Agile Computing Authors: Liz McMillan, William Schmarzo, Carmen Gonzalez, Jim Kaskade, Lori MacVittie

Blog Feed Post

Why Workflow and BPM Suck

The verities and the balderdash the impact of the cloud

I originally wrote this paper back in 2005 as a bit of a rant against the positioning of Workflow and BPM. I was reminded of it the other day and took another look only to discover that things still haven’t changed that much. So I’ve decided to revamp it a bit to encompass cloudy type things and what the impact of social media etc has had in the ensuing years. So for your amusement or edification here’s a revised version.

Many of us that were involved in the field of Workflow Automation and Business Process Management (BPM) a few years ago (and some still are I’m sure) argued long and hard about where the two technologies overlapped, where they were different, which mathematical models should be used, which standards were applicable to which part of the technology stack and all that associated puff.

Well these arguments and discussions are well and truly over more or less forgotten; the demarcation lines were well defined and drawn; the road ahead became clear.

The fact that Business Process Management has its roots in Workflow technology is well known – many of today’s leading products are, in fact, evolutions of the original forms processing packages. So there is no longer a need to debate, what is now, a moot point.

But what has happened is that BPM also changed. Rather than being an extension of workflow concepts BPM was seen as systems-to-systems technology exclusively used in the deployment of concepts such as SOA solutions. I’m over simplifying things I know, but it seemed as though BPM was destined to become an IT Technology solution as opposed to the business process solution it was meant to be. Somewhere along the way, one of the key elements in a business process – a person – dropped off the agenda. The fact that the majority of business processes (some 85% according to some very old Forrester research) involve carbon based resources was overlooked – think BPEL for a moment – doesn’t the attempt to develop that particular standard tell you something about the general direction of BPM? But be warned, even today, many vendors will tell you that their BPM products support Human interaction, but what they are talking about will be simple work item handling and form filling – this is a long way from the collaboration and interaction management we will talk about below.

The problem stems from the fact that most Workflow products were flawed and as a result, the problem in the gene pool rippled through to the evolved BPM species. So what was wrong with workflow? It’s quite simple when you think about it; most workflow products assumed that work moved from one resource to another. One user entered the loan details, another approved it. But business doesn’t work like that.

This flawed thinking is probably the main reason why workflow was never quite the success most pundits thought it would be; the solutions were just not flexible enough, since the majority of processes are unsuited to this way of working. Paradoxically, it is the exact reason why BPM is so suited to the world of SOA and systems to systems processes. A rigid approach to systems processes is essential, where people are concerned; the name of the game is flexibility.

Why do we need the flexibility?

Let’s take a simple analogy so that the concept is more easily understood.

Supposing you were playing golf; using the BPM approach would be like hitting a hole in one every time you tee off. Impressive – 18 shots, and a round finished in 25 minutes.

But as we all know, the reality is somewhat different (well my golf is different) – there’s a lot that happens between teeing off and finishing a hole. Ideally about four shots (think nodes in a process) – but you have to deal with the unexpected even though you know the unexpected is very likely; sand traps, water hazards, lost balls, free drops, collaboration with fellow players, unexpected consultation with the referee – and so it goes on. Then there are 17 more holes to do – the result is an intricate and complex process with 18 targets but about 72 operations.

As mentioned earlier, we have to deal with the unexpected. This is not just about using a set of tools to deal with every anticipated business outcome or rule; we are talking about the management of true interaction that takes place between individuals and groups which cannot be predicted or encapsulated beforehand. This is because Business Processes exist at 2 levels – the predictable (the systems) and the un-predictable (the people).

The predictable aspects of the process are easily and well catered for by BPMS solutions – which is why the term Business Process Management is a misnomer since the perceived technology only addresses the integration aspects – with the close coupling with SOA (SOA needs BPM, the converse is not true) there still iis an argument for renaming BPM to Services Process Management (SPM).

Proposals such as BPEL4People didn’t fix the problem either, all that managed to achieve is replicating the shortcomings of Workflow. Anyone who has tried to put together a business case for buying SOA/BPM will know the entire proposition will be a non-starter.

Understanding the business processes exist at 2 levels (the Silicon and the Carbon) takes us a long way towards understanding how we solve this problem. The key point is to recognize that the unpredictable actions of the carbon components are not ad-hoc processes, nor are they exception handling (ask anyone with a six sigma background about exceptions and you’ll understand very quickly what I mean). This is all about the unstructured interactions between people – in particular knowledge workers.  These unstructured and unpredictable interactions can, and do, take place all the time – and it’s only going to get worse! The advent of social networking, SaaS etc. etc.,  are already having, and will continue to have, a profound effect on the way we manage and do business.

Process based technology that understands the needs of people and supports the inherent “spontaneity” of the human mind is the next logical step, and we might be tempted to name this potential paradigm shift “A Business Operations Platform”. [1]

But what makes a BOP different from what’s gone before?

One of the key innovations (and there are many) is the collaborative nature of the platform. At last there is an environment that allows, encourages even, the business world and the technology world to align. Given that the business process is where these two worlds collide then the BOP becomes the place where the two worlds can achieve the most in terms of collaborative development and common understanding. Eliminating decades of misunderstanding. The Business Operations Platform does six main jobs.


  1. Puts existing and new application software under the direct control of business managers.
  2. Facilitates communication between business and IT.
  3. Makes it easier for the business to improve existing processes and create new ones.
  4. Enables the automation of processes across the entire organization, and beyond it.
  5. Gives managers real-time information on the performance of processes.
  6. Allows organizations to take full advantage of new computing services.

Unlike early BPM offerings that were stitched together from fragments of technologies past, a BOP must be built on a standards-based and modern architecture.. With a service oriented architecture (SOA) and full BPM capabilities companies can create a complete business operations environment that can drive innovation, efficiency and agility for their enterprise. It must be Cloud enabled and capable of being deployed as BPMAAS as. It is the BOP that sets “enterprise cloud computing” apart from “consumer cloud Computing”

So why does workflow suck? It sucks because it made the fatal assumption that a business process was simply modelled as “a to b to c” – but business, as we all know, doesn’t quite work like that. BPM succeeds because of the heritage these products is in the workflow world – but BPM sucks as well because it ignores the requirement to include people.

Jon Pyke

[1] Since I wrote this paper Gartner coined the term “Intelligent BPM” but that begs the question as to what went before “Stupid BPM” ? So I’ll use BOP if that is OK with you the reader.

The post Why Workflow and BPM Suck appeared first on Cloud Computing Best Practices.

Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By Cloud Best Practices Network

The Cloud Best Practices Network is an expert community of leading Cloud pioneers. Follow our best practice blogs at http://CloudBestPractices.net

@ThingsExpo Stories
As ridesharing competitors and enhanced services increase, notable changes are occurring in the transportation model. Despite the cost-effective means and flexibility of ridesharing, both drivers and users will need to be aware of the connected environment and how it will impact the ridesharing experience. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Timothy Evavold, Executive Director Automotive at Covisint, will discuss key challenges and solutions to powering a ride sharing and/or multimodal model in the a...
In his general session at 19th Cloud Expo, Manish Dixit, VP of Product and Engineering at Dice, will discuss how Dice leverages data insights and tools to help both tech professionals and recruiters better understand how skills relate to each other and which skills are in high demand using interactive visualizations and salary indicator tools to maximize earning potential. Manish Dixit is VP of Product and Engineering at Dice. As the leader of the Product, Engineering and Data Sciences team a...
A completely new computing platform is on the horizon. They’re called Microservers by some, ARM Servers by others, and sometimes even ARM-based Servers. No matter what you call them, Microservers will have a huge impact on the data center and on server computing in general. Although few people are familiar with Microservers today, their impact will be felt very soon. This is a new category of computing platform that is available today and is predicted to have triple-digit growth rates for some ...
DevOps is being widely accepted (if not fully adopted) as essential in enterprise IT. But as Enterprise DevOps gains maturity, expands scope, and increases velocity, the need for data-driven decisions across teams becomes more acute. DevOps teams in any modern business must wrangle the ‘digital exhaust’ from the delivery toolchain, "pervasive" and "cognitive" computing, APIs and services, mobile devices and applications, the Internet of Things, and now even blockchain. In this power panel at @...
The Internet of Things (IoT), in all its myriad manifestations, has great potential. Much of that potential comes from the evolving data management and analytic (DMA) technologies and processes that allow us to gain insight from all of the IoT data that can be generated and gathered. This potential may never be met as those data sets are tied to specific industry verticals and single markets, with no clear way to use IoT data and sensor analytics to fulfill the hype being given the IoT today.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Numerex Corp, a leading provider of managed enterprise solutions enabling the Internet of Things (IoT), will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo | @ThingsExpo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Numerex Corp. (NASDAQ:NMRX) is a leading provider of managed enterprise solutions enabling the Internet of Things (IoT). The Company's solutions produce new revenue streams or create operating...
SYS-CON Events announced today that MathFreeOn will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. MathFreeOn is Software as a Service (SaaS) used in Engineering and Math education. Write scripts and solve math problems online. MathFreeOn provides online courses for beginners or amateurs who have difficulties in writing scripts. In accordance with various mathematical topics, there are more tha...
The best way to leverage your Cloud Expo presence as a sponsor and exhibitor is to plan your news announcements around our events. The press covering Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo will have access to these releases and will amplify your news announcements. More than two dozen Cloud companies either set deals at our shows or have announced their mergers and acquisitions at Cloud Expo. Product announcements during our show provide your company with the most reach through our targeted audiences.
@ThingsExpo has been named the Top 5 Most Influential Internet of Things Brand by Onalytica in the ‘The Internet of Things Landscape 2015: Top 100 Individuals and Brands.' Onalytica analyzed Twitter conversations around the #IoT debate to uncover the most influential brands and individuals driving the conversation. Onalytica captured data from 56,224 users. The PageRank based methodology they use to extract influencers on a particular topic (tweets mentioning #InternetofThings or #IoT in this ...
The Internet of Things will challenge the status quo of how IT and development organizations operate. Or will it? Certainly the fog layer of IoT requires special insights about data ontology, security and transactional integrity. But the developmental challenges are the same: People, Process and Platform and how we integrate our thinking to solve complicated problems. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Craig Sproule, CEO of Metavine, will demonstrate how to move beyond today's coding paradigm ...
Although it has gained significant traction in the consumer space, IoT is still in the early stages of adoption in enterprises environments. However, many companies are working on initiatives like Industry 4.0 that includes IoT as one of the key disruptive technologies expected to reshape businesses of tomorrow. The key challenges will be availability, robustness and reliability of networks that connect devices in a business environment. Software Defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN) is expected to...
OnProcess Technology has announced it will be a featured speaker at @ThingsExpo, taking place November 1 - 3, 2016, in Santa Clara, California. Dan Gettens, OnProcess’ Chief Analytics Officer, will discuss how Internet of Things (IoT) data can be leveraged to predict product failures, improve uptime and slash costly inventory stock. @ThingsExpo is an annual gathering of IoT and cloud developers, practitioners and thought-leaders who exchange ideas and insights on topics ranging from Big Data in...
Developing software for the Internet of Things (IoT) comes with its own set of challenges. Security, privacy, and unified standards are a few key issues. In addition, each IoT product is comprised of (at least) three separate application components: the software embedded in the device, the back-end service, and the mobile application for the end user’s controls. Each component is developed by a different team, using different technologies and practices, and deployed to a different stack/target –...
Virgil consists of an open-source encryption library, which implements Cryptographic Message Syntax (CMS) and Elliptic Curve Integrated Encryption Scheme (ECIES) (including RSA schema), a Key Management API, and a cloud-based Key Management Service (Virgil Keys). The Virgil Keys Service consists of a public key service and a private key escrow service. 

SYS-CON Events announced today that CDS Global Cloud, an Infrastructure as a Service provider, will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. CDS Global Cloud is an IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) provider specializing in solutions for e-commerce, internet gaming, online education and other internet applications. With a growing number of data centers and network points around the world, ...
Data is the fuel that drives the machine learning algorithmic engines and ultimately provides the business value. In his session at Cloud Expo, Ed Featherston, a director and senior enterprise architect at Collaborative Consulting, will discuss the key considerations around quality, volume, timeliness, and pedigree that must be dealt with in order to properly fuel that engine.
Big Data has been changing the world. IoT fuels the further transformation recently. How are Big Data and IoT related? In his session at @BigDataExpo, Tony Shan, a renowned visionary and thought leader, will explore the interplay of Big Data and IoT. He will anatomize Big Data and IoT separately in terms of what, which, why, where, when, who, how and how much. He will then analyze the relationship between IoT and Big Data, specifically the drilldown of how the 4Vs of Big Data (Volume, Variety,...
From wearable activity trackers to fantasy e-sports, data and technology are transforming the way athletes train for the game and fans engage with their teams. In his session at @ThingsExpo, will present key data findings from leading sports organizations San Francisco 49ers, Orlando Magic NBA team. By utilizing data analytics these sports orgs have recognized new revenue streams, doubled its fan base and streamlined costs at its stadiums. John Paul is the CEO and Founder of VenueNext. Prior ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Embotics, the cloud automation company, will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Embotics is the cloud automation company for IT organizations and service providers that need to improve provisioning or enable self-service capabilities. With a relentless focus on delivering a premier user experience and unmatched customer support, Embotics is the fas...
Ask someone to architect an Internet of Things (IoT) solution and you are guaranteed to see a reference to the cloud. This would lead you to believe that IoT requires the cloud to exist. However, there are many IoT use cases where the cloud is not feasible or desirable. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Dave McCarthy, Director of Products at Bsquare Corporation, will discuss the strategies that exist to extend intelligence directly to IoT devices and sensors, freeing them from the constraints of ...