Monday, February 8, 2010

Business Processes: Communication vs. Automation

Business process technology capabilities (BPM, BPA) are overwhelmingly weighted toward automating the processes that they've attempted to capture. There's nothing wrong with this, and in fact, the 'language' of process provides modelers with a common platform for defining process flow, impacts and related systems -- regardless of the proprietary technology in use. You get the value of streamlining the exchange and delivery of data, errors are reduced, quality improves and transactions are speeded along their way. However, automation is just the tip of the iceberg.

The overwhelming majority of business processes performed in the workplace cannot be automated. Most processes being performed are a series of human interactions, with a high degree of subjectivity, and with technology and systems used to assist in the completion of a granular task, but not to perform the process in its entirety. Yet, if these 'human-centric' processes as Forrester likes to refer to them could become more repeatable, predictable and defined, the business would benefit. This is where BPM and its cousins fall on their collective faces. These technologies are utterly incapable of communicating "how-to" perform any of the things that they were designed to capture. They were designed to automate, not to communicate, and therefore they have no ability to easily translate a process for consumption by a large audience.

Most human centric processes are communicated through training/learning, experience and word-of-mouth. Technologies helping along the way (to communicate) include learning management systems, collaboration tools, content management and search. The challenge with these technologies (in general) are their fundamental lack of structure e.g. a content management system can be organized in a variety of hierarchical structures but once created, they are quite brittle to change; a learning management system is simply a delivery mechanism only as good as the curriculum and classes that are developed for delivery; search brings back too many results.

Contextware set out early on to solve the problem of communicating processes more effectively. And core to our belief is using process as a means to capturing and then also organizing the information that needs to be communicated i.e. the business process IS the context. The next few blog posts will highlight some interesting examples of how our core belief can be applied.

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