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BPM projects must come from top down, says Oracle Collaborate speaker

While trends such as mobility have changed BPM from the bottom up, BPM projects should come from the top down, said an Oracle Collaborate speaker.

LAS VEGAS -- BPM projects should involve users and customers but should still come from the top down, said Frank Schoenthaler. 

In a session at the Oracle Collaborate conference in Las Vegas this week, speaker Schoenthaler emphasized that business process management (BPM) is really about business owners, not programmers.

The business side needs to spend time to understand and map out its workflows, then capture the sequence of steps in an application. But while workflows need software, the emphasis, he said, should be on the process and outcomes, not on the technologies that will capture that process. Schoenthaler is the CEO of Promatis Group in Ettlingen, Germany, a consultancy that has developed tools and processes for what it calls "social BPM." 

BPM helps make work processes more efficient, standardized, automated and transparent to users and to management. But BPM hinges on mirroring workflows in an application, automating and sequencing steps of a process, and introducing those steps into software so users know when to take an action and what to do with files or other items when their turn in the sequence arrives, as well as where to send the result of their efforts next.

"You make the knowledge of users or specific aspects of their processes explicit in your workflow model," Schoenthaler said.

But programming workflows into an application "does not guarantee you [will] achieve business process excellence," he said. Excellence derives from certain approaches to BPM that reinforce company culture, encourage standardization, and satisfy compliance needs, he said.

Top-down BPM

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BPM is a maturing discipline in areas like enterprise resource planning, customer relationship management, and information management. And external trends are influencing BPM as well. Schoenthaler said that trends like mobility and customer experience are fueling process efficiency. "If you looked at how BPM has changed, you will see that customer experience drives BPM," he said.

Still, he emphasized, even though many of these influences are "democratizing," in that they bring users' needs into the process and need to be accounted for, BPM should be top-down, not bottom-up. Top-down strategies are the key to making processes sustainable, consistent with corporate culture, and standardized throughout a company, as well as compliant with regulatory requirements.

In most cases, he said, bottom-up approaches to BPM come without optimization of processes. Top-down is more holistic, he said, where executive management is the driver for BPM. "It sounds very easy, but it's very difficult in practice," he said. And when companies do the job right with a top-down approach, you end up with a platform that can be used for ongoing business process improvement, he said.

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Hard to disagree with "BPM should be top-down, not bottom-up. Top-down strategies are the key to making processes sustainable, consistent with corporate culture, and standardized throughout a company, as well as compliant with regulatory requirements."

Enterprise wide initiatives that try to gain traction starting from the bottom rarely work out. It's debatable whether top management will emerge and say "we need BPM". A more likely scenario is someone in a functional unit will recognize the need, prepare and ROI and then, if top management is on the ball, they will widen and sanction the initiative.

BPM, once put in -line, is pretty much self-sustainable. It all depends on the run time resource allocation, leveling and balancing environment which ends up doing most of the heavy lifting.

BPM in the background provides orchestration, ACM in the background provides governance.
The real problem with traditional BPM is that it is really "people centric", there a people loading the data, routing the data, approving the data, and preparing a response. I worked for a traditional BPM company for several years and realized that the real power of BPM is automating as much of the "workflow" as you possibly can. If the person has guidelines for the approval process, why not automate those in a decision database and then let the computer make the same decision as a human does? You get 100 compliance. Oh, and probably the best feature? The workflows run 10000x faster than the ones where they get stopped 11 times for human routing and approvals! Things get done in seconds, instead of weeks!
kwkeirstead, thanks for your thoughtful comments. I do find it curious that BPM, which is being influenced by so many "democratic" trends, including mobility and BYOD, as well as customer feedback on processes, is considered successful only in its top-down implementation.
I saw a paradox here, in that BPM is coming to the forefront because business processes are becoming more externally facing. BPM seems subject to democratizing influences, though it is still doomed to failure without a more hierarchical, top-down implementation?
At the same time, I appreciate your insight that, once put in place, BPM can be self-sustaining. Could that be where the more democratic elements come in?
For managers to monitor and control business processes once they move into 'business-as-usual' operational mode. Unfortunately many managers are lacking these critical skills and BPM training mostly focusses on BPM analysts and architects for process implementation and improvement with little focus on management practices, measurement and control for sustaining