There are clearly a lot of parallels between Business Process Management and Knowledge Management. Particularly from my perspective, these ideas are concerned with achieving business success. At the BrainStorm BPM Conference, there were a number of engaging speakers and a number of success stories. I'll mention some topics that seemed to be repeated and strongly connected to my interests.
A number of speakers talked about the value of BPM in the focus on process, no matter the business hierarchy. They talked about processes cutting across the traditional hierarchical organization chart. They also commented on the fragmented nature of business in the hierarchical view, since each function handles work differently. This was a nice connection to last night's KMPro discussion with Jim McGee, where we talked about the idea that knowledge work is much more about getting things done than working in hierarchies.
There was an interesting example of "pseudo-stealth BPM" that showed just how valuable BPM could be, if given the chance. An improvement team couldn't get agreement across several business units on a bill-collection improvement project. So they did a quick implementation in one area and were so successful that the other business leaders decided to simply use what the first area did, rather than rebuild each of their processes. The new process spread to the other units within the space of two months.
One unfortunate area of parallel is the difficulty that BPM and KM advocates have in talking about the business reasons for working with these ideas. At the highest level, BPM is really a change in the way people view their business, and it is frequently difficult to talk about what this means in terms of improved throughput and lower operating expenses. Similarly, in knowledge management, the impact is on the knowledge workers and their processes, which we frequently do not tie to the "bottom line" of the company. I suspect that combining the right viewpoint of BPM and the business could help us tie this all together.
There was a lot of discussion of technology - in fact there is some confusion between the BPM methodologies and the software that supports the methodologies. This is similar to problems we've seen with knowledge management and KM support tools. Everyone knows that technology isn't the endgame, but technology also helps support a lot of what we do these days and cannot simply be ignored.
In that regard, Ken Orr described an interesting matrix of business/technology and planning/operations. Specifically, he said that we usually talk about the flow being business planning to business operations to technology operations. Essentially, the business drives the technology decisions. But there is another important conversation from technology operations to technology planning to business planning that helps the technology organizations inform the business about what is possible today and in the future. This the "Square Wheel" model of Benson and Parker.
Transparency, Sarbanes-Oxley and similar "new" issues were cited as reasons for renewed interest in BPM, particularly from the executive level. The problem is that you can't just "do" BPM and get visibility. Visibility comes about from having good knowledge about how you do things now and how you want them to work in the future. It requires organizational flexibility / agility in response to ever-new changes in the regulatory and business environments.
Tom Davenport wrapped up the conference. I'll post that one separately.