BPM for a Brighter Future

30th of January 2018

As with the start of any New Year, the de facto gurus of any discipline tend to put out their hopes, dreams and aspirations for their respective field. Reading the first line of the first paragraph of Pedro Robledo’s article over at the Triaster blog: “The BPM industry has continued its growth of two digits during the past year…”, this would render a smile on the face of any process worker. Continuing on with the prediction that this growth will be done over this year, the article urges us to keep this momentum going. It would seem evident that this is largely to the upsurge of digital transformation projects popping up, replacing the traditional BPM initiatives focused on Operational Excellence, dixit Denis Gagne of Trisotech. And I agree with this assessment.

What is happening in the world is however not necessarily projected onto the landscape within the confines of my country of origin: Belgium. Not to get me wrong, there is something to be said about having a barren field upon which to install a BPM garden that can flourish into a booming business, but the effort this takes is never trivial. There are initiatives aplenty around BPM, and companies all have it at least in the back of their head to examine at a later date, but full-blown CMMI level 5 (or even level 3) companies are few and far between. And I am speaking here of those companies that are level 3 in spirit if not in certification. But the interest in the topic is not yet dead and buried, as evidenced by the evening conference of SAI on process automation next month.


When scanning over the different blogs of these illustrious gurus, there is a large basis of consensus, but, as is normal in any group of sufficient size, there are some conflicting voices on where we are going, and what to expect of the developments within the BPM influence sphere. But let’s tackle those issues where I myself have at least devoted some time thinking about them, researching tem and/or experienced them in various projects. And these topics are Adaptive Case Management, RPA/CPA and Decision Management.

When we look at Adaptive Case Management (ACM), the consensus is rather widespread. We can safely say that on numerous fronts ACM and BPM have grown closer to each other to the point where they are becoming virtually indistinguishable from one another, and are just two tools on the same tool belt. As in my opinion they should be. It is clear that in any organization both structured processes (governed by BPM) and unstructured cases (governed by ACM) coexist, and to try and conform one of the two to the standards and restrictions of the other would be a foolish narrowing of the opportunities either of them bring to the design table. We can see this on different levels, from the design tools BPMN and CMMN being considered part of a trifecta (together with DMN), to the tooling moving towards a support of both paradigms, as well as different experts subscribing this merger. As Keith Swenson in his predictions for 2018 calls it. However, for my part, the CMMN syntax is not yet at the level where BPMN is, especially in regards to readability by non-technical people, and will still require some work to play catch up to its big brother. Read more on my views on this in one of my previous posts. For me, the diagram drawn by Jim Sinur still makes a lot of sense, so many years after its publication. And it is up to vendors to cover the entire spectrum shown on it.

(c) Jim Sinur as seen in "Mastering the Unpredictable"

The Robotic Process Automation and Cognitive Process Automation pair have also become somewhat of a dynamic duo. Keith Swenson noted it down as SOAP being dead, and having been replaced by REST. Where in the past, BPM was joined almost naturally by SOA, the emergence of RPA and Micro Services have taken the place of this classic SOA paradigm. Agility given by RPA and stability/reliability offered up by Micro Services have made sure we didn’t suffer any losses in the capabilities camp, and CPA breaches the gap to the increasing availability of Artificial Intelligence. Where Deep Learning has conquered the gaming world with Go and Chess, it has become a prelude to a future where it will take the reins and not let go any more, much like traditional chess AI took the reins from human world champions in the previous century. Even if Keith Swenson doesn’t agree to this at all, calling Deep Learning both the most important and the most disappointing development of 2017. ☺

Decision Management (DM) and in extension DMN have also made significant strides in terms of notation language standardization and tooling support. I especially appreciate the Technology Conformity Kit (TCK) put out there to really get all vendors on the same page, so that DMN can become a proper standard in the previously mentioned trifecta. CMMN could do with a TCK of its own. I feel that the combining of DM with BPM and ACM will produce the same synergies benefitting the BPM/ACM movement, even if James Taylor warns us about lumping DM and BPM together to the detriment of both.

I’ll leave you with a few quirky impressions. First off, Process Mining. It is the discipline that everyone is convinced can produced an enormous added value, and therefore is highly important, but no player in the different industries and sectors seems to be picking up. We all expect great things, but so far the cases have been minimal in quantity. And then there is Jakob Freund of Camunda, stating that the BPM market is shrinking, or rather transforming into what he dubs “Big Workflow”. Here’s hoping this term doesn’t catch on, as I would hate to have to identify myself as a Big Workflow worker instead of a process worker in the near future. It is already hard enough to explain to my parents what it is I exactly do for a living without such terms muddying the waters even further. ☺ Here's to having a splendid 2018.

Thought BPM ACM