As we open the chapter on a new decade, let me explain why I think that, over the next ten years, Business Process Management (BPM) is headed for the Board agenda, will touch every corner of the enterprise, and will be the hottest place to work.
It's tempting to think that BPM was just a decade-long party, that the biographers of business in the Noughties won't even see it as significant next to the impact of the web and the virtualisation of the enterprise, as manifested in the huge growth in outsourcing, offshoring and shared services.
And it's true that, for all the millions of dollars spent, BPM has been an ill-defined and vague term, meaning anything from an IT workflow application through to organisational culture. And its meaning has shifted significantly over the years, as thought leaders have learned from experience in the field [and vendors have weighed in with big marketing budgets].
But, despite all that, BPM is increasingly recognised as the key to rescuing process management from silo views and project perspectives. It is coming to be seen as enterprise-wide and business-led, as the engine room that drives transformation, improvement and compliance.
I think this is the end of the beginning for BPM, which is set to become one of the strategic themes of the coming decade. [even if it changes its name along the way].
How We Got Here
Back in the ‘80s, businesses first began to think seriously about process. They often invested in process mapping to underpin Quality Management initiatives. But usually it went nowhere and became very back-office, and a career dead-end - essential for compliance but otherwise just an overhead.
In the '90s the focus shifted to Process Re-Engineering and ERP implementations. We realised that the huge sums spent on process re-engineering programs were mostly wasted because the change didn’t stick. We learned that eye-watering sums spent on software implementations were also often squandered because they focussed on the needs of IT and not the business. And we learned that change management means far more than training.
The Emerging Consensus: A Platform for Sustainable Transformation
At the start of this new decade, the emerging consensus is that the DNA of any business is its end-to-end business processes – and the whole process, not just the automated parts. It's becoming commonplace to accept that any successful change programme – whether it be a Lean programme or Six Sigma or any other transformation initiative – must start with an holistic and integrated view of end-to-end process.
Successful changes stick, and they drive sustained performance improvement. So a 360 degree view of end-to-end process has to be the end point of successful change as well. Once a transformation project is complete, there has to be an effective handover back to the line.
Visionary organisations go one step further. They want to embed continuous improvement into their everyday operations through ‘continuous excellence’ programs. They realise that successful change and continuous improvement depends upon organisational culture.
Reflecting this learning, new executive roles have emerged in ‘Business Excellence’ or ‘Process Excellence’ or ‘Continuous Process Improvement’.
The Other Half of BPM: Compliance and Risk Management
Successful transformation is only one half of the story. The other driver for BPM is compliance and risk management. The last decade has exposed how governance is fundamental – and that starts, for any business, with an understanding of accountability for its end-to-end processes.
Emerging BPM Platforms
So BPM is emerging from the back room and coming on to the Board agenda, driven by, on the one hand, the need for business excellence and continuous improvement, and, on the other hand, the needs of risk management and compliance. And new platforms for engaging the enterprise with process mean that BPM looks likely to become increasingly the reference point, in fact even the language, for any business initiative.
We are seeing the emergence of BPM applications that provide a complete governance framework for delivering the transformation and compliance agendas. These BPM platforms are significantly different from existing methods of designing, publishing and improving processes – in several ways:
- They are owned by the business, and are in the language of the business. They embed ownership of process management and process improvement in the line, where it belongs – not with IT or the Quality team or a Process group.
- They are truly the DNA of the business. They are holistic and integrated models of the organisation, so the impact of any proposed changes are understood and can be properly addressed.
- They deliver for the end user.They combine ‘live’ business processes with real-time KPI metrics, documents and e-Learning. They are personalised and delivered to every desktop across the enterprise in the language of the end user.
- They enable change. They underpin Lean and Six Sigma programmes, and foster a culture of continuous improvement. They provide a common language for collaboration between IT and the business stakeholders.
- They are governance frameworks.They are secure and auditable. They can force acknowledgement of process change, and ensure that every process and document is properly authorised.
In the words of a client presenter at a recent Nimbus conference,a BPM platform of this sort has become essential both ‘to enable successful change, and to bank the ROI’.
Enterprise BPM has the potential to tick every box strategically - underpinning continuous successful business transformation, whether from the grass roots or top-down, and all within a secure goverance framework.
Arguably you shouldn't listen to a baby-boomer because he's going to be put out to grass by 2020 - but take it from me: after a gestation period of just three decades, the coming decade is going to be when BPM finally delivers on its promise.