BPM Promises "Simplicity" In 2010. Is This "Hope We Can Believe In" Or Still A Pipe Dream?

New_photo2 By Clay Richardson

Time flies when you're having fun - and 2009 was a really fun and successful year for the BPM industry.  Nearly all BPM vendors reported double digit revenue growth over the first three quarters of 2009 and many are already reporting strong pipeline growth for 2010.  Most importantly, some BPM practitioners are beginning to reign in the bloat and complexity traditionally associated with BPM implementations.  

Over the past few months I've been on a bit of a world tour - numerous BPM industry and vendor conferences mixed in with customer meetings - listening to customers discuss their BPM hopes and challenges and listening to vendors outline their roadmaps and plans for 2010.  If I translated all of my conversations over the past few months into a tag cloud, "Simplicity" would jump out as the most prominent term mentioned on both sides.  
BPM customers and prospects are clamoring for the simplicity of Web 2.0 functionality for their BPM initiatives - and some are actively requesting enhanced collaboration capabilities offered by social technologies. In a previous blog post I highlighted the convergence of BPM, Web 2.0, and social - commonly referred to as "Social BPM". In a recently published report, fellow Forrester analyst Alex Cullen, highlighted Social BPM as one of the Top 15 Technology Trends to watch for enterprise architects and business process professionals.
Specifically, in preparing for 2010 enterprise architects and business process pro's should evaluate four key Social BPM components that help simplify and streamline BPM initiatives:
  • Process Mashups - Lightweight BPM tools that support rapidly building and deploying structured and unstructured business processes. Process mashup platforms include only bare-bones functionality provided by BPM suites: execution engine, process modeling, Web-based forms, worklists, and administrative functions. Tech-savvy business analysts are using these mashup platforms to quickly deliver process solutions that IT doesn't have the bandwidth to tackle.
  • Process Wikis - Process wikis allow distributed teams to easily build and maintain institutional knowledge about a particular business process or collection of business processes. Process wikis provide simple Web-based modeling and documentation capabilities that encourage input and collaboration across all roles that participate in process discovery: end users, process analysts, stakeholders, developers, and architects.
  • BPM-as-a-Service- Web-based BPM platforms and solutions that allow users to model, develop, and/or execute business processes in public or private cloud environments. Companies are using BPM-as-a-Service platforms as a cost-effective "try-before-you-buy" approach to BPM.
  • Process Personas - In 2010, this will be a key area to watch for BPM.  Leading vendors such as Global360 are simplifying the user experience by providing pre-built templates that provide identified process roles (e.g., supervisor, line manager, etc.) with just the features and functionality they need - no more, no less.
Ultimately, the Social BPM trend and the push towards BPM simplicity are connected to a broader trend towards "simplicity" in society.  To illustrate this, a few weeks back I was driving in my car listening to an NPR segment outlining food trends to watch in 2010.  The host highlighted the movement towards "simple foods" as a major trend that would gain greater momentum in 2010.  The basic premise behind "simple foods" is that there should be as few ingredients as possible in the foods we eat.  After listening to the segment, I thought "Hmmm, that's novel..." but didn't think much else of it.
Then a few days later, I tuned in to a Fox News (hey, they do have some news) segment on the excessive amounts of sugar in kids cereals.  I was amazed to learn that all of the cereals in our pantry made Fox's top 3 list of cereals with the most sugar.  To my daughter's disappointment, my wife and I immediately cleaned out the cupboard of these oversweetened cereals and marched off to Whole Foods to buy the "Envirokids Amazon Frosted Flakes" recommended in the Fox segment.  
While it was interesting to see that the Envirokids cereal only had half the sugar of the other cereals, what really blew my mind was that Envirokids only had 3 ingredients listed on the side of the box:  corn meal, evaportated cane juice, sea salt.  And according to my daughter (and online reviewers) it tasted pretty decent  - although I also tried a bowl and thought to myself "I already miss my Honey O's..."
Why It Matters?
Ultimately, society (as illustrated in the case of "simple foods") is demanding greater transparency and control over the makeup of what we buy, bring into our homes, and put into our bodies.  This is the same force driving the Social BPM trend - business users want greater control over assembling, updating, and communicating their business processes, with minimal support from IT.  And many vendors are beginning to heed the call.  
Last week at Appian Forum (Appian's annual user conference), I listened in as Appian's CEO, Matt Caulkins outlined the future direction of the company's flagship BPM offering:  I believe Matt used the term "simple" at least two dozen times in his presentation.  And other vendors such as Global360 and Software AG are also investing heavily to make BPM "simpler."

Through the years, BPM's promise of "ease-of-use" and "business empowerment" rang hollow and left business users cold and disappointed.  In 2010 the BPM industry will begin to deliver on this promise by providing concrete methodologies, capabilities, and tools that simplify all aspects of continual process improvement - and Web 2.0 and social will form the foundation of this move towards simplicity in the BPM industry. 

Enterprise architects and process professionals planning for 2010 should add Social BPM to their list of emerging methodologies and tools that will have a significant impact on the enterprise's ability to deliver value and minimize waste.

What's Your Take?
I want to hear from you.  Let me know if you think the BPM industry will finally deliver on it's promise of "simplicity" in 2010 or whether this is just a pipe dream?   If you're an enterprise architect or a process professional, let me know if you're beginning to explore leveraging some of the Social BPM capabilities highlighted in this post. I'm also interested in hearing your thoughts on the "simple foods" (and the larger societal) trend towards "simplicity".  Post your thoughts in the comments section or feel free to shoot me a quick e-mail at crichardson@forrester.com.


re: BPM Promises "Simplicity" In 2010. Is This "Hope We Can Be

Hmmm... So, in short, users should wait for 2010 to see large BPM vendors deliver year long promises of user friendly, easy to use environments? And reduce prices also maybe? If this ever happens that will be a revolution, indeed.Anyhow, dear trustful user, waiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit.Or don't.

re: BPM Promises "Simplicity" In 2010. Is This "Hope We Can Be

Hi Clay,I too look for 2010 to be the year where BPM makes major moves to fulfill its destiny. I believe that in many ways we are on the right path. Your take on Lean BPM (and so far your definition is the only one I "buy into") is part of that (make sure you continue to evangelize it!). Simplification and contextual relevancy (i.e. - aligning technology experiences to how work really gets done) are keys to unlocking the real potential of business process management on a broad basis.The challenge is formidable - we should not forget that. However, you can't address a challenge if you don't understand it, and I am convinced that we finally understand it.The result? I think in 2010 we will see BPM enter into its next big stage where exceptional results are realized on a consistent and predictable basis. Just how big that change is depends on how well we deliver on the promise. For me, my actions will be guided by a quote from the historical figure I admire most...Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication- Leonardo da VinciTerry Schurter

re: BPM Promises "Simplicity" In 2010. Is This "Hope We Can Be

Nice post, "simplicity" has been the holy grail of BPM solutions...BPM customers are looking for BPM solutions that can easily allows them to set up and to maintain process based applications.During the last years, the BPM market has been dominated by a reduce number of traditional vendors offering proprietary, closed and complex BPM solutions that only the largest and wealthiest organizations can afford.They have largely ignore "simplicity" and so now, with the BPM democratization started, they have to completely rethink their strategy (both business models and technology)....on the meantime, there is a big opportunity for open source BPM vendors to deliver such an easy-to-use solution!regards,Miguel

re: BPM Promises "Simplicity" In 2010. Is This "Hope We Can Be

It seems obvious that "going simple" is a good thing with BPM. Do I think it that 2010 will be the year most BPM vendors get there? Nope. I have found it harder to simplify the complex rather than the other way around. I do think BPM vendors will continue to actively work towards that goal, and will achieve incremental success along the way. Those that don't simplify will inevitably fade away.I've always been a big fan of a simplified approach to just about everything. When I work with a client to automate their business processes, I stress starting as simple as possible, then add complexity only as it is requested by the users. If no one asks for it, then you likely don't need it. My guess it that your daughter will never ask for additional ingredients in her new cereal.

re: BPM Promises "Simplicity" In 2010. Is This "Hope We Can Be

Hi ClayGreat post.According to my experience, the technology to achieve this simplicity is already here and of course is getting even better. The problem we see, is more on the human side. How to agree on the "right" process, how to make all the stake holders happy, how to go around the politics etc etc. BPM power is in its ability to enable every organisation to adjust the IT to its specific unique "secret souce" , that is also part of BPM problem and thats why many of the projects turn out to be not simple at all. I think the key is the best practices - how to use BPM technology to achieve simplicity. At PNMsoft we doing a lot of research to collect the experience we gathered in hundreds of BPM projects to constantly improve the best practices. I believe this can make a true change.Regards,Adi.