An Information Management interview with Neil Ward-Dutton, research director and founder, MWD Advisors

Neil Ward-Dutton, research director and founder, MWD Advisors

What’s the single most-disruptive change in business process management in the coming year?

The big thing that is shaking things up right now is a reappraisal of the model underlying BPM approaches. Historically, there has been a kind of linear progression where you have design tools to capture a process, analysts [to] model and refine it further, use that to create an application. Then you deploy that app in the field and let the process control everything. But if you’re working with real knowledge workers, that upfront structured environment doesn’t address the real need.

More of a human approach to BPM then? 

Exactly, the Workflow Management Coalition coined the phrase “adaptive case management.” Forrester [Research] talks about “dynamic case management,” which is basically the same thing but blurs the lines with patterns and guidelines that are deployed but give the knowledge worker much more control how work unfolds and how information is managed. 

They both sound like a step away from the control center approach.

Both patterns have their place … but this disruption is kind of a non-traditional way with BPM. Until recently, you could kind of trace BPM’s roots right back to [efficiency management pioneer Frederick] Taylor and scientific management in the 20th century. This less structured approach is really taking what is now possible with today’s technology – real-time, adaptive, dynamic – and re-thinking what you can do for business.

Who is the decision-maker for process management? A business analyst or someone in IT?

It’s really changing. When you go back a few years to when this technology was emerging, you had a group of people with a background in process and analysis that was almost scientific. We’re entering a phase where process is moving tothe mainstream. The buying point is becoming less easy to spot, because it’s not just for the specialists with the methodology and analytical training.

Who are the buyers then?

IT groups are driving things forward, though they’re not the primary force in most cases. You’ll find it’s going to be a line-of-business head, someone in charge of a business change program, like the head of HR or customer service. The other wrinkle is, if you go back to when the technology was emerging, the people driving the projects had an affinity with BPM, they understood what that was about. Now, people who are looking for solutions, they don’t think, ‘Ah, I’ve got a BPM problem.’ They think, ‘Ah, I’ve got a customer service problem.’

So they are closer to the problem, which means they are looking for something specific?

They have process problems, but they think more in terms of a general application requirement. For the BPM vendors, this presents a challenge, because the capability [business] needs is BPM and that has a heavy tool component. The people with the problems don’t necessarily express it in terms of process. If you wind back the clock a few years, it’s the same type of thing you were seeing with BI. The successful vendors are going after particular scenarios and they’re having to change the way they address the market. They still have that generic BPM play, but they also attack more and more particular types of scenarios and marketing.

Are process advocates making better use of data points and key performance metrics and tools like dashboards to help optimize their process work?

This is only now becoming a mainstream concern. What you have is a group of organizations ahead of the adoption wave, beyond just one or two projects. They’re really now looking at how to drive more continuous improvements by collecting metrics and how KPIs are being addressed and so on. But a very large proportion of those people look at the BPM market as a one-off or an application development project. 

So they want the value of a versatile investment but they’re working from a specific problem?

Yes, but the process is less than it could be. You find many organizations get project success, and the first thing they say is that it’s gone well and they just want to apply their success to another project. They don’t really want to dig into more scientific or advanced areas of what’s possible. They know they can get an immediate return by just doing some simple stuff really well. But those leading edge adopters, who’ve taken a more project-by-project approach have transitioned into a more cultural approach where BPM is seen as an organizational capability. It’s something they really nurture and they have a method for driving it out across projects. There is typically a center of excellence that helps think up front about the results they want to get. In that leading-edge group – that 10-to-15 percent – you’ll find that they have the best handle on process.

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