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Business Process Management in the 21st Century

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BPM in the 21st century is summed up perfectly in Howard Smith’s and Peter Fingar’s book Business Process Management: the third wave:

The BPM breakthrough is for business people. Designed top down in accordance with a company’s strategy, business processes can now be unhindered by the constraints of existing IT systems.

So what is this breakthrough and what constraint do our existing IT systems provide? Is this breakthrough that significant or just more technology designed to confuse us?

The radical breakthrough in what Smith and Fingar call the third wave, is that business processes are directly and immediately executable with no code or software development necessary. In the past and still today, IT systems are developed to try and deliver our standard business processes. However in order to be agile and competitive our business processes need to be customised and continually improve and evolve. Therefore as soon as the IT department deliver the procured or developed system, the processes have changed, new ideas for improvement need to be implemented and the system doesn’t quite do what the organisation wants. The organisation is therefore constrained by the IT system unless more money is spent.

What we find in many organisations is that managers map out the way the organisation work, in some cases linking documents to the activities, and using these to inform and provide ways for employees how to go about their work. We find that these are independent of the IT systems and generally lack the detail to represent the implicit work flow built into such systems. Primarily the process maps are used to create accredited quality management systems but as they are only a provider of information they allow the user to be selective in whether they conform to the process or not. In fact we find that it is the IT systems that drive the organisation rather than the business process. Even if the IT system did meet requirements when it is first used, it soon becomes out of date and employees end up creating workarounds.

However, after so many years of IT systems driving the business, it requires a significant shift in thinking to put the business processes at the heart of our system for managing our businesses. Smith and Fingar give IT departments and IT systems a hard time in their book but we must not ignore the fact that businesses have made significant investments in these systems over the years and they must form part of the solution going forward even if we now think that it is the business process that should be sitting at the top table now.

Barium Live! directly delivers the vision of Smith and Fingar by providing a simple way to produce a process map and turn it into a system application – map to app. The use of standard Business Process Modelling Notation provides the tools required to model the working processes of an organisation building on basic process mapping skills. This can then be immediately turned into an application by the press of a button and upgraded as often as the organisation requires by just changing the original model.

The transformation Barium Live! delivers is similar to the impact that the spreadsheet had on organisations in the latter part of the 20th century. When computers were only used for programs written in BASIC, spreadsheets gave business people the ability to manipulate rows and columns of data and the ability to use schoolbook formula to analyse data without the IT department needed. Now the business people have the tool to design how we want our organisations to work and run through our system applications.

Applications can be produced for all parts of the business where their use can deliver efficiencies and not just the parts where IT systems exist already. Where expensive IT systems do exist, the process model can sit over the top of these to provide a consistent way of running the organisation providing all the work flow features that will complement the data management of the IT systems. Where no IT system exists, Barium Live! has the functionality to produce data input forms and store data.

So this really is a BPM breakthrough and a significant paradigm shift which will help organisations save time and money and deliver value. My next blog will start to explain how we can practically apply this breakthrough BPM within our organisations.

Andy Salmon,