptive processes allow you to not just optimize the service call, but to remove the reason for the customer calling.
  • One integrated system of engagement makes it easier to manage, measure and improve multi-channel experiences.

Coming back to company culture enabling social interaction: Yes, culture impacts what gets done and how it gets done.  But culture in itself does not do anything. A great company culture will be able to execute a great strategy and the two have to be aligned. A customer-focused company strategy won’t be implemented through BPM methodology or rigid processes. The objectives of your strategy have be translated to explicit goals in your adaptive service processes and employees must be empowered to achieve them. No need for Big-Data, a Social culture or Cloud deployment.

If your company strategy does not consider the change that we are experiencing through digital communication, it won’t drive company culture and the use of the right technology to stay emotionally connected to your customers.

Coming in from the freezing cold of the night into the tent made my goggles fog up. That and dim light of the few logs burning at the fireplace in the center made it hard to see. There were a few benches and people have gathered to sit on reindeer furs. The sound of a soft beating drum and the light crackle of the fire was soon mixed with a low voice humming a melancholic melody. They do say that the lack of sunlight during winter above the Arctic circle makes people depressive. My eyes adjusted and could now see the old man in reindeer furs beating the drum and humming his tune. His eyes were closed and he ignored us. He seemed in trance.

Then someone closed the opening in the tent and the great shaman of Kuusamo began to speak in the old Sami dialect:

“I am alone but I am not lonely,
Because I am with my friends the reindeer.
It is cold but I am not freezing,
As my reindeer furs keep me warm.
It is dark for a long time in winter,
But it allows me to see the Aurora Borealis.
The distances are long across the frozen lakes,
But I do not have to walk and can sit in my sled.
Nothing grows in the long winter, 
But the cold and salt keep my food.
There is no one to talk to me, 
But my reindeer will always listen to me.
What else can a man want to be content,
To stand on my own, respected and safe with my reindeer.
If you share this milk with reindeer horn with me,
I can bestow on you the same open heart and clear thoughts.”

With that he handed out little cups with a white liquid. We drank and it tasted sweet. I wondered.

The next day I sat down with another shaman, but this time I was strapped in and a 600 HP engine roared to life. We rolled out onto the ice of the lake and with no further delay he spun the car around its center and off we went. We were past a 100 mph in a few seconds and I saw the woods come closer at the edge of the lake with frightening speed. He was driving with one hand while telling me that he started driving at the age of seven. His father had told him to not get into trouble with the police but that was it. He applied the brakes and the quarter-inch rally spikes tore up the two feet thick ice of the lake. I hardly saw him move the wheel but the car tilted left only to jerk right a moment later when he applied the throttle. We were jolted forward but because of the ‘Scandinavian flick’ we kept going sideways until the next right turn appeared. I could sense a moment of less power and with no more than a tug at the wheel the car changed load to the opposite drift into the next turn. Both the rear and the front of the car were throwing up snow from the edge of the cleared path on the ice track.

Bentley Supersports

Bentley Supersports

I finally managed to say something through my amazement. I had practiced this for a couple of days and kind of gotten the hang of it but I now felt utterly sobered and disillusioned. This was incredible perfection and control in an environment that should not allow such action. “How in the world do you keep the car so precisely in the drift? I always lose control and spin out.”

The great shaman just shrugged as he presented me with another snippet of wisdom: “You spin out if there is no force holding the car in place. When you roll straight it is the friction of the tire. When you drift there is nearly no friction and the only thing that keeps you going around the corner is the forward push of your tires. Without power you lose it. It is a balance of power and pointing the power in the right direction. You are only in control when you are under power!”

That made a lot of sense and I realized that this was another truism for life. Let go and stop giving direction forward and you will lose it. In your private endeavors, in your relationships and obviously in business alike. Drifting was not about floating but it was about applying power and giving it direction.

“I often feel that I will be too fast for the next turn and thats why I reduce throttle and then the car spins out,” I asked. He nodded smiling and answered: “How you make the next turn mostly depends on how you come out of the previous one. For the load change from one side to the other you must be in full control, which means you must not come off power, but just reduce it enough so that you destabilize the drift and the car will react to the wheel.” Again is sounded so logical that I did not understand why I had trouble doing it.

He hit the brake hard and the spikes dug into the ice just before the 180 turn. I noticed that he did his Scandinavian flick after the breaking only. He said: “Break early and hard when you are straight until your speed is right. Point shortly into the turn and then destabilize the rear by steering outside. Wait until the car comes around and then apply power to take full control. Little power, little control, more power, more control!” He grinned at me, all the while steering with the left hand and kind of showing me the cars movements with his right. It was absolutely no effort to him. He had so much experience that he reacted completely automatically to whatever the environment threw at him. No surprise that he had been four times World Rallye Champion …

Juha Kankkunen and me having clear thoughts ...

Juha Kankkunen and me having clear thoughts …

Then the clear thinking actually came to me!

I had met the great Shaman of Kuusamo. Two very different people, but both with the same clarity of thought and open hearts to their surroundings. One an incredibly old goat herder who was the most happy when with his reindeer and in harmony with nature. The other Juha Kankkunen who is still the most happy when in harmony with a car and a road. But the harmony did not come from learning in books, or following rules and procedures. It came from listening, feeling, clear thoughts, open hearts and 10.000 hours of practice.

People do not become experts through (taught) knowledge, or through experience or natural talent. Despite all the explanations that satisfy my brain’s need for narrative, I still had a hard time doing it myself and when I failed I got worse and worse. Experts are usually pretty poor in explaining exactly what they do. But when I was watching the expert do his thing I suddenly was able to copy some aspect of his expertise. I usually got it in a couple of sessions or I better stopped. Just practicing did not make it better as I got too tired and frustrated. I needed another infusion of expertise from the expert himself. It is this kind of teaching mode that the collaborative working style of ACM suggests and supports.

If you have not done it yourself – ANYTHING – you can study all you want and get as many degrees as you like – you will be an outsider and repeating other people’s knowledge without really knowing what it means. You certainly won’t be able to teach the real thing. There is nothing wrong with getting a great education, but you need to get out into the school of hard knocks, to experience the value of failure, and the adrenalin of daring and the dopamine of winning that will put you in harmony with the world. That harmony will make you wise enough to teach or consult or manage. Nothing else will.

Yup, the Nike slogan applies to life: “Just Do It!”

Last week I was heliskiing at Mike Wiegele in Blue River, Canada. Considering my spinal injury from seven years ago, after which doctors predicted that I would not be doing sports again, I simply feel privileged to experience it. At such activities one always has the opportunity to meet interesting people. Part of it is the expense and most participants have some adventurous spirit. There is the occasional rich sod one could have done without. We were a majority of entrepreneurs or business owners who work hard and play hard. Stick a group of alpha wolves into a helicopter and you’ll get very interesting people dynamics to observe.

There were a number of people from IT and we had various discussions in the evenings on where enterprise IT is going. Many are stuck in orthodox solutions to new problems because thats where the money is right now. One – I will call him Larry here – had sold his Internet business to Microsoft some time ago. Larry was intrigued by adaptive processes, but thought that businesses would rather want flowcharts. Then something interesting happened … but first a little introduction to heliskiing.

A_Star Helicopter Picking Up Skiers

A-Star Helicopter Picking Up Skiers

We flew the 6-seater A-Star heli carrying the pilot, a guide and four skiers. Other groups fly the Bell 212 with twice as many passengers. The smaller more powerful chopper can land in tighter places and sometimes only the front skids are stuck in the slope as you get out. 99% of drop-offs and pick-ups are marked landing sites and one doesn’t jump from the heli while flying as some believe. You bind your skies and poles, drop them next to the markers and kneel down far enough to leave room for the heli lands right in between, two to three feet from where you crouch. Despite the adventurous nature of the operation, safety is the primary concern when flying and skiing. Mike Wiegele operates 10+ helicopters in Blue River and has a fantastic safety record.

But in the end it is all about people. The guides try to assemble homogenous groups of skiers so that things go smoothly. Two groups ski while the third one is being lifted to the next drop-off.  A pick-up or drop-off takes between one and two minutes. Flying time five to seven minutes. The guide always loads and unloads the skis from the basket. The skiers have to open the door, climb in, buckle up, get out, close the door, crouch and wait for the hell to take off, covering their face and hang on to their stuff. Put on your skis, the guide explains where to go and you are off. Great fun, but requires good skiing skills and being very fit.

At lunch Larry asks if its ok for me to operate the hellcopter door as I am the one to always get in first and out last. I tell him that the process seems to work fine for everyone … he looks at me with a naughty smile and says: ‘I am surprised to hear that from you. I thought you don’t like rigid processes?’ I grinned and said: ‘Just because a process isn’t rigid, doesn’t mean it must be anarchy!’

What Heliskiing Teaches You About ACM.

Heliskiing has many different processes each one with several goals and tasks. Most of them are either a set of checklists or rules. Only some can be seen as prescribed procedures of activities. Checklists, rules and procedures need to interact and intersect and each skiers/guide team creates its own individual process around them. As the days go by less guidance is needed and the teams refine the processes more and more. There is no upfront overall analysis or design and we were not even experts in these processes but did them for the first time. We were expert skiers needing those processes (goals) to achieve our outcome – doing fantastic skiing safely.

I will not go into the service processes of the lodge but solely focus on the processes of the groups of skiers. Flying the heli is mostly a number of checklists and several rules that the pilot has to conform to. No flowcharts. There are six performers of which four are also customers. It all starts off with a safety briefing that is nothing else then a list of compliance rules.

  • Tie together your skies and poles for loading and unloading.
  • Do not lift up the skies close to the hell but just drag them on the ground.
  • Don’t touch the heated airspeed sensor at the heli’s nose.
  • Once the pilot signals, open the door, get in and close your seat belts.
  • Don’t force handles or doors as then you are doing something wrong.
  • On landing, don’t open the seat belts before the guide opens the door .
  • Wait for the guide, climb out, close door, kneel down, signal the pilot ok.
  • If anything is amiss cross your arms to an X and he will not take off.

These are just the compliance rules and the rest of the process the team has to develop themselves. Yes, it is a team effort. The guide gives some advice on how to bind the skies and so on. You quickly learn that it is better to take off the backpack before you get in. It is really hard to find the belts with the goggles on and get hold of the buckles with mittens. So the skiers hand each other the belts. At the window seats the belts always fall below the seats and the only way to find them is to take off your mitten. Once you get out, it is more efficient to immediately put on the backpack than later when you are on the skies holding poles. But the process remains flexible as if one skier would arrive late, the others would get into the heli before to save time. We really did not discuss it. It happened …

Some other guidelines revolve around respecting your fellow skiers. If you need a ‘technical break’ before flying or skiing, do not do it in the snow close to where the hell lands. The blades will cause a snowstorm and some of it might be yellow.

Deep  Steep Snow

Deep Steep Snow

Adaptive Processes must too ensure compliance.

Finally, there are quite a few safety rules for skiing. In case of avalanche danger never ski close together. Do not use the pole straps. Everyone should wear a transceiver, and carry a shovel and avalanche probe. On glaciers don’t stand together in the same spot. You might break through into a crevice. If an avalanche goes off, yell ‘avalanche’ and try to ski out to the side. If you get sucked in, throw away our poles and try to swim and if you go under cover your face and nose to create an airspace. The others watch the skier to see where he goes under. First radio for a rescue team. Try to get there and mark the spot with a ski pole. Turn your transceivers to ‘search’ and start a ten feet spaced search pattern downhill from there. If you are atop a skier take out your probe and push it down outwards in a spiral from the signal center. If the response is hard it is rock or ice, if it is spongy .. you found him. Take your shovel and start to dig from the slope upwards as hard as you can. Another skiers removes the snow behind you. Switch to a fresh digger after a minute or so. Continue like so until you find him. Apply first aid. For multiple buried skiers the ones not digging continue to search. Yup, the rescue procedure might even work as a flow …

What was really interesting was the search for a lost skier, especially as the lost skier was me. Just before lunch break we skied in the woods and I stopped for a technical break (not at the landing site …) and my team was gone. I tried to follow their tracks but there were already too many. Suddenly there were no more tracks and as is the rule I stopped. I pulled out my radio and called. No answer. I tried that for a few minutes and then assumed that I was in bad spot. I tried to walk uphill but it was steep and deep heavy snow. So I skied down a bit. Below me I could see a little creek and an open spot. Still no answer from the radio. As that was strange I played with the channel setting and suddenly I heard voices.

To my surprise I heard that they were already sending out the helicopter to search for me. As the guides and helicopters have more powerful radios and they were continuously talking I could not get through. They were so busy executing their standard search procedure that they did not even listen anymore to the radio. Only some of the other skiers heard me on their radios ….


Skiing in the Woods

As the helis were now up searching I decided to ski down to the open spot where they would see me. I could see one of them flying about 300 yards away from me. I tried again the radio and now the helicopter above me could also hear me. I directed them to where I was and a little later two guides came and we were picked up by a heli. The guides told me that I should adhere to the safety rules.

According to the procedure the search would have taken a lot longer as I was invisible in the woods and there were too many tracks that obscured mine. In some circumstances in dangerous areas or when you are hurt it makes sense to stay put. For me the procedure is guideline but clearly everyone should use it as skill allows.

Customer Service Processes Can’t Be Done With Flow-diagrams

I could explain to Larry this way what it means to plan and execute in adaptive processes. It creates goal-oriented team collaboration and does not suffer from chaos due to a lack of procedure. He kind of claimed that skiing is not doing business. That is basically saying that the aspects and consequences of being human and the related interactions do not apply in business. That is simply nonsense. Heliskiing is a service business just like an insurance, a bank, a telecom or a healthcare organization. It has a well defined outcome. There are cases (one per run) with clear goals, many different tasks involving process resources (equipment and food), multiple performers with different roles (guides, pilots, skiers), compliance rules, ad-hoc tasks for technical stops, and yes — also some safety procedures. The case/process develops/evolves on the fly without design work. It interacts with other processes through events. It has even more interaction with the customer and the process has to be created around him/her. People skill is a core aspect in how the process is actually performed. The guide has to chose the next run according to his experience that should be the best one closest by but still safe considering the weather and snow conditions. Pure knowledge work for the customer outcome. It is the guide who makes or breaks your skiing day. And it is quite obvious that the guide is actually the process owner!

Can you now see the adaptive processes you participate in every day?

John Wenger wrote this fantastic post on the subject of complexity and uncertainty, reminding control freaks that they exhibit ignorance when they demand that economy and business do not follow the laws of nature. He reiterates so many points I have made over the years.

John Wenger also reminded me of something Mahatma Gandhi said: ‘First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.’ While we seem to enter the fighting stage, I only care about the concepts being understood and not only in the BPM arena. The problem is a widespread one.  Applying Gandhi’s thinking to BPM reminded me of something else he said: ‘An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation.’ Just because many promote orthodox BPM does not prove its working. There is a huge consulting and software market at stake. On the other hand there is no need to prove that adaptive concepts work because we see them in nature every day of our lives. I find it utterly amazing that someone in a dark suit, white shirt and tie can stand up in front of an audience of obviously intelligent people and say with a straight face: ‘The laws of nature do not apply in business’ and is not immediately showered with rotten eggs and tomatoes.

In another post on ‘BPM disruption’ the question is asked if the BPM community should stop people like me from provocatively proposing that orthodox BPM is not all it claims to be. The BPM community is clearly afraid of change and would prefer a gradual, cautious and reasonable evolution of the BPM concept and not question its principles. As always the grey zone between BPM methodology and software makes the discussion more difficult. In principle, if a BPM approach only defines objectives, targets, goals, process handovers and customer outcomes and does not enforce flows then it follows the Adaptive Case Management (ACM) concept. Hardly any BPM effort does however do so. At the same time not every piece of software that provides flexible task collaboration supports an ACM approach.

What about RIM, Kodak and Blockbuster?

If BPM governance would really provide the strategy-relevant processes it promises then could it have saved RIM, Kodak and Blockbuster? Obviously not, you will say. Only a better strategy to head off external changes in the video rental, photo and mobile phone markets could have saved them. It does not matter how efficient processes at these companies were once their competitors changed the name of the game. These businesses were run by bean counters who looked at statistics rather than customers and executives who looked at share price rather than market changes. In such companies, strictly defined processes might keep costs at bay but freeze the organization in an illusionary optimal mode of operation. To change them becomes harder each day they are being used as more and more knowledge workers who could have changed the business leave the sinking ship. No one with half a brain wants to work in a process-optimized business.

BPM pundits need to read a little history. Technology always disrupts! And those like Kodak or Blockbuster are simply the necessary fallout. Everyone talks about change and adaptation but they really do not want to see the speed at which things are moving.  I do not understand why people are asking why we at ISIS Papyrus are abandoning content management (when that is utter nonsense as we are the only ones to truly integrate process and content) when the market that we used to have ten years ago no longer exists. All our outbound content competitors have been sold! So we went through that difficult period to adapt to a changing marketplace ourselves.

Our strategy is simple: we develop what businesses really need and not what analysts list as the most common features in some market fragment. My original ideas were the electronic document original based on AFP before there was PDF in 1990, the integration of inbound and outbound document processing in 2000 (which others copied in 2005) and managing their business context in adaptive processes, today better known as ACM. It all logically followed from my first idea to bring the smplicity of working with documents as the carrier of the business process into the 21st century. Those who see just the short-term cost cutting, the next sale or only report on what has been sold in the past are not the ones who create the future.

The knowledge worker is the new director!

Businesses with the old command and control attitude are fast disappearing or changing. Even at old companies like GE the distance between management, staff and employees is shrinking rapidly. It shows in the way that their previously separate cafeterias are merging. They suddenly need to collaborate rather than hand out direction. The knowledge worker is the new director. Managers finally become what they should be: Enablers!

Harvard Business Review ran a three article series on the future of knowledge work in their January-February issue to discuss the related human resource and management issues as well as the need for different process technology.

While the BPM community is stuck in the belief that a business needs to optimize processes and cut manpower cost to survive it is clear to others that it is the people who make or break a business. An executive is a nobody without the hard-to-duplicate know-how of a company’s most-skilled knowledge workers: engineers, salespeople, scientists, physicians, and many other decision makers, including line management. No business can afford to not treat these people right or to not use them as effectively as possible. Efficiency is utterly secondary.

Yes, the right kind of process management can help them to collaborate with lower-skill people to offload less essential work, but as it is an element of their work it can never be a rigid process flow. The organization needs a skill database and more flexible work assignments to utilize scarce and distributed talent correctly. The idea that one could simulate such collaboration is ridiculous to say the least. The most important tool to increase effectiveness is to create transparency — from the top down by laying out the goals and from the bottom up to see exactly what is going on in real-time. Not just simple social networking tools but purposeful and guided collaboration with embedded business content and data towards process goals.

These requirements demand a much more dynamic and fluid organizational structure. Old department boundaries need to become transparent to non-existent. Knowledge work in the 21st century drives change: the employee relationship and where they work; abandoning rigid workflows to allow individual contributors to add value; and the importance of technology to support those process goals in a more effective manner than email.

While we could discuss endlessly why for example Apple has done many things different to others in regards to strategy, that is really not my subject here. What we need to discuss is what a business needs to enable management and knowledge workers to implement those strategic objectives and how to stay nimble when they require frequent change. That’s really all I do when I question management styles and BPM methodology.

And yes, while John and me like the term ‘catalyst’ more you can also call us disruptors: ‘A ‘No’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘Yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.’ (Mahatma Gandhi)


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