Intuition of Things – The future of BPM in the Digital Economy

digital economyIn the dynamic world of mega IT mergers and acquisitions, there are a few that stand out from the rest. The recent acquisition of WhatsApp is one of them. The acquisition of Waze by Google, about a year ago is another one of those. While these most of these acquisitions may seem most commercially driven, few of them are indicative of the future trends that have much wider implications.

For the uninitiated, Waze started off as an open source project and soon evolved to become Waze one of the the world’s largest community-based traffic and navigation app. The application essentially is the reddit of drivers who share real-time information around traffic conditions and hazards thus allowing other users to avoid congestions, accidents and RBT trucks. One can see why this information would be a huge addition to Google’s already strong offering around Maps embellished with traffic information. When coupled with smart cars with built in navigation systems, the advantages become a lot more obvious and forever change the commute to work every day.

When you look at this whole function of moving from home to office using a tool like Waze and try to visualize it as process (a set of unique steps in an optimum sequence delivering the best outcome), you realize that the implications for your business are revolutionary. This should not take much imagination, since all the essential ingredients of business process management (BPM) are involved here as well. For start, as we mentioned there is a series of steps from getting into the car at home and getting out at office. If you think about it, there is also a series of data driven decisions around the route to take, the car port to park in etc. There is also some real time process control around factors such as the speed to drive at, whether to refuel or not and other such controls which are not part of the process, but do impact the overall outcome.

Well, now that you have thought about this, I guess you can now start appreciating what this “thing” called Waze is actually offering to the overall business process. For starters it brings in the element of collaboration, since multiple users provide inputs to this process. It also serves as an information source with its information around nearest fuel stations and restaurants. Finally and more importantly, based on your driving habits over a duration of time, it may even suggest the best option for you.

In many ways, the future of BPM. The current breed of BPM practitioners start with the business process as the center of the process improvement initiative. There is a lot of focus on getting the process right and that’s expected to deliver significant improvements. Terms such as “process standardization” and “process visibility and control” are still considered to be the benchmark of achieving business improvements. Indeed, this isn’t completely unwarranted and if you are starting off with no process at all, this could be enough to start seeing some real benefits.

However, for most mature organisations, the overall business process for key organizational functions is well defined and is so standardized that it ceases to become a competitive advantage. A standard and structured process may work well for an assembly line, but in the digital economy where the customer is the center of the value creation, an organization centric process will become a huge disadvantage. The ability to reflect customer centricity in the business process requires the business process to be more intuitive than prescriptive and the intuition needs to be driven by a process of collaboration rather than definition.

Developing the intuition in a business process is not impossible. Neither is it something that needs to defined up front. Just like the Waze-enabled drive to work everyday, the whole point of having an intuitive business process is to absorb information from a variety of sources (I call them Things) including customers, sensors and analytics engines and use that to dynamically determine what happens next. The more things we are able to hook into this process, the better the collective intuition and smoother the overall process. The shift from allowing the process to be dynamic and unstructured rather than pre-defined is going to be the future of business process management.

The concept of “Next Best Action” in business process management is not new. However, what’s new is the faith in collective intuition to be driving the decision rather than a series of pre-defined finite choices. The perceived risks in letting the customer decide the process through their actions are not huge and the benefits are immense. Given that the pattern of past interactions with the customer are defining the future interactions ensures greater customer engagement and predictability.

The focus of the organization is to make as much relevant information available to the customer as possible and thus enable the customer to decide how they want to move ahead. The need to implement the controls to reduce overall risk and protect organizational imperatives would essentially be driven by better behavior and sentiment analysis rather than rigid business processes. By allowing this flexibility, there is no need to separately focus on innovation since its already baked into all your decision making. The application of these concepts are not limited to just sales and marketing processes and cover everything else from product design to customer service and loyalty management.

In the digital future, enabling the customer is not a choice rather a survival imperative. The ability to steer the decision making by offering non-obtrusive and peer recommended options are the best suited modes of operation. Customers are more likely to prefer organizations (and driving routes) where they believe they are in charge and are not being manipulated. Organizations are better off letting the customers decide the best process to follow since that is exactly what brings in customer centricity.

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By Maloy Patnaik @ Infosys | May 15, 2014

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