BPM for the Ages………Has Anything Really Changed?

Business Process Management (BPM) has been in existence since the early 1990s, for about 30 years or so. Organizations sit at different points in the BPM maturity cycle depending on their size, degree of automation, convergence with “digitalization”, and nature of business (B2B versus B2C). Regardless, it is now very much encrusted in mainstream management thinking. Much has been written and shared on the topic of BPM by experts, academics, consultants and industry veterans.   Coverage has included BPM technology platforms, frameworks, pitfalls, benefits, and evolving approaches.

This brief article is an attempt to reinforce timeless, foundational aspects of BPM that hold true today as much as they did 30 years ago, despite significant changes in context.  Gartner defines BPM as:

“The discipline of managing processes (rather than tasks) as the means for improving business performance outcomes and operational agility; Processes span organizational boundaries, linking together people, information flows, systems and other assets to create and deliver value to customers and constituents.”

Defined this way, BPM has not changed fundamentally.  Processes are considered to be intangible assets of a business (proprietary or not).  Several other dynamics also remain true.  When business is booming and economic conditions look favorable, organizations tend to take their BPM capabilities for granted at a time when employees are likely to be most receptive to change.  However, when the opposite is true and business is slacking or even struggling, the BPM imperative looms large, particularly at a time when employees feel insecure about their jobs and resistance to change is high. The irony persists!  In times of crisis, BPM becomes a tactical instrument for cutting costs rather than a philosophy for generating holistic outcomes that combine cost savings with greater organizational agility, risk management, and customer and employee satisfaction.

Organizational Design – It Matters

As organizations have increasingly evolved towards structures that are:

  • Matrixes with “straight line” and “dotted line” reporting relationships
  • Measured on hard performance metrics that reward specialization and silo-driven focus.
  • Driven by a reductionist approach to problem-solving, where larger challenges are broken down into smaller ones based on the premise that the sum of the smaller solutions will aggregate into a total, systemic solution.
  • Not designed to deal effectively with the “white spaces” where critical cross-silo processes and leadership capabilities are lacking for bringing things together holistically.

The challenges of BPM grow exponentially in such scenarios, as do the opportunities to leverage BPM effectively for achieving strategic business goals and alignment.

Digitalization to the Rescue

There are some specific markers for a successful BPM implementation.  BPM should:

  • Enhance an organization’s agility, and ability to transform and respond to customers.
  • Highlight critical dependencies and linkages across process networks and silos (“white spaces”). This is usually where communications break down and cross-silo linkages are taken for granted and not nurtured.
  • Reflect an organization’s ethos, value system, and culture — by prioritizing employees’ aspirations and skills development needs, and rewarding behavior that is consistent with those values.
  • Enable a data-driven and analytical approach to meeting stakeholder needs and expectations.
  • Leverage company-wide capabilities for effective management and leadership.

This is where digitalization could help enormously. Digital technologies could further help streamline business processes, leverage valuable data through analytics, and provide deeper insights.  For example, a more complete picture of customers, deeper insights into the Sales process and opportunities for retaining existing customers and winning new ones.

Most importantly, digital technologies and capabilities (Intelligent Process Automation, Deep Learning, Analytics, and so on) provide the ability for organizations to spot trends and mine valuable intelligence that resides in arbitrary, unstructured, and unpredictable data.  These are typically data that are not process-related and arise randomly according to specific context and circumstance.  Such data are exponentially richer and more voluminous than process-driven data, since they are triggered by exceptions rather than rules!

The internal and external context in which an organization operates is constantly changing and evolving.  This calls for ongoing monitoring, calibration, and alignment to internal business portfolio goals and objectives, and external market dynamics.  Through the combination of digitalization and a “Command Center” approach, BPM could become an extremely powerful tool that embodies deep learning and management science.  It could be highly configurable, and 1) reflect management thinking, priorities, and accountability at each level of the organization (from the CEO down to remote locations) and therefore 2) ensure alignment with the highest business and portfolio goals.

In Summary                                                             

As BPM capabilities become more powerful, sophisticated, and contextualized, the “white space” becomes crucial.  Any BPM ecosystem that misses the white space is bound to fail, or at least become less effective.  While signals, random data and behavioural feedback will emanate from the confines of process-driven activities, many more such signals (perhaps by several higher orders of magnitude) will appear and disappear quickly from the white space.  These are valuable signals that are ripe for analysis and extraction of rich information.  A BPM ecosystem that is integrated with digital capabilities will ensure the capture and extraction of value from unstructured data and feedback signals also.  This will become more critical as BPM moves into an agile, unstructured, and collaborative era.

About the Author

Mahesh Krishnamurti  is the Managing Director at Resources Global Professionals India Pvt Ltd, a leading US Nasdaq-listed management consultancy. He is a business partner to leaders at Fortune 100/1000 companies, startups, and distressed/turnaround situations in the US, India, and internationally for more than twenty-five years.

In late 2007, Mahesh relocated on an expat basis from New York to Mumbai and got selected by RGP to establish and lead India operations. He is innately international, multicultural, and versatile having lived in Thailand, Switzerland, UK, US, and India. He is also a conversant in French, Thai, Tamil, Telugu, and Hindi to varying degrees.

Mahesh is a collaborative leader who is conceptual and adept at “connecting the dots.” His area of expertise includes business development, planning, decision support, risk management, M&A, finance, and governance and leadership. He has received his B.Sc. (Economics) from London School of Economics and Political Science and MBA (Finance) from NYU, Stern School of Business.