Tuesday, April 26, 2016

BPM Next Conference

If you haven't heard of BPM Next, its not surprising because its relatively new.  Starting just four years ago, the entire purpose of the conference was to stop thinking about what is currently happening in the Business Process Management space and start modeling the future of how companies will use BPM solutions.  BPM companies and leaders from across the globe help provide this framework and has proven to be nothing but impressive.  Companies such as SAP, Oracle, Redhat, Saleforce, and many other industry leaders not only gave killer presentations but invaluable insights into where this industry is going.  BPM Next isn’t your typical conference of 3000 people with everyone trying to sell something.  Its small and intimate.  There couldn’t have been more than 80 people the entire conference.  All of the presenters weren’t there as some sort of sales pitch, the overall feeling I got from each was that they were genuinely excited to show everyone their own unique perspective of what makes a killer BPM solution.  The overall passion I saw from everyone at this conference was extremely contagious and gives me great hope for the industry as a whole.

So what is BPM?

Before I get ahead of myself, you might not even know what BPM is.  Business Process Management defines a type of application that manages and assists business process.  The scope of BPM is huge.  There are many different types of BPM solutions that solve very specific process needs. As a SharePoint consultant, we most commonly build BPM solutions to both visualize a once manual email process, and to give users a dedicated space to manage a process.  While SharePoint doesn’t carry the features of your typical BPM suite it still has its little space in the large market.   Lets get to the juicy details of the conference.


After a four hour flight and two and a half hour drive along the scenic pacific, I arrived in the beautiful Santa Barbra. First off, the location doesn’t compare to any other conference I’ve been to.  The accommodations (The Canary Hotel), were also second to none.  The little things in the hotel really stuck out like the door men, real hand towels in the public restrooms, the rooftop meals by the pool overlooking the awesome landscape, and the overall wonderful staff at the hotel. 

Key Points From Day 1

Hosted by Nathanial Palmer and Bruce Silver, they helped kick off the conference.  Nathanial provided some very important insights on the direction of the industry.  As a whole we are moving toward what he calls the three R’s: Robotics, Rules, and Relationships.  Automation and data is paving the way to the future.  BPM is built on the back of automation and rules to drive business process.  Robotics is starting to become integrated into these systems (he used automated lettuce picking in farming as a example).  The key theme he presented is that BPM needs to be adaptive, intelligent, and extremely agile to be able to conform to the future.  Bruce Silver has been in the industry a long time and he vehemently implored to everyone throughout the conference that BPM needs to be easier from both the modeling aspect and the end user experience.  This is really easy to understand for me because BPM has traditionally been a very technical field.  The easier the experience is, the more adoption it will see across the industries.

No Code It

Day 1 was filled with tons of great thought leadership.  The general consensus at the conference was that low code BPM solutions are the way of the future (a couple developers might fight me for the statement though).  For us Nintex junkies this is not a very big surprise.  The allure of the Nintex drag, drop, done is that it makes things quick and easy so we can focus more on process design and not solution design.  While there are many arguments for or against code/no code solutions there is one thing that cannot be argued: business process has become increasingly agile.  The overhead of redeveloping your workflow every time something changes simply makes no sense if its constantly changing.  This means you need a BPM solution that is not only adaptive, but the overhead of changing the actual process needs to be low.

UI First

One thing that surprised me was Forrester research is seeing the market shift in a direction I never really thought of.  More and more companies are developing BPM solutions by designing the UI first and then building in the backend later.  While this is often the type of engagement style you would use to design an intranet, I never really thought this was the best approach when building a BPM solution in SharePoint.  Often times a BPM engagement uses an agile approach because all requirements are not known.  If all requirements aren’t known, it can be difficult to perfect the UI until the end of the engagement because of the radical shift in some requirements.  None-the-less, understanding this is the way the industry might be shifting will provide me with a different point of view when approaching new BPM projects.


Something else that was touched on was the lack priority BPM has in the list of CIO priorities.  Hearing this is not a big surprise to me.  If you go out to Google and search CIO technology priorities, you won’t find Business Process Automation or Management anywhere in there.  There are aspects of BPM that certainly are in the CIO priority list (like cloud, BI, Digitization, ERP), but no where in the news are you seeing a CIO launching a BPM initiative across a company.  In fact, according to CIO.COM, CIO’s are flat out ignoring BPM in lieu of software like Salesforce’s CRM.  While all of this sounds discouraging, market research (cited throughout the day) still shows that the BPM space is growing.  This brings a challenge to all of us though:  Lets show CIO’s why BPM is the future of organizations.


Day 2 and On

The rest of BPM Next was demo’s, demo’s, demo’s.  Being a SharePoint Consultant, I was not deeply knowledgeable about BPMN (Business Process Model and Notation) or CMMN (Case Management Model And Notation).  These two frameworks seem to be what a lot of the BPM suites are built around.  I would love to dig in deep and try and explain this but I’ll let Bruce Silver compare and contrast this for me since he’s an expert on it.  I actually find both of these “standards” incredibly constrained by certain limitations and if I was developing a BPM application I wouldn’t use either.  Taking from Nathanial's thought leadership, I don’t believe the future of of BPM lies in either of these BPM “standards”. 

The Apps

There were a lot of demo’s to say the least.  Going into this conference I have to admit that I had a slight bias.  I was looking for solutions in the BPM space to both benefit our clients on not only SharePoint engagements but to understand how these other applications work to build better solutions.  So this meant the demos by companies, like SAP, didn’t really do much for me (even though they did deliver a killer presentation).  There was a couple that really stood out to me. 


BP3 is a consulting firm out of Austin, Texas that delivers BPM solutions on the IBM platform.  Scott Francis (BP3 CEO) delivered a demo of a doctors office scheduling and vacancy tool for outpatient care.  When you think of an outpatient clinic, they constantly have people coming in and out.  Their stays will vary in length and there is only so many resources.  This solution looked to solve this resource problem.  What really stood out about the BP3 solution was the UX/UI and the seamless transition across mobile devices (including the Apple watch).  The entire application had the user in mind.  Overall it was slick, extremely useful, and I think solved a really good problem in many doctors offices.  Since these are also the types of people processes I love solving for, it really appealed to me.   

IBM Bluemix

Eric Herness delivered an absolutely fantastic demo of IBM’s Bluemix platform.  When we are talking about the next generation of BPM products this is certainly it.  Bluemix gives your BPM platform a set of constantly evolving API’s to build apps powered by Watson.  When it comes to BPM, the next generation of products must provide some sort of intelligence and Watson delivers this.  Now one of the most burdensome things a user can experience in a process is filling out metadata (especially when there is a lot of it).  The demo Eric gave used Watson as part of a claims process in the insurance industry.  By running an example picture attached to the claim, Watson was able to actually tag the picture with what it was (a car for the example).  We are going to be living in a really cool future if things that once were only identified by humans can now be identified by computers (and tagged appropriately!).

BP Logix

Scott Menter and Joby O’Brien gave an awesome presentation.  Titled “One Model, Three Dimensions: Combining Flow, Case and Time Into a Unified Development Paradigm”, BP Logix really has task driven processes down to a science.  As an example they used a college application process.  For this demo I really wish I took better notes because there was just a lot of cool stuff this application does.  The best way I can describe this application is a combination of Microsoft Project, SharePoint workflow, and KPI’s for really an all in one application that solves for pretty much every dimension of a task driven process that could exist.  During the presentation I was thinking to myself about all the limitation of tasks and workflow in SharePoint and was waiting to ask if BP Logix did it but of course by the end of the presentation I had no questions because it literally did everything. 

Wrap it up!

The conference wrapped up with some excellent thought leadership by Keith Swenson, the VP of R&D at Fujitsu North America.  He compared and contrasted differently organizational structures and seemed to take a liking to the concept of sociocracy.  The true idea behind a sociocracy is two fold: to make an organization more agile and to make teams self governed.  If a team is self governed and everyone agrees on whatever decision is being made, that makes for not only a happy team but an effective way to solve decisions.  Have you ever worked at a company and a new policy or decision comes and you wonder “who the hell thought this was a good idea?”.  Well this might still happen but an entire team thought it was a good idea instead of a couple people :=).  All jokes aside, he did a great job of really raising some good questions and proposing some good solutions to how all of this ties into BPM.  The rest of the presentation he discussed the merging of BPMN and CMMN, at which point I slowly nodded off because of the reasons I stated earlier.

If you are involved in BPM I highly encourage everyone to sign up for next year’s event.  If BPM doesn’t excite you, maybe the view below will.