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BPM Workflow

In Conversation – Sandy Kemsley & Emiel Kelly on BPM trends in 2016 & 2017


In the world of BPM, Sandy Kemsley and Emiel Kelly need no introduction. They both are renowned for their own inimitable styles of presenting their extremely valuable opinions on BPM-related topics.

We managed to get both of them chat up a bit about the major BPM trends of 2016 at the end of last year. We thought this may be a good time to share the podcast with you, as we all get back from our holidays.

At the end of the podcast, they have also mentioned the trends that they would like to see as the year 2017 unfolds.

Here we go, presenting to you Sandy Kemsley, in conversation with Emiel Kelly.

Sandy: Emiel, It’s great to meet you virtually, finally and I think there’s a lot that we have, sort of, in common that we have. We talk about things online but also some kind of differences and I see a lot of things in technology that are related to BPM, that are sort of being played out as “Hey! This is brand new stuff in 2016” but they’re not. They’re just things that are being relabelled or may be they are being integrated with BPM for the first time. Things like case management, bimodal IT and some of the internet of things. Are you seeing the same sort of things, some being relabelled and rehashed technologies here?

Emiel: I think I have to agree with you and to me, BPM is what companies do and what I see is that how they do it is that is what changing a lot and maybe hyped of course. But, that is what really struck me this year if we are talking about 2016 is the amount of news or (how you would call it) articles that arised every second on all the platforms such as LinkedIn or whatever that makes you think “Oh! This is new! This is new!! I have to jump on this bandwagon. Oh my God! If I’m not doing this. I will get lost. I will be screwed.” In one minute, all our jobs will be taken by robots. That is what’s about the content was and the pace of the news and everything pushed to us. It’s what really amazed me in 2016. I never had had in the years before may be because I didn’t pay attention to it. But, I think you are right. There are a lot of things.

Sandy: About the robots, for sure, yes! I have never heard so much about robots taking over our lives than ever, before this year.

E: Yeah. I went to a conference in Netherlands and I saw a little Pepper robot, the healthcare robot and it was so cute. So, I wouldn’t say bad things about robots anymore and the person(woman) who was presenting it, she carried him like a baby.

S: You’re not worried about him taking over your job then.

E: I’m not in healthcare. I’m not so worried about much and what happens just happens. But, I can imagine and that’s also my vision.

S: I also see something that really got hyped up. This whole concept of digital transformation & robots. Everytime you turn around and see, there’s an article on digital transformation, but so much of it is just incremental, faster, better, cheaper things. Not really the kind of radical change to be seen that are real examples of digital transformation or do you think this is (kind of) hyped too?

E: What is hype? But these workflow tools and the ADs, that’s also digital transformation to me. However, we turn from moving papers to on a computer. So, the word is a hype combined with the word disruption. I sometimes think “Oh my God! Where are we going? Why are we trying to make one scared?” I always like to apply things with common sense. As being a little bit of an outsider, I’m just normally training some people on BPM. I’m doing a little consultancy and in my role as a blogger, I was just wondering about what is going on? I really think is this really news? Or so I have to agree? And you have examples of Uber and those kind of things. When you look at those things, the processes, when you talk about BPM, they didn’t change so much. The why of the process, The why of the process, why I want to get from A to B don’t change. Only the possibilities of technology & they make it possible, Are the people making the money? Are the the people making the steps?

S: Yeah. there has been a transformation in the business model for sure. I think the customer experience itself as well, as you can look at digital transformation is not just about how companies change internally but the external, how does the customer experience change and what sort of things, how do people interact with these. I saw one example which was cool. An insurance company in New York called Lemonade(lemonade.com). It’s interesting they have this whole new(in this case they’ve used) pretty innovative technology to do things like artificial intelligent chatbots to talk to you about a claim or about getting new insurance. It is kind of a niche market but is a good example of what can happen in the future if we let this stuff happen but there are so many organisations that are still against robots and digital transformation. They don’t want to have automation happen in certain ways. There is still a lot of resistance to automation. That is one of the biggest issues I see as we put BPM and try to expand it further and further.

E: What do you mean by spread it further and further?

S: Well! Into more organizations and into more and more parts of the organisation. A lot of cases we are seeing just in line of business applications trying to look at other ways of BPM and maybe some process automation to do other tasks in, within companies and not just the mainline processes. It’s the long tail of applications.

E: That’s why I like being in BPM. It has all aspects of an organisation are coming together. What is our business model? How do we make money? How do we treat our customers? What kind of people do we need to do work? How do we get the right data? What do we do with data on different levels? That’s why I like to be in BPM. It addresses all kinds of aspects of organisations and how people work together. That’s why I would like to think broader instead of only automation and that’s for example that always attracts me on the BPM forum, they jump so fast to “We have to automate everything” which I of course agree for stupid processes. But, always remember that a process should solve a problem. That’s why I like to jump into things and always with a touch of irony of course.

S: I completely agree. There are so many other things & technologies that (kind of) touch on this such as how the Internet of Things interacts with our business processes as we start to have all these aware devices, smart energy & smart cities, connected homes and self-driving cars but a lot of it is about how can you have sensors that keep gathering this data and then get injected into business processes in some way to help people make decisions better or maybe to further sum up that automation.

E: I agree because BPM in my opinion starts with knowing what is going on with what you’re working, and then with sensors or IoT might really help but what we really have to take care again (is that) we don’t solve the wrong problems. In Holland, we see a lot of energy companies that give you those smart thermostats and yeah, what’s the use of such a thing if the isolation of your home is crap.

S: Yes. I agree. It’s like you can measure it but there’s still the underlying problem.

E: Yeah. It’s like a speedometer without a paddler or a brake. That’s saying measuring is knowing but if you don’t act upon it, it’s quite useless. That’s what BPM is also about. Knowing what’s going on is already a start and a lot of companies that did are getting better and better. They didn’t do process monitoring or case monitoring or whatever we’d like to call it but, we should also think about (Ok) if I see something, what should I do with it. Then BPM gets better.

S: Yeah. That’s true. The tying of analytics with processes in general. Even things like content analytics, injecting information into processes and IoT, information & data that’s coming from there. It’s like looking how do we get more and more information from our environment, whether that environment is physical devices or paper documents or could be digital documents online or things coming out of twitter or whatever just trying to gather all of that and make sense of it in order to do anything. That’s a challenge.

E: The challenge is to understand on what level that information is. Whether that information is for one case or for all the cases or is it about a process design. That’s why I always make a segregation between information of different levels in process management. I think there’s no problem today to gather all that information but to make any sense of it, As I have told you, I have ID when I look at my twitter feed I go completely crazy about all the new stuff and what to make any sense of it. Of course, ultimately, I would like to understand it as a human being. Making sense of things is something that struck me in 2016.

S: Just to pivot a little bit, I was interested in how all of the BPM tools & vendors are playing into this bimodal IT business as well. It’s funny that finally Gartner says that bimodal IT is a thing but it’s been a thing as long as I’ve been in IT. Definitely, we have had two different modes of the thing around core development and the things that happen around the edges to call end user computing or people who wrote fancy Excel macros or whatever. And now we’re really seeing some of the low-code solutions being positioned in here. It’s like “Oh well! Few of these bimodal IT, there are two things that have to be developed quickly. Let’s put the low-code BPMS in there to help you address those things. Do you think it’s a new thing or we are seeing more of the same?

E: I think it’s new but what I also saw is some kind of movement, I don’t know how to call it. Maybe I should call it an entire big vendor movement. You see all those little BPM vendors or workflow vendors where you only have to register and make something into cloud and you can play around. I am not sure if that is real BPM of course, but that’s indeed a movement you and personally, I like low-code, the illusion that it will solve everything because in big organizations, I see a lot of things that should be connected together. But, personally I am a fan of small businesses. I like small businesses because they are really good in BPM because they understand the customer and they try to solve their problems. Those applications of new cloudy things, I think, could help them become more mature and what we call BPM instead of the Excels or whatever they use or maybe even paper.

S: I think we see a lot of innovation coming out of these vendors too. It’s like taking it out and try some things without some big launch you would have from a larger company.

E: Yes. Shall we call it agile? I don’t like the word. (laughs)

S: (laughs) Well! Europe saw activity in the open source market, no pun intended, activity – Open Source Project actually got formed again. It did of course 3-4 years ago but people who see the need to try out different ways even in this broad open source market to try out different ways of targeting their BPM products. We see a lot of activity in these small vendors and I think a lot of cool stuff is coming from them.

E: Talking about tools, what I also did see was, I am originally from Pallas Athena and the company that made the first commercial process mining tool. I saw a lot of process mining tools coming up this year, commercial process mining tools. When we first developed on a University, maybe 15-16 years ago, I was very skeptical about it. These days it’s much more applicable. We got more data. That’s also a thing I saw.

S: Yeah. I hadn’t thought about that but you’re right. I have seen a couple of new process mining tools pop up and we need to see that sort of more integrated into some of the process management tools too but mining you can use for other things, you can apply it to your SAP system or other legacy systems that you may have internally to try & figure out what you’re doing but it goes back to the whole area of analytics “How are we analysing what we are doing and what the rest of the world is doing to make better decisions.”

E: That was always my point against it. I had some funny dashboards with a rolling board. All nice but how do we act upon it? How can we translate into understanding what caused it? It’s still only showing you symptoms and not causes of bad process performance. I see most process mining tools process vendors, they bring it more like a tool for continuous improvement. I didn’t check if it’s really true but I always like it to be a part of larger BPM system because then it could make sense. You could mine, you have the processes that are running and the BPMS, with some little predictive analytics. You could try to improve it as a separate analysing tool, I always had my doubts about it. But, of course these tools are getting better & better.

S: Yeah. Integrating them like you’re saying prediction or simulation happening to be able to let you say “Let’s try some of the whatif scenarios – what if this happened or that changed or something how with that change my processes are doing. So again it’s like bringing these analytics closer and closer. I think that data & analytics will be becoming so important to process now.

E: I think real process management happens LIVE. So, like the good old plan check every year, that is from the 80s. Every executed case is a chance to improve your process. So, it may be an illusion or a dream or too idealistic. But, I think those new tools can help to get to that point where every executed process is the trigger for a better process. It’s data for doing your audit every half a year, which you still see of course, in some companies. Talking about process mining, I see a lot of companies also promoting it as a tool to help you to understand the customer journey and it’s also a thing that has this year been more hep than years before – customer journey. I don’t know where that came from. Did you see that too?

S: Yeah. The customer journey thing – is beginning to get a little bit of it doesn’t mean anymore. Everyone is into digital transformation but we do need to look at it. I see customer journey as ‘What’s your customer’s process?’. We need to start thinking about what are our processes internally in our organisations, start thinking about what’s the customer process. That’s really the customer journey as I’d like ‘What do they go through to achieve whatever their goal is’.

E: Absolutely. I think you should see it as one thing and all the effort the customer has to do to make us do our work, let’s call it internal process. I think if don’t look at it as a whole & still doing good-old step-optimising. Let’s talk about or let’s model or improve whatever the customer journey without looking at the rest of the process. That’s what else stroke me this year.

When we are talking about the future, the customer will be the process manager of the future. With technology, everything has become much more transparent.

S: Imagine if the customer could create their own processes instead of the organisations creating the process and then aiming to include customers in them. What if the customer could draw their own process and creating them and happen it in the way they wanted it to happen. That would be the ultimate customer journey.

E: Yeah. Absolutely. Then, you just don’t do it, but design it and then you need or task to be done, you can ask anyone, maybe your neighbour or maybe a company to do it, so then as a customer you would have become the case manager or the process manager. Maybe that’s the future combined with all the other technologies like the 3D printers & virtual reality. Virtual reality – what do you think of that? Is it something useful in BPM.

S: I have to confess like one of those Google cardboard things for Virtual reality, augmented reality. I am not seeing a lot of applications but then I work more in financial services and I’m not sure there are a lot of applications there. I did see some interesting things in terms of people who are maintaining equipment in their customer site and they can get things like the information that they need projected on top of the whatever they need to see to be able to fix a pump or some machinery or somethings. I am seeing a few little applications like that.

I do think we need to wrap up though. We are getting at the end of our time here. We have a time limit here and then look at what sort of things we are hoping will happen in 2017 wishing vendors were doing. I really want to see more of the analytics tied tightly together with process. I think we are still seeing as quite separate things and we need to bring those put together in order to have more intelligent processes. It’s like data & analytics is what’s going to drive processes but also recommendations for knowledge workers working in processes allowing them to see more things in context and so on. I think that the data & process coming together – if you want to call them in Zachman terms, column 1 & column 2 coming together. That’s going to let us go on to the next stage of process and information management.

E: I completely agree. That would be my ultimate BPM too because that is what it is about – Knowing what’s going on & taking action based upon that depending on the type of process of course and that’s the thing that kind of gets lost in all the technology discussions. I’m sorry I’m talking about the past and you have to understand there are different types of processes in the world in companies and some may be straight through where you’ll have to deliver 10000(of the same) things every minute, and where the cases are customer-specific, knowing what’s going on is always very important. That’s one of my dreams. Talking about virtual reality, originally, I am trainer and I like to teach people it could be used to train people on processes – Not on how to do it. I have seen companies where they say “Oh! So, you’re new here? Take a look at the process manual.” I don’t like that because training should be hands-on & do-it-yourself. (More interactive, adds Sandy). Interactive & learning things and augmented reality could help that – to really learn in the process instead of on top of or separately.

Lately, I have more and more interest in the human aspect of the processes. How people will think, what is their behaviour. Has that anything to do with technology – we should never forget that. That’s my personal hope.

S: Well! Yeah. That’s a good point & a great place to end our conversation. I really enjoyed talking to you Emiel.

E: Yeah! Same for me.

 About Sandy Kemsley:


Sandy is an industry analyst and system architect, with Business Process Management (BPM), Enterprise Architecture (EA), Social enterprise and Business Intelligence (BI) being her niche areas.

Having an exemplary experience of 25 years in software design and system architecture combined with technological maturity and thorough understanding of how technology can resonate with business operations, she has founded and run three companies-a systems integration services company, a software product company, and a current consulting company.

Sandy also owns a blog called Column2, where she blogs about Business Process Management, Enterprise Architecture and intersections of business and technology.

Emiel Kelly:


Emiel is a BPM consultant and enthusiast, with 18 years of experience in Business Process Management and the BPM software implementation. He holds a Master’s degree in Business and Economics, from the University of Groningen.

Emiel started his career as a Training developer and currently works as a BPM consultant, where he helps organizations gain the most out of Business Process Management. He also owns a website called Procesje.nl, that serves as a touchpoint. Besides, he has also exuded some revolutionary thoughts about applying BPM in business, thereby proving to be an industry influencer.

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