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

Limiting Choice or The Power Paradox

It does not matter which social structure you observe: There are always some who wield power over others. That is not totally wrong or weird as evolution discovered that hierarchies are productive. All herds have some leadership structure or a pecking order. Groups of individuals can be more productive if they share the workload and they specialize. Nature seems to have a way of doing things most efficiently as Pierre Luis Maupertuis points out in his Least-Action-Principle.

Even purposeful collaboration – aka as business – is not a human invention while it does thrive through communication. The dumbest of ants collaborate truly efficiently with just ten different chemical messages. Bees – also not too intelligent – do this already by communicating by means of bodily movements. Primates use complex calls to communicate where danger may lurk. Why can they do this? Because evolution has ingrained such behaviors in their genes. Let me just point out that we have no idea how behavioral patterns are encoded in DNA. How in the world could such knowledge become a genetic context in  such a short time? It can’t be just chance modifications that have to prove themselves by being more effective than others. It seems that the ideas of Lamarck are now being reconsidered again, proposing that behavioral changes can already be engendered within one lifetime.

Jean-Baptiste Lamarck

Lamarck is sometimes regarded as believing in a teleological (goal-oriented) process where organisms became more perfect as they evolved, though as a materialist, he emphasized that these forces must originate necessarily from underlying physical principles. The second component of Lamarck’s theory of evolution was the adaptation of organisms to their environment. This could move organisms upward from the ladder of progress into new and distinct forms with local adaptations.”

Human intuitive choices might have long-term consequences.

It now seems that DNA methylation might provide such a vehicle for genetic adaptation and for epigenetic mutation. I might bestow some of my experience directly on my descendants. Evolution suddenly turns from a game of chance into an exercise of intuitive choice from a variety of options. My decision-making not only adapts my life, but also that of my children! Amazing! My experience offers proven changes because I got old enough to replicate. Still a thesis, but it wields a powerful explanation for the speed of evolution and the accuracy with which it answers environmental needs.

Despite some core behaviors, humans have taken the evolutionary leap to learn most of what they need to survive after they are born. It takes 10 to 20 years for a human to know enough to survive in its environment. The power of our brain’s imagination is so grand that we can think about very abstract concepts that have no representation in daily life. We can use it to think about what might have happened 14 billion years ago at the Big Bang.

This abstract ability combined with our natural fear of death is however mostly misused to create beliefs that make the individual more controllable within the hierarchy, mostly through religious or political dogmas. That is no longer so, you might say, when we consider democracy and the separation of state and church. While in some areas that may be true, overall the theme remains the same. State and church are just two different systems of belief.

When looked at more closely, power is always exerted by means of limiting choice for the individual through physical, knowledge, social or monetary means. Even a judge in a Western democracy wields his power in the courtroom in the most drastic manner: ‚Answer this question with YES or NO.‘ Talk about limiting choice. Has that anything to do with democracy, truth or justice? Not really. In a truly open society EVERY individual has the opportunity to move about freely, know or learn anything, change social groups, and earn or own to his/her liking and skill. Let me point out, my dear socialist friends, that ‚having the same opportunity‘ is not identical to ‚having the SAME‘. Knowledge and money are power, so Socialists want you to have little of both in the name of equality. But nature thrives on diversity and not equality.

Current business management approaches are no different.

Michael Porter’s competitive advantage was all about market domination. How could one keep the competition at bay? The only way is to limit consumer choice. But it started already with Henry Ford: ‚We offer any color as long as it is black.‘ Buy competitors, sue for patent infringement, or lobby for regulation. After all, that is the change that we see in markets today as consumers now share ratings about products and can buy from more vendors online. But both governments and businesses are fighting back. Governments create more rules and new laws for individuals than they do for businesses. Many rules apply to both and are supposed to increase competition, but any rule is made to remove choices.

If we are to believe ministers and CEOs then it is all for our good. Things will be simpler, safer, cleaner and most of all less uncertain. Within a business, the idea is to create theoretically ideal processes to control costs and ensure quality, but with an approach such as BPM it happens once again through limiting choice. Limiting choice is however the opposite of empowerment. Often simplicity is cited as a reason for limiting choices. Why do people accept it? Humans like apparent certainty even if it is an illusion and they don’t like to have more than three options to chose from as many studies have shown.

Reducing the checkpoints for heart attack symptoms from over a hundred to three has shown a 70% improvement in prediction accuracy in emergency rooms, particularly in the third world. That seems to prove me wrong. Consider that it has to do with an overuse of diagnostics that produce a lot of data that have no meaning. Big Data will cause the same problem.

Limiting choice is not in every case the better way. In too many situations it is used to allow cheaper and less trained staff to perform work of an expensive, highly skilled individual. Remember that those with knowledge are potential disruptors to the establishment both as a citizen and customer. But what if the symptoms just seem to point to a heart attack but it is something else entirely. They will send you home happily, having no idea what else to look for. The hospital visit will certainly be rated as cheap and a success as you might die of something else and not enter the statistics.

So there is a simple way to figure out if your being conned into accepting new laws by governments or businesses. Whenever anything that is supposedly good for you limits your choices, then it is not so! The ones in control or power usually have little interest to hand it over. The easiest way to control the populace or a workforce is to limit choice by rules and laws.

When you look at the choices you get at the voting box and the choices you have at work, I hope you see how right I am. And accepting limited choice might even have consequences for your offspring.

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Posted in Adaptive Process, Evolution

Advancing BPM by adding ‘Smart’ or ‘Intelligent’?

I have been proposing a new direction for process management with ACM Adaptive Case Management for a long time. My experience shows that businesses need a combination of goal-oriented case management with embedded process flows, rule functionality, a machine learning agent and embedded business content management to satisfy their customers and meet strategic objectives. The answer of process management experts: We have all we need. And analysts? There is no market (meaning other vendors with similar products) to observe. Yes, one can focus on short-term rather than long-term solutions to business problems.

Recently however, two new market fragments were invented by analysts: Smart Process Apps (SPA by Forrester) and Intelligent Business Process Management (iBPMS by Gartner). I am pretty happy with that because they document the business need for ACM that I have been proposing. Other vendors try to fill with a mix and match of old components. Smart and Intelligent are cute marketing terms but multiple definitions of what constitutes a component or system to be smart or intelligent are being proposed, all of them rather fuzzy. Others promote the use of ‚intelligent agents‘ within a BPMS to automate some of the process discovery. There is no explanation of how that would work in a rigid-flow process environment with heterogenous system landscapes. These intelligent BPM agents do not exist today and are derived from an approach taken in Artificial Intelligence where they remain esoteric research. The only proper intelligent agent used in BPM to this date is the Papyrus User-Trained Agent that autonomously learns and recommends user actions in ACM.

In general, intelligence or smartness is an inner capability of a being or system describing its ability to observe and learn autonomously facts about its environment to derive decisions that achieve goals. It describes the ability to generalize a learning experience and use it for different problems too. None of that exists in SPA or iBPMS. Experts have to encode logic in rules or flows which requires fairly complex work such as manual process or data mining to identify logic. Rules as used today are not generalized problem solving knowledge, but just prescriptions or restrictions. It is not the system that is smart but the knowledge engineer who defines rules or flows. The main problem is that the complex result is as static and rigid as other forms of programming.

I have discussed SPA some time ago and suggested that they are no more than the emperors new clothes on old software. They are there when you want to see them. When you look closer at iBPMS you will likewise find not much of substance that would justify the term intelligent. Are these two acronyms even on the same page? While the various incarnations can be VERY different, iBPMS just adds predictive analytics into the game. The common aspect is that they represent pre-configured applications using a variety of products that still require substantial implementation and configuration at the customer site. Ad-hoc tasks are supposed to reduce the need for predefined processes. Maybe, but it is not ACM and it does not support knowledge workers. Event, rules and content functionality through linked systems should provide agility. I don’t think so. As a matter of fact, this ‚advance’ of smart or intelligent BPM creates a higher dependency on a software stack of product versions and custom integration code. They are promoted as being feasible as a preconfigured package for one particular application.

The ‚intelligence‘ in SPA/iBPMS does not provide real-time business improvement as suggested. The main problem is the lack of defined goals and machine-learning functionality that will drive towards goal achievement. There is no autonomous or automated learning mechanism. As of now they consist of multiple systems (BI, BRE, CRM, BPM, ECM, …) without a common deployment functionality that are connected through an ESB (Enterprise Service Bus). These systems typically DO NOT have a native change management functionality across the various components. Any change is a project and thus it is NOT AGILE! The cost of creating and maintaining the ‘intelligence’ is most certainly immense and I do not know businesses that actually have staff with that kind of skill. It will be outsourced thus creating more dependency.

Why does ACM meet business needs better than SPA or iBPMS?

  • ACM provides homogenous process creation and execution that can be improved by the business.  IT involvement is needed for the one-time setup of data interfaces so that processes can orchestrate multiple silos. In ACM the process is not defined by experts in multiple systems and executed by transferring information through an ESB.
  • In ACM processes and rules can be defined by non-technical people as part of the process execution using Natural Language. They are not externalized by experts into DMS (Decision Management System) or BRE (Business Rule Engine). Externalizing decisions increases complexity and not agility. Business knowledge is hidden and not made transparent.
  • ACM supports human knowledge work with free-flow collaboration towards well defined goals. Enabling a few ad-hoc tasks in SPA and iBPMS in an otherwise rigid flow does not support knowledge work and is not case management.
  • ACM detects exceptions or a lack of goal-achievement in both external systems and inside the process both through rules and pattern matching. Success is reaching a goal and not completing a predefined flow.
  • Rather than the fuzzy and unproven claim of automated problem solving, ACM empowers the knowledge worker with more transparency and free-flow collaboration to solve problems. Problems rarely happen in a predictable way because then they would not be problems, which means it is impossible to perform fully-automated corrective action on unexpected problems.
  • ACM uses the User-Trained Agent to suggest corrective user actions when similar problem patterns are discovered. The performer solves a problem and the UTA observes the solution packaged into a goal. In drastic difference, the predictive analytics in iBPMS are applied to what-if scenarios and require a well-defined limited state space of information within a rigid process and are utterly useless in unpredictable human interaction. Predicting a process outcome or a process problem is only possibly with rigidly defined processes. Analyzing completed rigid processes is quite useless because there is no information about future possible problems outside the predefined execution.

Knowledge (and thus intelligence) is between two ears only. (Peter Drucker)

Let’s face it: Intelligent Business Operations are performed by intelligent people and not by dumb, hardcoded agents or rigid processes written by some BPM or AI expert. ACM supports the knowledge worker with better collaboration, more freedom, more transparency, well-defined goals, better real-time information in the context of the process. The focus has to be the performer and the customer and not automation.

What an intelligent piece of software can do to improve a process is to LEARN FROM A PERFORMER. This is what the Papyrus User-Trained Agent does. It observes the complete process state-space including all data, content, and process information and autonomously discovers patterns linking events to user actions. As all actions (tasks) are organized into goals it is easy to identify the why and also how well a goal is reached. That is only possible in a homogenous system and not with information being stuck in different silos or databases. The UTA learns autonomously what intelligent people do in situations to solve problems in reaching a goal. When such problem-solving actions reappear in similar scenarios then they are recommended to other performers also. The pattern-matching, machine-learning agent does not need to understand why and encode that into rules. The tasks performed to achieve a goal are transparent and can be reused as a new process template.

This means that a problem can be assigned to an expert who will perform corrective actions. These actions are learned by the UTA and linked to the process pattern and a goal definition. In future when such patterns reappear the past expert actions are now recommended by the UTA to the current non-expert performers. All previous ad-hoc tasks of the expert are visible in the template. Goal achievement or frequent use give the actions a higher probability. Process owners, experts or coaches can remove actions or goal definitions from the libraries.

A final remark. What businesses need is a work environment that is quite different from today’s BPM or case management functionality and user interfaces. It must be so simple to use in unpredictable situations that it is adopted without change programs and culture shocks. Improving user interface and interaction is a continuous learning experience and can be quite different for various business needs. There is no boilerplate solution like suggested in SPA or iBMPS that solves all needs.

The biggest change is for management to let go of the control and automation attitude. It is expensive up-front and it is expensve in reduced customer service quality. ROI is a short-term illusion. It endangers the business due to a loss of knowledge in its employees. Insurance companies around the world struggle with the fact that no one knows anymore what is encoded into their CICS/IMS insurance application silos. The hardcoded software has become their business. That’s where ACM can return the business departments to be in control.

That is really the revolution that is needed: that the machine learns from humans rather than the machine (BPM or DMS or BRE) telling humans what to do when without any explanation why!

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Posted in Adaptive Process, Machine Learning, Predictive Analysis

The CRM Control Illusion versus Personal Cloud (VRM)

Forrester Research CEO George Colony recently blogged:
‘We are now in the age of the customer – with buyers using technology to gain control over institutions. That power flows from customers’ newfound ability to seamlessly price, critique, and direct their purchases. What does this mean? At the risk of being overly dramatic, the future belongs to customer-obsessed enterprises.’

I could not agree more, but clearly this observation is neither new nor does it come from some moral obligation but simply from a consumer backlash that the businesses feel. Yes, in future all businesses will either be digital or fail. ‘Software will eat the world.’ as Mark Andreesen put it. But what will the software actually do? Big Data predictive analysis or customer interaction via the web or mobile?

In business interactions the commonly used distinction is C2C, B2C and B2B, with C standing for consumer or customer and B standing for business. There is also a C2G acronym, which is often used for Citizen-to-Government. I think that these distinctions are truly outdated. Also a business consists of humans. There is only one interaction that is H2H or human-to-human and while one can create a substitute web presence, it kills the emotional connection that good business needs. The rise of the Internet has brought us H2W human-to-Web and H2M human-to-mobile, because it is believed to be a simple way to cut costs by reducing the number of people a business needs to support customers. These acronyms are born from the customer process control illusion in CRM and BPM. Not true you say?

Real world example: On the Air Berlin website the call center numbers used to be right on the front page and now you will only see them one you have gone through at least seven support pages and FAQs. The booking website is an absolute mess of silly rules and restrictions. I tried to book a flight and I could not get the seating I wanted so I cancelled. Once you have booked you pay for any change. So I went through the lengthy FAQ which had no relevance to my problem. I finally got to the page with the call center numbers and I called. I had to wait for a long time and then the lady told me to book the flight online and then call back and she would do the change. I did so and after an equally lengthy wait time, another lady told me that she could not do the change. She asked me to cancel the flight and then do the booking via the call center. I obviously went berserk and she finally agreed to cancel the booking and make a new one. All the details I had entered online, including the credit card details that are stored at the airline I had to provide again on the phone. Each digital and human interaction stands alone. No one knows anything.

CRM and the Big Data control illusion

So clearly, Web (H2W) or Mobile (H2M) are NOT the best way to create a great customer experience. Not only are they dehumanizing and businesses are unable to manage the multiple channels. Web and Mobile presence become additional silos that are not connected to their CRM or call center software. It will be years before any large business is able to change the related software silos. Expect worse to come! A multi-channel process can no longer be encoded and enforced because even with BIG DATA it is impossible to judge upfront what kind of customer interactions will happen where. Utter nonsense. The true relationship challenges are not addressed by a CRM customer database and some service processes. They are adressed by people!

You might say that there are good examples of web interaction such as Amazon as a pure web merchant. Amazon does only one thing via the web as its encoded processes in its portal make up the business. Without the people who select products and the customers who write reviews, the complete Amazon website has little value. The automatic recommendations are no more than a nuisance. Without the shipment centers and a customer service department who efficiently deals with customer problems and a ‘no questions asked’ return policy, those processes are worthless. The human factor still makes the difference. The one company that comes reasonably close to consolidating the channels as well as Web and Store shopping it is Apple.

Fact: While the Internet was supposed to be the great equalizer, it has until now given more power to the large enterprises such as Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Apple and all who offer cloud services. They have just taken the advertizing business from the media and thrive off the data that we willingly hand over. Big Data as a concept is purely about consolidating YOUR data to make YOU more predictable and controllable.

The only way to change is to look at it through the customer’s eyes. And I am not talking about the ‘Outside In’ process design concept, but truly understanding what customers are looking for. One aspect of this is goal-orientation to define why certain tasks are being performed and to measure if they are reached individually.

Customers really want:

  • Finding answers/solutions for problems
  • Finding enough trusted information and vendors
  • Finding vendors who value the customer
  • Finding a solution that empowers and improves the customer
  • Finding a value proposition that fits needs and budget (not just the cheapest)
  • Simple and relevant communication and interaction with vendor
  • Building a quality service relationship between vendor and customer

The above is the reason that for longer than a decade I have been vocal against CRM and BPM as software solutions. They are focused on internal problems and not the customer. What I propose with ACM Adaptive Case Management is to consolidate not just data but communication and processes into a single customer interaction that is driven by the humans on both ends and not by silly rules. Some call it a customer engagement hub. I do however know that the problem cannot be solved by software from the inside alone. In the long-term view it does need a communication approach that is supported by a larger customer-driven concept from the outside.

VRM and the Personal Cloud

Therefore I am not just addressing this problem from the inside, but I have another software business offering the VIPorbit Contact Manager on Mac and iOS. Our medium-term target is to empower the individual and provide a much better connection with the humans inside a business.

As a consequence I had a few days ago a really interesting phone call with David ‘Doc’ Searls. Doc is an icon in the Linux and Open Source movements. In 2000 Doc Searls, and his co-authors Christopher Locke, Rick Levine, and David Weinberger converted their blog into a book called ‘The Cluetrain Manifesto: The end of business as usual‘.

Among Searls’ contributions to the Manifesto was its first thesis, that markets are conversations between human beings and not businesses that market into statistical demographic sectors. The networked individuals in the market will know a lot more than vendors do about their own products and that information will not be controllable by the business. Even the media will loose the information distributing monopoly. Other customers are a much more trusted source. Social networks require an expanded business strategy because the technology has given the customer a voice that the business cannot control. No amount of mass advertizing can drown out the few voices of unhappy customers!

Doc Searls published last year a follow-on book titled ‘The Intention Economy – When customers take control’ in which he also reiterates his work to create VRM Vendor Relationship Management. In this book he describes an economy driven by consumer intent, where vendors must respond to the actual intentions of customers instead of vying for the attention of many.

Rather than the acronym VRM he uses now the term ‘Personal Cloud’.

The Personal Cloud

The Personal Cloud

In the Respect Network that he participates in, you find a consolidated drive to create a ‘Personal Cloud’ infrastructure, which provides for the individual consumer the following:

  • Control the flow and use of personal data
  • Build their own loyalty programs
  • Dictate their own terms of service
  • Tell whole markets what they want, how they want it, where and when they should be able to get it, and how much it should cost

The Personal Cloud will be the consumer counterpart to vendors’ CRM systems and ideally make them obsolete. The most basic benefit will the ability to change your address once to inform all vendors you deal with. There are other opportunities in combining services from multiple companies in real time, for example making your choice of carrier for a shipment or for service or insurance. Amazon is actually a vendor who provides a similar kind of service to its customers as it also acts as a sales channel and payment intermediary for other vendors. Airlines try to cross-sell hotels and rental cars. But the process is still hardcoded into the vendor’s website and locks out sensible human interaction.

Also vendors will like the Personal Cloud because it will do away with having to keep the customer data accurate and with running senseless anaytics across the data to try and figure out what each customer might want. The customer will actually tell the vendor and remain anonymous until he decides to purchase.

So what does customer obsession mean? I propose that businesses will need to manage processes as free-flow communications with customers and ideally embrace them as empowered collaborators. The CRM and process control illusion will have to go. Trying to leverage typical marketing on social networks will fail eventually. A citizen living in the urbanized areas of the Western world is pounded by 3-5000 marketing messages a day. The time will come where prospective customers will only turn to those vendors who do not pester them with meaningless ads, but to those that listen to them. The business returns from social networks will be equivalent to the quality of interaction offered.

It may seem to some that addressing those customer relationship issues with a new collaboration, process or case management approach is overkill, but the market pressure will eventually demand it. What other ways are there to create opportunities for prospects with relevant information that allows fast lead conversion into opportunities? How else can those prospects find the channel for meaningful conversations and allow the business to qualify if the prospect has profitable potential? How else will the customer feel that the business listens to him/her? Predictive analytics driven ‘If You Buy Now’ messages are the same as the ones on late-night infomercials: ‘… and you get a second unit free.’

And at some time in the future the customer will be the one to initialize the communication and control how and where his personal data are used. While I come from inside the business, Doc Searls and I have the same vision. Empowered customers need equally empowered contact persons inside the business. No matter how clever software will be at some time in the future, it won’t be ‘listening’.


PS: The digital infrastructure has also given governments an immense power of supervision and control, the least one being speed cameras on the roads and the worst being access to our private communciations. As a consequence, I use encrypted mail where possible, I have on my Mac ‘DoNotTrackMe’ installed, and I only search via ‘DuckDuckGo’. But then I am also not watching TV or listening to radio unless it is ad-free. I use YouTube a lot less since they force me to watch advertizing, Let me pay a fee to watch it ad-free.

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Posted in Adaptive Case Management, Cloud Computing, Customer Communications, Customer Relationship Management, Mobile Relationship Management, Predictive Analysis
Max J. Pucher
© 2007-16
by Max J. Pucher. All rights reserved.
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