I read Ann All’s post about putting a human face on BPM this morning which is understandably pro-BPM, but I started to get confused about whether there is a move towards automating everything, bringing people back into processes to enable process improvement, or there is just a “horses for courses” thing going on.
I am definitely in the latter camp. BPM is about managing processes. If there is a need for consistency and accuracy, but the process cannot be automated then it can at least be managed, and people undertaking the process can be guided to the right actions. This can be a powerful way of ensuring consistent customer service, or to meet compliance requirements for example.
But what if the process is rules based? Why does that need any management? Surely it just needs automating? Well, perhaps this is where the process improvement comes in. Even automated processes need to be monitored and can (and should) be improved. At a minimum there is an ongoing requirement to change automated processes to meet new laws, regulations, marketing initiatives etc and this means that the automated processes need to be both visible and flexible.
So where does this leave the people then? Just managing some super BPM dashboard like a modern day Joe 90?
Of course people have a role to play in business processes. The example mentioned in Ann’s article was the new hire process. I don’t believe the world is ready to see this fully automated yet, since there is always a judgmental element to the process on both sides and this necessitates human contact. However, in the UK and US at least, there are detailed and highly complex laws relating to recruitment and selection to ensure no discrimination occurs, for example. This means the process lends itself to being managed by a BPM system.
Other processes are simpler and rules based. For example, lost and stolen card blocks. When a bank receives notice that a customer has had their bank cards stolen, a clerk has to trawl round the various systems blocking the various cards. Accuracy is essential here to prevent fraudulent use of the cards, but the process is entirely rules based with no room for judgment. This is a process that should be automated.
So horses for business process courses? People are good at negotiation and expert judgment. Computers are good at munching through rules based processes. I’ve seen nothing yet to persuade me that the implicit negatives of those two statements are any less true.