U.K.-based advisory and research firm MWD Advisors has been shaking up a few traditional enterprise information management standards of late, including work that outlined a path to success with business process implementations that avoids the traditional “BPM” dogma. Recently, MWD’s Principal Analyst Mark McGregor authored a report delving into the ways modeling and mapping tools work for business – and also consistently miss the target. Information Management recently dialed up McGregor to discuss the report and take a big-picture view of the BPM and modeling markets.

Information-Management.com: This new survey on business modeling and mapping follows up an initial survey you conducted in 2009 on the same topic. Over the last three years, what has been the biggest change you’ve seen in adoption of these tools?

Mark McGregor: On one hand, we were seeing more and more people using specialist tools for the process modeling and mapping, or so we thought. When we started digging in, we realized more and more people aren’t using the modeling tools. They are using the mapping capabilities. There is some crossover, but to get the best value out of these tools, you need to be modeling with them, not just mapping. If you are spending a lot of money on a modeling tool and just doing mapping with it, then, surprise, surprise, you don’t find the value you were promised.

Is it something where there is a lack of knowledge with the users about these tools? Or are people just doing more quick-and-dirty work on the mapping side? Maybe a little bit of both?

Sure, there is some nuance to each use case. But a large proportion of the process mapping is occurring within operational excellence and that kind of work. Those are also the users who are making the least use of the modeling tools. The modeling tool vendors are very much focused on support for business analysts, but they’re still mainly working with an IT audience. I think there is a real mismatch between where the majority of work on process mapping is occurring, and the mainstream developing technology.

There is a negative connotation of mapping and especially modeling when it comes to ROI in the survey. Thirty-two percent of end users reported less-than-expected returns from modeling tools. In a separate question, enterprises that did find success from use were also those paid the most. With only so much control over what they get from vendors, what can enterprise IT do to tap into more direct results and, thus, support from business?

One thing the users need to do is ask themselves the question: Are you contributing to the waste that you’re trying to solve at your organization? In other words, if someone is already doing process analysis and these guys are coming in saying you have to look at it from their perspective, that’s just contributing to waste. Users need to work together in an enterprise. It’s not about following a religion of a particular process method. It’s about working end-to-end to take out waste.

The mapping people could work together and find out that someone has already done it. And if they don’t stop arguing about who wants what to run left-to-right and actually go back and talk to the workers about how they want to use it, this stuff isn’t going to be of any use at all. If you want to get business adoption, make sure what is being produced is being used, particularly in the mapping area. Maps are often used for analysis and then thrown away. Maybe that can be part of the end system. The modeling tools are more complex, take more time to use and are more expensive. But part of that complexity is that their design demands it be linked to the production process. It’s using the same resources. Unless you have all of those resources together and interconnected, then you can’t actually perform good business analysis or risk analysis or impacts of change. Simplistic maps are great for the early stages but they’re not providing the longevity. They need a more sophisticated approach.

And what’s the vendors’ role in this modeling conundrum?

It would be handy if some of the vendors recognized that people want to start simply and then grow from there. In many instances, there’s a bucket-load of tool implementation that takes up your first few months, when what you want to do is deliver your first project outcomes. It’s easier to get that groundwork done when other people understand the value. If you start by burning through $50,000 on consulting just to get all of the tools up and running, you’ll frighten the business side away. Here is a way to work together to understand modeling value. The vendors, over the years, have added more and more into the products to make them more architectural or applicable to other groups. But they’ve lost their way. If you had a product that users loved for doing one particular thing, and then you pile on all of these other functions, you lose your core audience. It’s fine to have those functions in the later stages, but keep it simple early on.

Give me your take on the use of free tools for mapping and modeling. In your survey, it seems to have leveled off over the last three years.

Well, use is probably higher than the survey suggests. There are so many free tools out there. But we have talked with people who said, ‘You know what, we tried a free mapping tool, and we hit a wall.’ Nobody out there is offering a free professional modeling tool. There is one automation vendor, and I won’t name them, who produces a free mapping tool who stated they’ve had over 1 million downloads. Those could be around somewhere. But when it’s free, there’s a difference between downloading and using. Most of those free tools, when you think about it, are BPM tools. It could well be that they are buried in the depths of IT.

Click here to register for access to MWD’s report, entitled “Are Process Mapping and Modeling Tools Still Missing the Target?”

You’re big on process refinement. What strategy around process do you keep in mind to make sure mapping and modeling come into regular use if you’re a business?

If I’m a business, I’m already paying people to do Six Sigma, to do BPM, to do ERP, to do risk and compliance, to do ISO, and every single one of them uses a different set of tools and redefines process. In reality, if I have an order-to-cash process in my business, I only have that one order-to-cash process. There may be some variance, but there’s only one. Do I want to my quality people to make sure the process is used consistently? Sure I do. Do I need to make sure that I have all the risks covered so that the processes comply? Yes I do. There are all of these aspects, but it is just one process.

With the year coming to a close, it’s the season for industry predictions. What aspect of enterprise data modeling would you hope gets better in 2013?

My hope in the coming year is that the market wakes up and realizes there is a phenomenal potential with people who aren’t using tools and should be. Then, in house, I’d hope people stop fighting the notation arguments and instead turn their attention to engagement and adoption. It’s not about a specific map or model, it’s about getting people using them. As a whole, modeling is really touching less than half of the potential market. Imagine if the focus was on the output from maps and the models.