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What Did You Miss at the Bohemian Grove of BPM?


Seriously, this is how the BPMNext show organizers have described the event. And as free-flowing as the information and ideas were at the latest iteration of the show last month, I find it difficult to call any gathering that takes place at a luxury hotel in Santa Barbara particularly Bohemian. The rooms, views and conversations were fantastic, however.

As the product leader at iGrafx, with almost a dozen years at the company, I take opportunities to assess market needs from *outside* the walls of my office extremely seriously. BPMNext is an interesting environment because it assembles thought leaders from a variety of service and software providers, as well as industry analysts, into a sort of think tank for a couple of days a year. Presentations are delivered (with strict rules on slides and timing), debates are fueled and votes are tallied for leaders in a variety of BPM related areas.

This year, the primary themes were around decision management as a service (DaaS), and automation as a service, and there were numerous interesting, albeit, predictable discussions on the topics.  Decision management (DMN) platforms and automation (including the ubiquitous RPA) are the current darlings of events, blog posts, white papers and, possibly most importantly, customer’s purchase lists. Still, it occurred to me that “the industry’s most influential insiders,” might have stepped back occasionally to discuss the bigger picture into which automation and DMN fall. Everyone talked about small, stateless independent applications or process automation, but nothing on starting with *strategic goals* and charting the most effective/efficient execution path. There as also very little to be heard about consequences that automated processes and decisions might have on a customer’s business model, including how to assess the impact the projects might have on risk management and compliance with all manner of regulations. Even further, and perhaps most important, there was very little conversation around how to prioritize automation projects in the context of a business model and then give customers clear guidelines on what projects should take place next.

Jim Sinur, VP and Research Fellow at Aragon Research, delivered a compelling presentation that asked the question: “Where is Process in Digital Businesses?” His short answer is “everywhere,” but that process isn’t as centrally controlled as it once was. With the race towards digital transformation, the focus has shifted to customer journeys. Customer, employee or partner journeys take over company’s’ high-level communication and business improvement efforts, while lower-level processes become commodities and are used much less frequently as a way to see what is going on in the business. BPMN stays important, just at a more in-depth level. You no longer present process maps to upper management – that’s TMI – keep it to what matters – the Journey. Jim made the point that BPM is different nowadays, not dead. Data is the new oil, or “better Intelligence” is the new oil.  People need to get unstructured work done every day, and unstructured and creative work simply can’t always fit in the strict confines of a BPMN map.

Another great takeaway was from Neil Ward, MWD Advisors’ co-founder and Research Director, who explained in no uncertain terms that vendors need to rearchitect their products to shift away from “one-size-fits-all,” to collections of “independent, self sufficient runtime services.” He made the point that there is “no single big thing” anymore, no one way to meet customers needs. Instead customers work on multiple different initiatives with distinct installation plans, all at the same time. And with regard to the kinds of topics customers are working on, he shared a personal anecdote, explaining that he “grew up worrying about disk space, speed, etc., and now it doesn’t matter anymore.” “Today companies need to worry about governance, policy and resource usage.”  Wise words.

Some other wise words that I choose to live by are “your opinion, while interesting, is irrelevant.” (Remember that from your Pragmatic Marketing training?) I spend quite a large percentage of my time conducting win/loss calls, reviewing NPS data and visiting customers all over the world, so an event like BPMNext fits perfectly in my regimen of outside-in thinking. And, in all, the collaborative environment, mix of strong experience, positive atmosphere and stellar accommodations made for an event I’m sure I’ll attend again.

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