Thursday, December 28, 2006

Technology Must Not Rule

Much of the recent literature on BPM centers on the enabling technology. A wonderful thing, this BPM technology, but not the point of Business Process Management per se; BPM is not BPM technology.

My clients want an easily implemented, cost-effective way to move work through a process, including the forms, related documents, decisions, approvals and all associated tasks for all involved. Sometimes a BPMS provides the solution: Log in, see what’s on today’s to do list, see what’s coming up, perform the work, fill out the forms, automatically notify the interested parties that my work (at a particular process step) is complete and report on it. But the Business Process Management part of that set of activities is technology-neutral. Technology enables, but even the best technology absent good management leads to failure. As such, genuine Business Process Management expertise must precede BPM technology – the foundations of good process design, execution and reporting must be in place prior to introducing BPM technology (or ECM, ERP, SOA or just about any technology for that matter).

This approach promotes the strong cooperation needed between the business user and the technical implementer for this or any other technology to propagate. The worst-case fate of BPM technology is that it becomes the glue between a chaotic ensemble of poorly functioning components in order to squeeze a modicum of efficiency out of old investments, and then gets relegated to the trash heap of promising applications that never caught on. No disrespect intended at all (BPM technology is serious genius in action), but if BPM is dominated by a technical elite, the ultimate community of end-users (i.e., business users) will balk. The business user and professional manager must come to the fore and participate in the debate.

“We must make things as simple as possible, not simpler,” said Einstein. The idea is a brilliant one; let’s maintain the elegance of the invention by preserving the beauty of its simplicity, so we businesspeople can easily communicate to our staffs the benefits of enduring the discomfort that always accompanies changing the way they approach their work – no matter how sophisticated the technology.

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