The beginning of each year is a time for reflecting on the year just past as well as being a time to cast our thoughts forward to what may transpire in the year ahead. It is a time of renewal as well as a time to set new commitments and goals. The New Year gives us a “fresh slate”, willing to forgive any shortcomings we may believe we have and replace them with a renewed sense of purpose.
The New Year, or at least the beginning of the year, is also a common time for us to make decisions that will guide much of what we do in the coming months. It seems that the beginning of the year encourages us to think strategically, to consider where we are going, what goals we desire to achieve, and how it all fits together into the “big picture”.
With that thought in mind, my BPM analysis/prediction for 2006 is focused on the one thing I think most important to strategic thinking and goal setting. For 2006, I present what I believe is an underpinning essential truth of Business Process Management that will impact every one of us for decades to come. I believe that BPM is a potential, and probable, paradigm shift in the way that we do business, the way we think about our businesses and business activities, and even the way we do our jobs.
The 2006 BPM Story – A Paradigm Shift Exposed
For 2006 there is no top ten list. Instead, it is more important to talk about the paradigm shift underneath the whole BPM thing. To me, this is THE story of this decade.
Now before we go too far, let me note that I have indeed used the term “paradigm shift”, which has become an almost obscenely overused term over the last decade. Paradigm shift refers to a changing of thought from one fundamental to another. To be a paradigm shift, the change must be fundamentally different and it must be pervasive to the extent that it becomes the new “norm”.
Business Process Management is a paradigm shift in the making. It can be a paradigm shift because it represents a fundamentally different way of looking at, organizing, operating, monitoring and managing an organization.
But that is only the tip of the iceberg and it is not the primary driver behind the potential paradigm shift underway. Driving the change are several elements of BPM that have only begun to surface in our thinking though they are dancing about in many people’s minds at an almost subconscious level. For many people who have taken strides along the BPM road there is an unformed sense that they are doing something different, right, and profound.
The BPM Paradigm Shift
Here I will cover the essential elements of why BPM is a paradigm shift in the making but before I do, let’s cover one other essential aspect of a paradigm shift.
All people are resistant to change at one level or another. Change is uncomfortable when it interjects uncertainty into our emotional state and the degree of change that triggers this response for each individual is a barrier to action. We only cross these barriers when need or desire drives us to do so, otherwise we stalwartly stay within the comfort of our existing certainty.
This means that for a paradigm shift to occur the force behind it must hold sufficient importance to create the need and/or desire to cross the change barriers of the majority of people affected by it. BPM creates that force for these reasons:
1) Business process management is a more accurate and natural way to effectively operate any business or organization. Process orientation is much more of a direct reflection of what IS—as compared to an artificial management structure imposed over the natural processes that exist in the actions of the organization and its people.
2) Business process management shifts us back to the power of people, which the last paradigm shift (technology) shifted us away from. This is a very big deal. Prior to the vast strides in technology over the last 40 years, people were the critical resource that created business/organization differentiation. From semi-skilled labor to executive management, prior to the last paradigm shift people were the most important edge an organization could have. I can even remember when companies engaged in direct recruitment of competitors’ employees all the way down to the craftsman and semi-skilled levels.
In the last 40 years we have seen the importance of people in the organization diminish very significantly. Of course people are still important but people do not represent the essential competitive force they once did and do not create the same level of value they did in the days before the technology surge.
Now people are coming back into the picture—but in a different way. Not so heavily weighted towards the given skill-level of people, BPM is causing a shift towards the application of human intelligence within the highly agile and capable advanced technological systems of today to leverage these systems and organizational capabilities in far more optimal models directly aligned with organizational goals.
This, more than anything else, is driving the emerging paradigm shift. Technology cannot replace human intelligence—not even close. But our current technology advancements offer a powerful opportunity to “super-utilize” our human capital.
3) Closely linked to the preceding element is the emerging structure of BPM that enables ownership, responsibility and appropriate task separation of work within the organization. Organizations have grown in size, technological complexity, geographical footprint and business scope. Traditional business operation and management methods/structures inherently create bottlenecks and limitations on people. When size, complexity and geography increase, bottlenecks and limitations also increase. BPM is beginning to breakdown these bottlenecks and has begun removing the limitations.
4) There is also the core behavioral change of working smarter with exceptionally clear goals and quick action. BPM is engendering a lean and mean form of business activity, one with razor sharp focus and short cycle time that results in direct, positive impact on the organization’s bottom line. Businesses across the globe are employing BPM with results that often produce substantial competitive advantage.
5) Finally, the essential ingredient for a paradigm shift is that it represents something of sufficient importance that it forces people to cross their change barriers. The competitive advantages being produced with BPM—many where we have only scratched the surface of BPM potential—are creating competitive pressures. Competitive pressure will not be denied. It is the undeniable force capable of pushing companies and people into action. The ability to compete is only a short step away from corporate survival and there is no more powerful motivator that survival.
I believe it is clear that BPM represents sufficient force to cross change barriers on a broad enough scale to meet this requirement of a paradigm shift.
A Few More Words About BPM…
Further, it is clear that organizations are “getting it” in escalating numbers and that is where the transition of “paradigm shift potential” to “paradigm shift” occurs. There are many, many “potential paradigm shifts” and very few real ones. Remember, a paradigm shift is a fundamental shift from one idea/concept/system to another that becomes pervasive—the new norm. The shift can only occur by following the bell curve that moves from few initial adopters to the beginning upswing of broader adoption that eventually gains sufficient inertia to reach mass adoption.
We are in the upswing now and I believe 2006 will show us validation of the fact that BPM is likely to become a true paradigm shift. I doubt that in 2006 we will reach the mass adoption point that signifies the shift is “truly here” but looking into my crystal ball, I think it highly likely we are only a few years away from entering this mass adoption phase of BPM.
But I also think 2006 will be a very good year for BPM, and that BPM vendors will show continued double-digit growth. Because the paradigm shift potential of BPM affects virtually every business the upswing is a lucrative and substantial market and when we cross the shift threshold that segment of the growth curve will cover years of time as it propagates itself.
Only time will tell if I have “hit the nail on the head”. Certainly there is no means to “prove” or “disprove” this analysis until after the fact. BPM is already a big market and a big deal. Will it become a foundational element of how we do business in the future? I answer with a resounding “YES” but we will only know for sure when we get there.
Wishing all your BPM endeavors in 2006 meet with success,