ACM Workshop at EDOC 2014

ACM Workshop at EDOC 2014 Calls for Paradigm Shift in Company Management Towards Empowered Knowledge Workers

The Adaptive Case Management (ACM) Workshop at EDOC, which took place September 1, 2014, in Ulm, Germany, provided a platform for researchers and practitioners to discuss ACM and other non-workflow approaches to BPM. A list of top-class participants, an audience that was even larger then at last year’s ACM Workshop, and inspiring discussions showed the growing need for and acceptance of systems that support flexibility and guidance.

ACM across systems

In his keynote, Keith Swenson, one of the conference organizers, talked about ACM as the key to enable innovation in organizations and reviewed its evolution and relation to BPM and CM. What he sees as one of the major turning points is the way that ACM goes far beyond the IT core systems and enables emergent processes by bringing in experts and people with a specific knowledge, even from different organizations, just as the current situation demands for.

This means that bridges across systems, systems thinking, organizational mindsets, and terminology are going to become more important, where Keith Swenson claims that XBRL plays a vital role for a unified data exchange between different systems. Swenson has a future in mind of “personal assistants” who help knowledge workers from organizations to communicate and share available information. While he thinks that ontologies will be needed, he did not consider them to be part of the ACM configuration by business administrators or users.

Research sessions

In the research sessions, PhD students and their professors presented the current scientific ACM research topics with focus on ACM guidance for knowledge workers, a solid ACM definition and underlying theory, and on knowledge extraction from existing cases, as is for example the case with User-Trained Agent (UTA) developed by ISIS Papyrus.

Other interesting aspects are so-called “case health monitors”, which deliver indicators to case owners if something goes against goals, and algorithms which produce a clear quality measure from arbitrary event logs to whether they contain predictable processes. With an “event log trace diversity value” like this you could conclude whether process-mining is reasonable or whether an adaptive case management approach is appropriate.

Researching efforts also concentrate on collaboration templates used for creating instances of specific situations and on applying analytics to retrieve knowledge from archived instances for future use. Tagging of these instances is essential for reutilization, which is still weak because of a lack of appropriate analysis tools. Here the ISIS Papyrus UTA can also step up to play an important role.

Practical sessions show different aspects in ACM approaches

In the practical sessions, three leading companies in the field of business process management gave insight into their ACM approaches.

UTA for supporting knowledge workers

ISIS Papyrus proposes an approach that supports knowledge workers based on the knowledge previously applied by others in the form of a User-Trained Agent. The UTA learns from ad hoc actions taken by knowledge workers to suggest best next actions for the current situation.

The UTA was acknowledged as an important ACM component for enabling knowledge sharing and collaboration between teams. Business Ontologies would be developed to guarantee proper context definitions. The calculation of confidence ratings for Task proposals should include not only how often users decided for a certain proposal but also how much the Task contributed to a certain goal. Apart from objective quality information, also “subjective” information such as user ratings could be included.

Visualization of dependencies

IT University of Copenhagen together with Exformatics A/S presented a UI Web application that uses DCR Graph notation model (Dynamic Condition Response Graphs), a tool to visualize dependencies between Tasks and simulate what ad-hoc changes will cause to the live system before they are being deployed. The UI is using card-based items, which also includes an execution log showing the user all events that happened.

While flow chart based guidance is more intuitive than BPM style graphs, it is still quite complex for normal users and might be suited for application administrators.

Blackboard metaphor

Computas AS from Norway delivers preconfigured ACM solutions to the Norwegian public sector and use the blackboard metaphor to enrich collaborative ACM Systems.

Use Adaptive Case Management to empower your employees

The brainstorming session brought up the importance of communicating the value of innovation enabled by ACM systems, although another term would eventually be needed because “innovation” will not be well accepted by all managers.

What became obvious in the discussion is that the company management paradigms must change first: People should be encouraged to work self-responsibly towards goals without being controlled and micro-managed. When you stop looking only at cost efficiency and start focusing on customer satisfaction and effectiveness, ACM paves the way to empower your employees to achieve this goal.

Posted in Adaptive Case Management

Can A Great Customer Experience Be Designed?

The simple and fast answer? NO!

Why not, you might ask? Because of what design really means. The late Steve Jobs said: ‚Design is not about the way it looks but about the way it works!‘ We intuitively know that this is the simple truth but we often do not know what will work for others. Hence we try to force them to do it our way and then tell them that this is what they want.

'Design is not how it looks but how it works.'

Steve Jobs – ‘Design is not how it looks but how it works.’

If we take ‚how it works’ as our credo then it might seem that analyzing, designing, implementing and monitoring customer related processes is the way to go. That is one of the grand fallacies of people who never go out and try to do these things themselves! While BPM has benefits for some simple processes, it turns sensible people into ‘fools with tools’. It all looks so simple in the ivory tower when you leave the human aspects out of it. And to prove that the processes work, measurement regimes are used to measure what is expected not what is real.

While there is nothing wrong with collecting data about aspects of a consumer interaction and satisfaction and using them to judge how things are going, much of the current approach in customer surveys leads to a ‘measure to manage’ fallacy. Decision making must not follow data but actual human needs.

Data is not the business and data is not the customer. Anytime you collect soft data, meaning data that are created through a statistical model and measurement assumption, you need to be aware that you are looking at a past that is distorted by data collection and correlation errors, a present that can’t be generalized across human individuals, and a future that is shaped by unpredictable human action in a complex adaptive environment and not by predictive analytics.

If you focus on numbers all you get is numbers!

Your measuring shapes your actions that become inhumane and disconnected from reality. Innovation is lost in a chase to meet set targets. The Gauss curve shapes your business activity in a drive to mediocrity. Doctors kill patients with drugs to meet the expected values in their ‘blood work’ or to reduce the size of tumors. The whole human and with it quality of life has become irrelevant.

Businesses have replaced the look into the customer’s eye and the questions ‘How are you?’ and ‘What can I do for you?’ with satisfaction surveys that are obviously done by third parties who could not care less. Unfortunately even medical doctors outsource diagnosis and patient interaction. How much time does a doctor actually spend time with the patient? Hardly any these days. They need to look at the patient and not just the charts. An illness is not cured by its diagnosis. Decision making about actions or treatments is not improved by data. It is improved by experience. Experience is a human condition and is not stored in a database. Knowledge is between two ears only.  (Peter Drucker)

Some call the present the ‚Age of the Consumer‘ because of their empowerment through social media and a more direct interaction with the vendor with less intermediaries. The crunch? Empowered consumers will shun your well-designed customer experience. They want to create their own and decide themselves how it works. Therefore the only way to meet the expectation of an empowered consumer is through empowered employees. Does this mean that you put your employees work on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube? Absolutely not. 

Empowerment for the employee means that they have to stand eye-to-eye with the customer. The person dealing with the customer either synchronously or asynchronously must be able to do the right thing and not be constrained by a predefined process that ignores the real context. What must de defined is well-set goals and outcomes for each context. ‚A person dealing with a customer‘ rings alarm bells in the heads of the bean counters, cost-cutters and process-optimizers. Clearly not only customers surveys are outsourced but also call centers. So the question is how technology can be used to make this employee-consumer interaction more efficient without outsourcing and automating it into a deadend. 

Around 20 years ago I said that CRM will never improve relationships and after all this time it is easy to see that I am right. Let me say it with Kurt Vonnegut who too wrote in 1999: 

‘You should know that when a husband and wife fight, it may seem to be about money or sex or power. But what they’re really yelling at each other about is loneliness.’

That can clearly be translated to a business to customer relationship. If a customer complains about your product it is really not about how good or bad the product is or works but purely about you taking him for a fool.

Kurt Vonnegut - 'Computers do not make you more intelligent than slot machines.'

Kurt Vonnegut – ‘Computers make you no more intelligent than slot machines do.’

Kurt Vonnegut also said at that time (1999): ‘ Only well-informed, warm-hearted people can teach others things they’ll always remember and love. Computers and TV don’t do that. A computer teaches a child what a computer can become. An educated human being teaches a child what a child can become.‘

Computers, software and CRM will not improve relationships. Reliance on CRM makes them worse. Am I just ranting or do I have at least something to prove my point? Unfortunatley there is no simple proof. Most political naive interventions are proven with the claim that things would be much worse otherwise. And so it happens with CRM. But let me ask you what will improve the relationship with your mother in law: a spreadsheet with all information about her, sending her a daily email about your relationship improvement activities, or simply inviting her to lunch and really listen?

As a matter of fact, CRM systems are not bothered with solutions for listening to customers. Multi-channel marketing and Big Data collection about them, these are the big tickets … but who wants to listen? When software is purely used to replace people and automate then things will go downhill.

The only thing that a software solution could do to improve relationships is to enhance, improve and support the way people communicate and collaborate. You might say that I am now contradicting myself and Vonnegut. Hey, what do you think a GSM telephone and network is? A lot of computers and software. What about Skype and Facebook! But yes, you are right that person-to-person in real-time is best. This is why Apple opened its grand stores – as shiny temples of customer focus – when everyone else thought that brick and mortar businesses were dead. Steve Jobs sent a clear message to his customers that they are important as people. Loose emotional contact with your customers and your business will go the way of Kodak, Blockbuster and Blackberry.

How we at Papyrus can help you to empower your employees to support emotional interaction with your customers is the subject of my keynote speech at the ISIS OpenHouse and Roadshow conferences. Look forward to see you there:

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Posted in CRM, Customer Relationship Management, Process, Social Media

Free Webinar featuring Forrester Research on April 29th

ACM provides real-time transparency and empowerment!

ACM provides real-time transparency and empowerment!

Please join us in exploring the solutions that adaptive process and ACM/DCM can offer your business by taking advantage of these free resources and activities during April and May.

Free Wave Download – limited time offer:
I am pleased to offer you a free download of the full report, courtesy of ISIS Papyrus:
Download The Forrester Wave on Dynamic Case Management, Q1 2014

Free Webinar featuring Forrester Research – April 29th:
With Forrester VP & Principal Analyst Craig Le Clair –
Learn more about DCM – Dynamic Case Management – and how adaptive capabilities can help your business increase control of cost and goal management and offer end users the process flexibility they urgently need.
Request DCM Webinar details

ISIS Papyrus Open House Demos & Solutions – May:
See live demos and business solutions on Adaptive Process and Case Management at our Solution Centers in
Vienna/Austria (May 4-6) or Dallas/TX (May 18-20).
Review conference agenda topics and register online.

Please feel free to respond to me with any questions you may have.

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Posted in Adaptive Case Management, BPM, Customer Communications, Machine Learning

The ‘Zero-Code BPM’ White Lie

Obviously a lot of the discussion and disagreement (which is good) has to do with what zero-code for BPM is supposed to mean in the marketing. It is as misused as ‘intelligent’ or ‘smart’ to describe a Business Process Management system. Clearly most consider zero-code to mean no need for programming using Java or C++. Fair enough. But yes, a flow diagram and writing rules is a form of programming and so are object models or decision tables and any form of telling the computer what to do explicitly as it involves logic. There are many opinions as to what is acceptable to business users and what not. I propose that the only thing acceptable to the business is their own business language and nothing else.

But there is one more issue and that is the point in time the programming is needed. Programming might be needed during setup of the system, during setup of the data or user interfaces or during creation of process templates. I propose that only the last is relevant. But zero-code is a technical perspective that is missing the point. Also automated code generation from any form of models is absolute nonsense, because such code is mostly not maintainable. Only a model-preserving technology that allows the models to be modified during execution can deliver a ‘less-code’ environment. And while you are doing this you need a versioning and deployment mechanism from a central repository. So many BPM solutions that claim zero-code today are a rag-tag technology stack of different, distinct products and they still don’t have the content and rules functionality embedded. Zero-code ONLY refers to the ability to create a flow diagram. That there is no process without content is still widely ignored. Truly amazing …

Zero-code claims that non-technical people can define already analysed processes. The discussion should really be about how business knowledge can be inferred from what the business performers are actually doing and how such knowledge can be continuously improved. A flow diagram is nowhere near enough and just 20% of all information needed. BPM does it today by interviewing the performers and by setting up a huge BPM bureaucracy for continuous improvement. The performers cannot improve the processes themselves because of the bureaucracy needed to manage the design for the necessary coding. So what is needed is a zero-programming solution, regardless if code or graphic modeling.

A solution that learns from past cases as suggested by Keith Swenson in his blog post is the right direction. But I propose that if you mine (statistically analyze) past data then you will produce as many good predictions as bad predictions and these will therefore be irrelevant. Over long enough time it all follows the Gauss curve. My main complaint is that process mining is also not a zero-programming solution, because data or process mining or most forms of knowledge systems require very educated AND experienced AI experts alongside business experts to do anything sensible.

Therefore Keith’s suggested zero-programming approach will not work either. Two core things are missing. Mining knowledge from a past case/process is a fool’s errand. There is not enough information available. The main problem is that you can’t collect the relevant data from existing systems and from static logs. More data simply means more noise. You need less but relevant data about each single decision taken. You can’t also do continuous improvement this way because you do not know how to map changes in recent cases compared to former ones. Are these new variants or has the process changed generally?

Process Discovery with the User-Trained Agent

Process Discovery with the User-Trained Agent

Data collection as well as process optimization and continuous improvement have to happen in real-time. Which means that current BPM and Case Management systems will never be able to implement it as they are missing the real-time access to such information. Some of the most relevant information about process decisions is INSIDE THE CONTENT and BPM systems (and process mining for that matter) are totally blind on that front.

The second element is that the machine-learning component (I call ours an agent) has to be able to categorize, segment and reuse knowledge. It can never learn the WHY but it can learn the WHAT-FOR. This means that goals, outcomes and handovers have to be defined by the business and not flows and rules. Goals are needed so that the performers can decide what to. Over time the agent can learn to recommend actions that have been goal-achieving by observing user actions in context with time and case structure using pattern matching. The only ones that know if actions to be taken are good ones or not are experienced users. These users actually have to be able to tell the agent if a recommendation is wrong. That is the only proper learning cycle and this is actually how we teach other people. This is how you get the continuous improvement into the system without going through a bureaucracy or process mining experts.

But I am not theorizing about this. This what we offer today and it was a key element in our top technology rating in the ACM/DCM report by Forrester.

So is what we offer a zero-code solution? No, and it is not relevant which is why we do not call it that. There is some ‘coding’ needed in our script language PQL to setup the system, the data interfaces, and for the process templates one usually needs process fragments and business rules. The user interface is another story again but it is as relevant as that is what the performers actually use. It has to present all information and possible actions in business language as defined in the ontology. No BPM or ACM functionality should be visible or needed to be understood. Is that always possible? No, mostly because IT and BPM consultants make implementation decisions and not just the business users.

The reality of this is that IT and BPM experts are even more sceptical than business people about a system making recommendations autonomously even if the knowledge comes from the same people that actually perform the processes anyway. Could the agent make a wrong recommendation? Yes, and some performers make false decisions. Both have to be corrected. Only SixSigma and BPM pundits see this as a problem, because in reality it is a learning event that improves the business knowledge inferred by the system.

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Posted in Adaptive Case Management, BPM

Making Sense of Analyst Reports

Forrester Reseach DCM Wave 1Q 2014

Forrester Reseach DCM Wave 1Q 2014

ISIS Papyrus Process and Communication Platform has been recently evaluated both for its content and its process capability in two independent reports by Forrester Research about Customer Communications Management (DOCCM) and Dynamic Case Management (DCM). These acronyms are unfortunately quite confusing. I do prefer CCM and ACM after all.

ISIS Papyrus was rated a leader and strong performer in various categories in both reports. Our platform was rated as having the strongest current offering by far in Dynamic Case Management (see the above graph), despite participating in the wave for the very first time. Three years ago we were classified as not being a ‘vendor of interest’ in the prospects eyes. Well, to see something you first need to look.

In its second time in the Customer Communications – DOCCM evaluation, ISIS Papyrus Software has been named

“a Leader in The Forrester Wave™: Document Output For Customer Communications Management, Q1 2014”. Calling Papyrus “an adaptive platform with exacting results,” the 2014 Wave report for DOCCM cited ISIS Papyrus for its:

    • Full application lifecycle platform and framework
    • Great flexibility
    • “Framework” solutions to reduce implementation
    • Sweet spot where language complexity and exact rendering of content is essential
    • Consolidated data model across CRM, ECM, DCM and CCM in a core repository”

So all in all I should really be happy and yes, I am proud about the — even so quite late — recognition. We have after all been innovating the CCM market for twenty years and in DCM for five. Therefore working with analysts isn’t always easy for me. The main reason is that each individual has his/her own way to evaluate and judge whatever they see … if they see it. Until you figured out what an analyst is looking for, you have been ‚evaluated’ and need to live with whatever they come up with. Analyst like categories, as they call boxes. You are either in or out. Once you are in the box you are supposed to stay there. You can move about a bit as they see you fit, but you CANNOT jump out. We were told that we are a customer communications vendor and that was it. How could we suddenly want to compete in the BPM domain without acquiring another leading BPM vendor? No Sir, it is simply not done.

Don’t get me wrong because I am not negative about analysts per se, just realistic. After having worked with them for some time, I truly think that being an analyst is not a fun job and I would not want it even for a lot of money. Imagine that they have to deal with people like me all the time! They have to listen to vendor pitches all day and discuss the oh-so-obvious IT strategy questions with people who should really know. It must be tough to find a way to cut through the clutter and do it without upsetting the vendors who pay them a lot of money. Clearly, analysts are adamant that the amount of money a vendor spends has no influence on vendor ratings, but that is simply not true. I am not saying that the fees paid are payoffs, but it is related to the various ways that a vendor can be present or important in the eyes of the analysts. Dedicated analyst relationship staff, analysts conferences, joint market studies and pay-to-play research do make a difference. It all costs top dollars to put you in front of their eyes and make a vendor look relevant. Size and market penetration are additionally always the most important aspects in rating a vendor. 

On the other hand I can vouch that money had no influence on our rating at Forrester. We cancelled our advisory contract with Forrester Research two years ago. Being far ahead of the curve, we did not see the benefits. We did have conversations with them about users looking for more ‚pre-baked‘ user interfaces, but Forrester had no suggestion how to balance that with flexibility. We did in the end solve it through pre-defined solution frameworks. Ready-to-use vertical solutions are a great sales tool too, but in the end each and every buyer has a long list of things they consider special and will want to have implemented. So our flexibility as rated top by Forrester is after all essential.

Now both reports on Customer Communications Management and Dynamic Case Management are very good reports and not just because we came out top. The main reason is that the lead analysts are both excellent. Craig LeClair, with whom I had my disagreements at times, is THE leading authority on CCM and Derek Miers, with whom I always get into deep, deep stuff in terms of technology, really gets what ACM/DCM is all about. Not just a few ad-hoc tasks here and there, but true user empowerment from the rock-bottom grass roots. Both really know the markets they cover.

Being rated a ‚LEADER’ in a ‚Wave’ only means that the points as weighted by Forrester added up to that overall. Buyers MUST make the effort read the small print too. But I am in tune with our ratings as we are not a mega vendor or a US vendor. Analysts have certain expectations of a typical go-to-market strategy and we just work differently. So, that alone takes the two points off our rating that would have made us the overall leader in DCM too. I am fine with that. And prospective buyers need to do their homework anyway. One vendor who was rated a leader in the DCM Wave and to have a better market position and strategy than ISIS Papyrus in the DCM market was in bankruptcy by the time the report came out and had to be rescued by a customer and management buyout with the help of an investment firm. Not a fault on Forrester’s part as they do not look at a vendors financial statements. Caveat Emptor!

Here some more information from the reports. We are limited in what we are allowed to say so I simply use a direct QUOTE: “ISIS Papyrus drives adaptive innovation in the DCM market. It is a Strong Performer overall but a standout Leader in the runtime tool weighting.

ISIS Papyrus Software has been named a Strong Performer in “The Forrester Wave™: Dynamic Case Management, Q1 2014”, published March 28 to help enterprise architects select the right solution to support launching and scaling enterprise-wide DCM.
Overall, Forrester found that advancing DCM products offer more to businesses, implementers and end users. Highlighting two new emerging adaptive features that will help enterprises tackle increasing volumes of varied and unstructured work, Forrester Research, Inc. evaluated 13 software vendors across 38 criteria. Forrester identifies and defines the two adaptive capabilities as key differentiators in the DCM market as:

    • Design Time case management emphasizes control over highly repeatable processes
    • Runtime case management supports use cases where the ultimate paths are highly variable”

In the evaluation of DCM vendors, ISIS Papyrus received a Strong Performer positioning in each of three Wave evaluations for Overall Capabilities, Design Time Capabilities and Runtime Capabilities, based on its scores in Current Offering and Strategy. Profiling Papyrus as

“a powerful development platform that can be targeted at a number of process problems,” the 2014 Wave report for DCM cited ISIS Papyrus for:

    • Flexibility of its platform for runtime behavior
    • Emphasis on business terminology and goal orientation
    • Patent for a user-trained agent (UTA)
    • Provides recommendations and training based on the latest knowledge gained in case handling

So how valuable are analyst reports such as the Forrester Wave? I think they are a valuable additional resource when selecting vendors. Forrester also has a great tool on their website that allows you to set your own weightings for all product categories and therefore identify your own ‘leaders’. But NOTHING can replace the results one gets from a proof of concept installation. Would you buy a car without a test drive just because it had a good rating in a car magazine? Describe your business case as well as you can and ask the vendor to show you all essential functionality. While we can install our vertical solution frameworks in one day, ‘out-of-the-box’ products just reduce the IT effort on installation. What you really need is SIMPLICITY for the business users. To achieve the business benefits content, user interface and processes must be adaptable using business terminology, user stories and goals rather than flows.

The Forrester Wave report will be available to registered users from our website.

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Posted in Adaptive Case Management, analysts, CRM, Customer Communications, Customer Relationship Management

Pimp My BPM?

I am typecast as a BPM opponent, but nothing could be more wrong. I am a firm believer that business processes need to be well attended to and supported explicitly. If anyone bothers to really read what I write — admittedly at times lengthy — then one can see that I am just opposing flowcharting for human collaboration and unnecessary BPM bureaucracy. I focus on what the business needs now and in the future — not pimped up BPM looks that impress analysts.

Pimping is about looks and not function!

Pimping is about looks and not function!

That bureaucracy overhead is caused by two things: a) outdated BPM technology and b) BPM methodology needed to solve the technology limitations. When I say that then clearly the BPM consultancy crowd does not agree: Technology does not solve process management issues. True, but it can empower the business to focus on the right thing. Consultants can still help the business to rethink their processes. A key problem is a focus on cost cutting and the other a focus on IT control. ‘No, Sir! We can’t have the business go off and do their own thing for business process management. We need to properly design, architect and implement it.’ While that is true, it must be an IT effort dealing with technology, and a business effort dealing with process goals, guiding rules, and related data and content. IT just has a technology support role.

The problem is however that much of the currently offered technology as reviewed by analysts focuses on old-school BPM flow-diagrams PIMPED with a sprinkle of adaptive/dynamic on top of it. The technology does not allow the business to be quite independent to focus on its process goals. Both IT and business management thus need to spend money on consulting for BPM methodology to support limited software, but they are much less willing to pay a vendor to set up modern software that empowers the business.

We provide the performers with a business language to execute their work by creating goals, content and rules and map them quite easily to business data. But often the reaction to the default user interface for executing and managing tasks is: ‚This is not how we work.‘ When we then point out that the UI is freely definable and that we/IT/they can modify it to use THEIR terminology (actually ontology) without programming, they respond: ‚We do not want to customize. We want out-of-the box software.‘ That is like saying that MS-Word should contain all the letters and layouts that I will want to use in the future. But in fact this is where the industry is going with Smart Process Apps.

There is a substantial gap between IT or consultants doing it all and user empowerment. Businesses do expect more and more that even the processes that they need are already defined in the ACM/BPM solution. There is in principle nothing wrong with that and we offer in our Solution Setups process templates too. But the unfortunate Smart-Process-Apps direction involves putting old BPM technology into place that has been pimped to look cool, modern, ready-out-of-the-box — and obviously ‚adaptive‘. SPA are mostly black boxes that the business can’t handle. But the appeal of the apparent simplicity of dropping in the ready-to-use process is understandable. 

We have seen enough projects where the business tried to do the right thing and IT and consultants made a big mess of it by bringing in everything from Best Practices, to PMBOK and ITIL — also just there to solve technology issues. The overhead is immense, the projects run over time and budget and miss their targets by a mile because for example the vendor is not allowed to speak to the business in fear of project creep. There is a lack of focus on core function.

My Powertec Rallycross Ford Fiesta - ALL FUNCTION!

My Powertec Rallycross Ford Fiesta – ALL FUNCTION!

When we find those down-to-business-reality people then things are actually simple. We demo, do a proof of concept, install and the focus is not IT architecture, power plays between IT and business or demands for unreasonable ROI. The focus is doing business — just driving and winning. My mechanics don’t tell me how to drive the car, while I tell them how to set it up. Business knows how to drive their processes and can tell IT what they need. Just like pimped-up racing looks are for the sponsor or the media, a pimped-up BPM is for marketing and analysts.

Core function is not just the business process. What businesses truly need when they are serious about business process and the effectiveness of their staff is modern technology that enables them to define verifiable goals for the business capabilities that represent the end-to-end processes. They can’t buy that! A fancy dashboard is according to analysts more important than embedded content functionality or the ability to dynamically add data to the process. Why do experts and analysts still ignore that there is no process without content?

To be competitive you do not want to carry all that weight around and therefore the list is not long at all:

  1. Goals that can be verified by either rules or the customer (handover, output)
  2. A dynamic link to the relevant business data (federated Business Data Objects)
  3. Incoming and outgoing business content (ideally fully digitally processed)
  4. The ability for performers to ‚do their thing‘ without prior analysis or design
  5. Turn the work that fulfills the business goals into reusable templates
  6. Iterate, guide with rules and innovate to taste and liking

Check that pimped BPM system you bought or are ogling to look beyond the blue led strips, chrome wheels and the booming speakers. A real racer/workhorse is usually simple, sleek and functional but most certainly not cheap.

Make your choice!

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Posted in Adaptive Case Management, BPM

Productivity and Process Management

Over the years I had multiple discussions with process management experts who claimed that the increase in productivity that can be seen in economy statistics is related to the use of process management software. I do not see that as evidence that BPM is a successful endevaour. The use of BPM is just an indicator of a common executive mindset. I see the relentless drive for higher productivity as a fallacy. It does not improve anything. 

I have written about the ‚jobless recovery‘ years ago when I wanted to point out that it is wrong to replace people in customers service jobs with IT automation and self-service functionality. BPM is a short-sighted, stop-gap solution to a lack of management skill and a focus on costs rather than value. Today, my conclusion is that it is not really relevant what BPM does or does not, or what BPM experts claim or not. Technology progress will simply push the businesses with shortsighted executives out of the way. See Kodak, Nokia, Blackberry. 

First we can have a discussion if productivity measured by output per hour and unit labour cost is relevant. While both output and per unit costs rise they are a totally unsuitable method for a non-manufacturing business. I would say that productivity should be measured as to how much customer perceived value a business produces. All businesses do today is to produce more, cheaper output at lower value. I define value as services or products that improve a persons life in the sense that it enables them to do more than they can do without the product. Alternatively it improves their health or knowledge. Just to do something cheaper is not higher value. Pushing down costs through consumer self—service does not increase value either. Everything bad that businesses do comes from driving down costs; from disloyalty to employees, inhumane insurance schemes, ecological damage, to the way animals are bred and slaughtered. Let me not even start about what they dare to call food.

Further, I propose that the true causes for the drop in costs in statistics are not worker productivity but primarily technology miniaturization, automated or robotic manufacturing and outsourcing to Asia. Miniaturization reduces not only the amount of work needed to assemble something but it dramatically increases yield (what percentage of production units is within spec). In service businesses everywhere the cost of like-quality services is going up, which is why you get less and less of it. In some businesses you don’t stand a chance to speak to a real person after you have bought a product. If at all it is someone in a call center somewhere in Asia. The consequences are visible. Looking at labour statistics you will find that in each recession since 1993, the percentage of employed people per population in the US has dropped. In previous recessions the numbers have recovered but not in the last one. It remains at the recession induced level since 2008. Hence a jobless recovery as profits are already higher again than before the market crash. The percentage is now actually at the same level as it was 30 years ago. 30 years of social improvement evaporated between 2008 and 2009.

US 30y employment-population ratio
Let’s not forget that the backlash from the reduction in workforce are ever more harebrained schemes by unions and politicians to protect the employed. It is Naive Intervention because its unintended consequence is to further drive employers into reductions of staff and where possible the use of temps. I know large (and very profitable) companies where it requires two executive signatures to hire.

If my information is right (I could not find a solid reference while I was writing this) then there are now 300.000 people in China assembling Apple products. But it sounds plausible given the volume that Apple produces across the board. Even at minimum wage these products couldn’t be built in the US or Europe as most people would not want to work these jobs. We could not get enough immigrants and the social expenditure would make them still unaffordable. The different working conditions in Asia are not a secret. You don’t like it? Then you shouldn’t buy ANY high-tech products as the only way you can afford them is to build them in Asia! Should the working conditions be better and Apple’s profits lower? Good question. But people want to work there and other people want to buy the products here. It is called a free market. Most people would prefer Apple to lower prices than to improve working conditions.

I am not condemning it because working for Apple in China is an improvement considering where these workers come from. Employement is better than money wasted at foreign aid programs. But in fact, while we are exporting jobs to China, we are importing poverty. The only way to look at it positively is that it will equalize the life style differences and the immigration run on Europe and North America will end. But clearly, it won’t be getting any better for us. 


The self-fuelling technology cycle.

Technology (Mobile/Cloud) provides the large platforms for communities of interest, such as the Apple AppStore or Amazon. Some productivity may also be found there as the middlemen are cut out between producer and consumer. Steve Jobs’ touch devices have put usable technology in the hands of even younger consumers providing another on-ramp for products and services. Moore’s Law has not yet run out of steam, which means that every 18 months computer power doubles per dollar of cost. In 6 years time we will have SIXTEEN times more computing power in our hands. What will we do with it? Certainly not executing pre-designed processes as these will hold back innovation and not make businesses faster or more productive. It is a ridiculous notion. As technology gets cheaper and more software is written, it provides more opportunity to shorten design and production times. Technology provides people empowerment and more real-time interaction for anything. The demand for control by executives and governments is the only hindrance in this process. See my previous post.

So far the bloating software stack has eroded many technology performance gains regardless whether it was enterprise mainframes, desktop PCs or Mobile devices. But we certainly can manage more data, transfer larger files and perform more complex processing in the same time and at lower cost. Robots will be able to SLAM ‚Simultaneous Location and Mapping‘ their environment. My Vorwerk robot vacuum cleaner laser-scans the room and plans its route quite cleverly much more intelligent than the iRobot Roomba variants. Google’s self-driving car will become quite normal. Many high-end cars can already park a lot more accurately by themselves than its human drivers. They read roadsigns and warn us if we get too close to a lane marker. BMW demoed a car that drives around a race and slalom course drifting like a race pro.

Robots that will perform simple human tasks will be quite normal in ten years time. At that point in time the outsourcing trend to Asia will end. I do hope that by that time they will be their own large enough market allowing them to absorb the change without political upheaval in the region. They will certainly have absorbed enough of Western intellectual property by that time.

The main issue that I see will be that while the cost of such devices will drop, the cost of living, healthcare, government and social expenditure will rise dramatically, in consequence eroding those remaining gains in technology affordability. You can buy a phone but not find a reasonable service contract. In the US and Canada phone and data plans are 3 to 5 times more expensive than in most of Europe. We have more competition and less monopolies. The main problem will be that even more people than today will be out of a job. Old people could continue to drive cars as they can enhance their weakening skills, but they won’t be able to afford the fuel nor the medical bills. There might be robots to take care of the old, but their children who have thus more free time won’t have a job anyway. The lucky ones who will be both young and employed won’t be able to pay for the huge bureaucracies and their social expenditure of supporting the unemployed and retirees.

Now think about it: Does it really sound as if increased productivity is of benefit and that a cost cutting mindset improves our lives? You have to be quite ignorant to believe that. The larger the business structure and the more rigidly it will be process managed the less it will be able to deal the with speed of change that we are heading into. The larger the government bureaucracies the less they will be functional AND frugal with our tax money. But unfortunately the large monopolists are here to stay even in the fast moving technology domain. Big is still considered desirable. As for example no one wants to pay for software, software development will become a pure investment adventure because the only way to actually make money with software is to grow it big enough as a Cloud/Mobile business to be able to sell out to one of the monopolists. To buy technology is the only way of innovating for most large businesses, because innovation can’t certainly be process managed.

Improving the quality of products or services and with it the quality of staff and with it education, employment and income is a management action that is good for the business AND our societies in the Western world. The profit and cost motives produce in difference a race to the bottom for everyone, except a few who are the perpetrators in business and politics.

But I am not whining rather just observing. While my thinking and writing has certainly influenced the process management domain one way or the other, I am now much more relaxed about it. It is obvious — because human — that experts in IT, business and politics are stuck in their holes. Admitting they are wrong is not possible. They denounce disagreement and discussion and with it their own learning, despite the utter lack of proof and a lot of evidence to the opposite.

But there is no need for judgment either way. Evolution will take care of it.

Posted in Economy, People Management
Max J. Pucher
© 2007-17
by Max J. Pucher. All rights reserved.
Real World Statistics
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