BPM is yesterday’s news. Actually it’s last century’s news. It was born about 20 years ago – the first company offering that kind of development capability being Pegasystems Inc. Other companies probably claim that honor, I’m sure and it doesn’t matter much as far as this article is concerned, because the point is that BPM is actually quite old. Let’s set aside the fact that companies selling workflow software and document management software (with a workflow engine), nowadays tend to claim to be selling BPM. That’s all marketing confusion created by highly skilled “confusion engineers”. Let’s just accept the idea that any development capability that allows you to design a business process rather than an application can qualify to some degree as BPM and leave it at that.
Designing business processes is by no means new, but as time passed part of the IT industry realized that in many situations designing the business process is a better strategy than designing an application. That provided an opening for BPM and then BPM was strongly boosted by the advent of Service Oriented Architecture (SOA), because SOA enables the building of business processes in a more flexible manner than was previously possible. So BPM’s rise has been slow but exceedingly sure and now it is almost as fashionable as YouTube.
This is why I find CEBP interesting. Communications Enabled Business Processing (CEBP) is, if you didn’t know, the integration of unified communications into BPM. It is also a term invented by Avaya in its marketing desire to describe some of its software products in an it-does-what-it-says-on-the-tin way. What Avaya provides is a capability to design business process flows that include multiple modes of communications. In my view this is important and it is likely to set a trend – a trend that I expect other “unified communications” vendors to follow most probably by competing directly for the same corporate customers.
Why is it compelling? Let’s cut to the chase and consider the sad state in which most business processes currently find themselves. Very few business processes are well automated at all. The reason for this is very simple. It’s people that make systems work. The project managers, IT designers, business analysts, consultants and various line managers that get involved in a system’s design have their day and then the department that runs the business process is left with whatever was delivered and they make it work, because that’s all they’ve got.
Business processes are usually made to work by two considerably convenient extras that are freely available to the staff that has to make a system work:
a) The spreadsheet (the poor man’s development tool)
b) Existing communications channels (email, chat, phone, mobile phone, SMS, etc.)
I’m not here to criticize the failure of IT and/or business designers. Designing effective systems is tough work at the best of times. I know because I’ve done it, both well and badly. But even well designed systems are far from a perfect fit.
The point is that ad hoc capabilities both for communications and for storing odd bits of information that the original system just didn’t allow, actually grease the wheels of most systems. In some sorry situations they make up the greater part of the actual business system. Because the original designer(s) never knew about or allowed for nuances in the way that particular transactions are handled, emails get written, information is passed from one person to another, a little Excel database gets set up and so on. And when the business process changes and IT is too busy on something else, then the changes get implemented in this way
Now we may like to salute the staff that “made the best of a bad situation”, but realistically it would be better if we properly automated those aspects of a business process that the designers missed – by using BPM tools (which are a little more fit for purpose than spreadsheets) and using CEBP to flow the communications activity in an efficient manner. True, we’re probably going to have to talk to the staff to find out exactly how to do this well, but that can work.
So what is there to win here, by combining BPM with CEBP? Well think in terms of the call center technology which revolutionized the frequently repeated telephone activities of an organization, in sales and in customer service. No-one would dispute the benefits of the call center over what went before. In many instances productivity gains were dramatic. Well, the same kinds of productivity gains are on offer again, but this time it’s to replace the communications inefficiencies that are naturally a part of most business processes by simply designing their flow and automating it.
Doing this will have two impacts:
• It will increase individual effectiveness and productivity
• It will speed up the business process significantly.
These are benefits worth shooting for.
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