As the business process management (BPM) landscape changes, a number of recurring themes are beginning to emerge. At the top of the list is a renewed focus on people in the process.
It may seem obvious that you have to consider the people who are part of a business process, but there are many SOA-centric IT groups that really don't consider people as first-class process citizens. Rather, they are viewed as being there only to handle specific exception steps when things go wrong in straight-through processing.
The BPM focus is now shifting from being purely about automation and process efficiency to being more about person-to-person interaction and arming the information worker for less structured tasks. This theme emerged both at this week's Forrester Technology Leadership Forum, in Carlsbad, Calif., with its "design for people, build for change" mantra, and at last week's Gartner BPM Summit in Orlando, Fla., where the topic of "people in the process" gained a lot of attention.
The idea of people as the drivers of process improvement may be an admission that much of the automation and services portions of optimization are well-understood, and there are unlikely to be breakthroughs in these areas that haven't already been identified. On the other hand, we're just starting to discover how human-oriented functionality such as collaboration will improve processes.
By providing business users and analysts with new collaboration technologies and the ability to perform some level of process modeling, they'll have more control over the effectiveness of their business processes, and new applications of the tools will emerge. In fact, Gartner predicts that by 2010, more than 50 percent of collaboration and user productivity interactions will be integrated with process technologies such as BPM.
Becoming a process-centric organization requires that business users know their role in the context of the overall business strategy and how their actions impact the end-to-end process and customer touch-points; this, in turn, encourages individual workers to look for ways to improve the overall process. To put individuals in the center of process analysis, Forrester suggested the following:
Make the individual or small team the design point; focus on people in the process, rather than removing them from the process.
Identify people/information-intensive processes.
Focus on the processes that are broken — the ones you ignore because the processes don't fit what typical applications people are trained to improve.
Think about what percentage of the IT budget is dedicated to empowering people vs. automating rote processes.
This renewed focus on the people in the process may be a wake-up call for the SOA vendors and IT departments that have been focused purely on automation and straight-through processing. The message: the next wave of process optimization lies in empowering people.