Embrace Big Process Thinking To Drive Business Transformation

I’ve been working on a big idea for several months.  The genesis of that idea was an internal collaboration about the future of enterprise suites versus business process management suites (BPMS). We actually had a mock debate about the future of these two software categories and asked: 

  • Will enterprise suites, like CRM and ERP, dominate in 2015?
  • Or will BPM suites come on strong by 2015 and displace them as the next-generation software platform for processes?
  • Or will both types of suites sit somewhat uncomfortably within the same organization tackling different types of processes? 

Interestingly, enterprise suites won in our mock debate (kudos to Paul Hamerman and Clay Richardson), but the BPMS advocates (Derek Miers and Craig Le Clair) definitely held their own. It’s just that companies have such massive investments in SAP and Oracle (Siebel) that those software products are not going anywhere very fast. So that’s how it will turn out in 2015: BPM suites will keep making bigger and bigger inroads, but they will fill in the spaces for “untamed processes” that big software packages can’t touch. (For more on this topic, see Craig’sStuck In Cement: When Packaged Apps Create Barriers To Innovation” report and William Band’sThe Smart Way To Implement Process-Centric CRM: Deliver Breakthrough Customer Experiences By Transforming Business Processes” report.)

Our internal discussion sparked a bigger question that’s harder to answer, but in many ways is even more important.  That über-question is  “What’s the future of business processes?” and leads us to also ask:

  • What will business processes look like in 2020?
  • How should business and IT leaders prepare for the future, given that many of them are implementing isolated BPMS  projects or sponsoring departmental process improvement projects by Six Sigma teams?

I’ve been working hard to answer these questions, and the results of that analysis will be published soon. In the meantime, here’s a sneak preview.

First, we need to define a new term: 

Big process is when senior-most business and technology leaders embrace business process change by shifting the organization’s focus from isolated BPM and process improvement projects to a sustainable, enterprise-wide business process transformation program that is then supported and driven by top executives.

Moving to “big process thinking” is a tall order. I don’t see how this can be done using a bottom-up approach; it must be envisioned, supported, and driven by very senior executives and then radiate out through change agents up, down, and across the entire organization. Obviously, change management is hugely important; but the companies that have embraced big process thinking in the C suite (Medco comes to mind) have achieved amazing results.

So how do you get to big process thinking by 2020? We think there are five tenets of big process thinking to adopt:

  1. Transform processes, don’t just improve them.
  2. Give the customer control.
  3. Globalize, standardize, and humanize.
  4. Embrace big data.
  5. Double down on process skills.

These tenets are absolutely critical for looking at business processes from a strategic, transformational perspective rather than a continuous improvement viewpoint. When the report I’m writing gets a little closer to publication I’ll put up a blog post for each of the five tenets to explain them further — I know some of them are a little cryptic. In the meantime, if you’ve got any suggestions, thoughts, or differences of opinion, please share your ideas with everyone by making a comment. And stay tuned.


Call to Reason

Hi Connie,

I enjoyed your post. It was well worth the time to take stock of all these disparate movements in Enterprise Computing and give it some perspective.

There's been lots of great developments in tools, but the C-suite has broader interests as you described. I can't help but roll my eyes when I hear some folks talk in terms of liberation theology. The C-suite has every interest in a more agile adaptive future, it won't happen without them. What the enterprise doesn't need is a lot of closed silos that compound their interoperability and change management challenges.

I do think the next 20 years of computing will usher in an age far more collaborative and effective than the last twenty, and that would be just what the C-suite ordered.


Change Management

I worked on a change management project at a Big 4 firm. The purpose was to automate the audit practice. It was an absolutely fascinating project because it was so large, so difficult, and it took so much time. But really the only reason why it worked was because top management bought into the concept and backed it totally. Without that buy-in, there would have been little success.

People are naturally resistant to change. There are ways to get around that but one lof the best ways is to have top management drive the process.

I have always felt that another important component of success was getting everyone involved early. For instance, having the quality asurance and support groups, who normally get involved towards the end of the process, work in the planning phase meant so much to us. It was a unique way of doing things but it strenthened the process.

Standardization was another critical component of success. In a large firm with 100 field offices, one way of doing things meant control over factors which could have slowed down the process.

All in all, it was a great project to work on but the success was based on the principles mentioned in the blog by Connie Moore. Good job!

Don't create new acronyms

Hi Connie:

I disagree with your approach due to the fact that if we want people to make part of business transformation change agents cannot use such kind of definitions.

This post explains clearly what I want to express:


I believe that you want managers to push process improvement further, but company's "leaving forces", the people, don't believe anymore on these acronyms. Keep it simple.



Actually I meant the "living

Actually I meant the "living forces".

The Wrong War


I really enjoyed this post - it is something I have been thinking about for some time. I am actually more interested in the first part of your post where you talk about the tension between the BPM suites and the Enterprise Suites. I certainly agree that this "war" is currently being fought in the enterprise space. However, I think there is a much more subtle battle going on which involves "social" and "long tail type apps," and that enterprise vendors will notice too late that they have been fighting the wrong enemy. I've written more on the subject here - http://www.processmakerblog.com/uncategorized/big-ideas-big-process-soci...

"Driving Jerry Jones-style" and "We Are NOT Legacy Apps!!!"

Hi Connie,

Like the post and look forward to your end result. I wanted to mention two things:

1. Supported and Driven by Top Leaders
The good is clear: you get political will, financial support, and [initial] mandated adoption pressure to get something so daunting started. The bad is the natural tendency for the wrong participants to be involved in the decisions and execution. Indeed, the right participants usually have to "take a decision". This is why I hear so often that top down improvement projects simply aren't successful, that instead they must involve top down AND bottom up to succeed. Easy dig on Jerry Jones' reputation for managing the Dallas Cowboys...

2. Vendors simply have to maintain freshness
When web services first took hold, the WS and SOA vendors touted their "hot & fresh" benefits of nimbly wiring up all the inflexible legacy systems to greater effect. The packaged app (e.g. ERP, CRM) vendors, LOATHE to be labeled "legacy" apps, hurried to embed SOAP stacks and claim they were part of the new and exciting--heck even driving it! I've been seeing the same thing happening with BPM. "We have workflow" is all too often chanted by those vendors, and they suck at it.

Continued growth of common business platforms

Over the next 8 years we'll see large-scale adoption of "big process" for common business problems.

As part of this trend, BPM providers will play the role of advance scouts mapping unfamiliar terrain but, once the route is surveyed, ERP and BPO (business process outsourcing) providers will quickly build rail lines across the landscape. Over the next 8 years, Enterprises will increasingly trend towards buying a ticket on the ERP / BPO railway rather than trying to build their own roads.