Apparently, I ticked off Bruce Silver.  In case you haven’t heard of the fellow, as I had not, Bruce is a consultant who makes his living providing training on BPM tools and his advice on BPM products.  At least, that’s the impression I got from reading an interview with him on the webzine ebizq.net.  What made this particular industry insider upset?  Well, I was willing to point out that the BPM emperor was wearing a thong 😉 and that is bad for business. 

[note to readers: I made a few updates to this blog entry about 12 hours after it was first published.  The text added is enclosed in braces.]

Sorry, Bruce.  I do wish you the best of luck in your business, but I don’t agree with you. 

Automated BPM is a useful and, at times, valuable tool.  To be clear, by “automated BPM,” I’m referring to any modeling environment where a [business] user can create a visual model that represents a process (assumably a business process), where that [business] user can, from that environment, “implement” that process in such a way that it will execute.  I include a wide swath of tools in this description.

So let me repeat: Automated BPM can be valuable.  There are times when it clearly makes sense.  For those times, and for those companies, I’m sure that you will provide excellent services, and I wish you the best of luck.

However, the problem with BPM is this: [with the exception of the most trivial of workflow applications], the number of situations where that value rises above the cost and complexity of using BPM are comparatively small, compared to the other situations faced by most IT departments.  As a result, any IT department that wishes to delay an investment in [automated] BPM, because they need to first invest in data security, or network reliability, or application integration, or improved business efficiency, or better user experience, is well advised to do so, because most of those things will provide more value, in both the short and long term, than automated BPM.

riceWhy do I say this?  Because the conditions needed for automated BPM to provide significant long-term flexibility are difficult to produce.  It’s like growing rice in a desert.  You can do it, if you try.  You can set up some land, truck in sufficient topsoil, pipe in huge amounts of water, plant trees to protect your fields from sandstorms, and bring in labor that understands the growing of rice to tend to the crops.  You can do all that, and maybe you can sell some rice.   Not many do it. 

The conditions in most IT shops are comparable to the desert.  Information, even in the age of SOA and WOA, is still mostly hidden in silo apps, and functionality is still tied in to tightly coupled business systems where a ‘call from the outside’ will most often invoke complex ‘downstream effects,’ whether you want them or not.  Creating an environment where BPM is a good thing, where true flexibility is achieved, requires creating the fertile soil, and plentiful water, and ample shade, and skilled workers.  That is a worthwhile investment, for the companies with the wherewithal to make it, but not for everyone. 

Any company or consultant that fails to point this out is making an error of omission.  Show me a vendor [of this kind of tool] that is NOT making that error. 

So, Bruce, I’m sorry to be the person who points out that your market is valuable, but not earth-changing.   Don’t fret: The world still needs rice.