Harmon on BPM: What Comes Next?

BPTrends began life in January of 2003, so this is, in a sense our 15th anniversary. The initial impulse to create BPTrends arose because I had just finished a book: Business Process Change, and wanted a site to follow-up by providing additional information and a place where others could contribute their perspectives as to what was happening in the business process change marketplace.

No sooner did BPTrends get underway than an independent concern began to animate the business process space – Business Process Management (BPM). This concern was driven by a number of software tool vendors who launched software products designed to help businesses automate and manage business processes. In essence these were workflow tools, but workflow tools with vastly different capabilities, since they were based on internet and web protocols that extended their power. BPTrends quickly became a focus of those who wanted to learn more about BPM Software products and debate the appropriate uses of these new tools. At the same time, the whole process market became more interesting as the BPMS vendors funded a variety of conferences to promote their new approach to analyzing and developing new business process applications.

BPTrends tried to maintain a neutral place in the process market. We covered the emergence and use of BPMS products and, at the same time, we tried to emphasize that companies would still need to use and integrate older technologies to balance the emphasis on software development. Human performance improvement and management were still important aspects of process improvement. Similarly process architectures and process maturity, and new industry specific frameworks like SCOR and eTOM were still important and have their place in corporate improvement efforts.

At the end of the day, the process market has always been driven by new techniques and methodologies. In the Eighties there was Six Sigma. In the Nineties there was Business Process Reengineering and later ERP software. In the Zeros, there was BPM and Lean. Like the proverbial situation with the elephant and the blindfolded wisemen, each perceived a part of the animal, and none really understood the elephant.

As 2017 dawns, we are between enthusiasms. BPMS has had its run. I could easily argue that BPMS is still very important, just as I could argue that that Six Sigma, Lean and Business Process Reengineering still have things to teach us. The bottom line, however, is that people become bored with any term that hangs around too long. People begin to think: “We already did that. We tried it… we need something new to excite our people.” The process market is in a lull, waiting for the next big thing to re-excite those who support process improvement.

It’s unclear what will be the next big thing. Some people are excited by the words “Transformation,” or perhaps “Digital Transformation,” or even “Cognitive Transformation.” Others are excited by “Case Management” or “iBPM.”

Whatever excites the process market next, it will undoubtedly be driven by software tools, and by software vendors with money to spend to promote their visions. Whatever one may think of the phrase “digital transformation,” the broad road to the future involves more automation. In the long run, process improvement always involves increasing the productivity of workers and organizations. Our goals are to produce products and services that are better and cheaper and to produce them faster. For awhile we may ship production to low wage countries, but only for awhile. Low wage workers gradually gain wage increases, improve their lives and become consumers. In the long run, it’s the use of fewer employees and more machines, computers, and software that will facilitate more productive processes. One way or another that trend will continue.

I suspect that it will be cognitive technologies, and software apps to add intelligence to domain specific products and industries that will kick off the next round of excitement in the world of process improvement, but I could be wrong. Whatever it is, it will be emerging in the next couple of years.

In the meantime, those of us who believe in the process perspective must work to keep the basic concepts and technologies in place. The new will necessarily build on the existing process infrastructure and organizations that have their infrastructure in place will be best positioned to take up the new and gain benefits from it.

Paul Harmon

Paul Harmon

Executive Editor and Founder, Business Process Trends In addition to his role as Executive Editor and Founder of Business Process Trends, Paul Harmon is Chief Consultant and Founder of BPTrends Associates, a professional services company providing educational and consulting services to managers interested in understanding and implementing business process change. Paul is a noted consultant, author and analyst concerned with applying new technologies to real-world business problems. He is the author of Business Process Change: A Manager's Guide to Improving, Redesigning, and Automating Processes (2003). He has previously co-authored Developing E-business Systems and Architectures (2001), Understanding UML (1998), and Intelligent Software Systems Development (1993). Mr. Harmon has served as a senior consultant and head of Cutter Consortium's Distributed Architecture practice. Between 1985 and 2000 Mr. Harmon wrote Cutter newsletters, including Expert Systems Strategies, CASE Strategies, and Component Development Strategies. Paul has worked on major process redesign projects with Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Security Pacific, Prudential, and Citibank, among others. He is a member of ISPI and a Certified Performance Technologist. Paul is a widely respected keynote speaker and has developed and delivered workshops and seminars on a wide variety of topics to conferences and major corporations through out the world. Paul lives in Las Vegas. Paul can be reached at pharmon@bptrends.info


  1. Hello, Happy New Year.
    About Digital New Era…
    Transport, Energy, Globalization, are the 3 components which had developped Economy in the past, from 90’s computer change approach, but cognitive means touch human condition : work and daylife and direct mental conditions, it’s not one only more mean, it’s a deep revolution which encounter impacts : unemployment, new core processes and jobs, new current life habits.
    This is more slow and more refunding. T/E/G are less stressness than D change.

  2. Stacey Wright says

    I have a slightly different opinion. Process is not necessarily in order to generate better products more quickly – that’s a nice side-effect. Instead, our focus needs to be human-centric: we solve problems and make people’s lives better. We get rid of the worst parts of people’s jobs.

    In the end, while an analytical approach could lead us toward a world of automation, people need employment in order to buy the products so efficiently made. Workers often have the impression that we’re essentially replacing their jobs little by little, and it disrupts adoption unless addressed.

    Even if you embrace the concept of job automation through process, and look at it as “we’re removing the rote, boring jobs in order to allow people to open up new territories of understanding, to step on higher shoulders while reaching for the stars” – that only works for the elite who are able to climb up those shoulders.

    In other words, it is essential for our industry be worker-centric/people-centric now and moving forward – no matter what terminology we use for it. Quality of life is essential, similar to what Claude was saying.

    • Stacey, I appreciate your concern that automation will leave unemployed, but I don’t think trying to reign in automation is the solution. Automation is necessary to improve productivity, and productivity is necessary to assure more goods and services are available at cheaper prices, so more can have the resulting products and services. Rising productivity raises the standard of living for everyone. As for automation, we have to hope either (1) that new industries arise providing new jobs making new products and services, or (2) we move toward a system where there is a minimum wage for everyone. Clearly we will need to continue to have consumers: the only question is how we fund them. Ultimately, however, that is a political/social problem, while increasing the efficiency of processes is a narrower process improvement concern.

  3. Alex Priya says

    My prediction is that the combination of data and process is going to be the BPM trend in 2017, that’s ultimately analytics in BPM. I came across an insightful post, that elicits the crux of an intense discussion between two industry analysts in BPM. https://kissflow.com/bpm/bpm-trends-2016-2017-sandy-kemsley-emiel-kelly/

  4. Alex, You could well be right. Analytics is one way of making processes smarter, capturing trends and feeding information back to adjust process activities. Analytics and data are already well understoood and widely adopted and that may be enough for 2017. I rather think there will be more, and emphasis on cognitive extensions to analytics and more cognitive applications, but we will see. For more on this, see Tom Davenport’s HBR article: hbr.org/2016/10/7-ways-to-introduce-ai-into-your-organizatioin

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