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BBC Conference 2011 Day 1: It’s all about the business

Day one of the Building Business Capabilities Conference is over and it’s been a revelation in many respects.

First of all, the organisation has been great. Starting with the pre-conference information, the way speakers were taken care of and also how the conference itself put the attendees at the center of things. Next, the tracks and the various presentations the organisers selected: Quality and information content was very high and there was a lot of interaction between presenters and attendees.

The day started with a short welcome by Gladys S.W. Lam, the Conference Director describing how BBC has evolved to the present level and also making a point of continuing to develop to attendee requirements.

Next up were the three chairs of the business rules, business analysis and business process tracks, Ronald G. Ross, Kathleen Barret and Roger Burlton. In between some light banter on the relative importance of business rules vs. business processes, they defined the thread that was to run through the rest of the days presentation: It’s all about the business.

Naturally my main focus was the business process track so I first sat in on the presentation from Carla Wolfe of Elevations Credit Union. Presentation is in fact the wrong term. It was more a ‘In conversation with …’ event, as Carla was explaining how Elevations has set about putting their house of processes in order and what approaches and techniques they used. The enthusiasm she conveyed was infectious as she explained the original challenges and she got the whole company involved in rediscovering its processes. Nice touch: Mihnea Galeteanu from IBM did little more than to ask the odd question and to put up the occasional photo on the display. It only emerged near the end of Carlas story that IBM had supplied the tool to capture the processes. No sales pitch and all the more impressive for that.

Next I joined James Kobielus from Forrester Research talking about ‘Agile Predictive Process Platforms: The key to business agility’. The main point James made was that it was not enough to be able to change processes and be agile but that companies should create and use an infrastructure that allowed them to predict future developments, their impact on processes and thus providing them with ample time to adopt. Coming under the headline of NBA – Next Best Action, James demonstrated that a lot of the technology required already exists but has until now not had enough touchpoints to the world of processes – something which he says is now beginning to change. I’m usually sceptical when someone roots his case so firmly in technology but James did manage to link his case to the business perspective quite well. Is this going to be start of the art for your average company? No, but I think it might become one of the main reasons why processes leaders will gain an even bigger advantage over their competitors.

Third on my list was Clay Richardson from Forrester. Clay and I had been interviewed by Alan Earls for ebizQ’s BPM Special on process governance in the summer so it was good to meet and exchange a few words. His topic was the role of BPM Centers of Excellence to deliver transformational projects. Ever so often he made the point that simply setting up a COE was not enough but that thought should be given to its role in relation to the business departments. He made the case that the BPM COE – while staffed with competence and skill – should mainly provide a supporting and enabling role for the business departments. Rather a contrast to the clients I know where you tend to get the impression that the business departments live to serve the COE.

Finally some time to prepare my thoughts for the upcoming BPM vendor panel which Sandy Kemsley had invited me to join. Here’s how Sandy had outlined the panel session which I’ve copied off her blog (http://www.column2.com/)

“On Tuesday afternoon, I’m moderating a BPM vendor panel focused on BPM adoption issues from the vendors’ point of view. I’m a bit late with my plug for this since there was some confusion about who was actually picking the panelists (as I found out a few days ago, it was me), but I’ve assembled a stellar lineup:

  • Jesse Shiah, Founder and CEO at AgilePoint. I first met Jesse back at the BPM Think Tank in 2007, when his company was still called Ascentn; since then, they’ve changed it to something that we can all pronounce while they work at turning Microsoft’s Visio and Visual Studio into real BPM tools.
  • Mihnea Galeteanu, Chief Storyteller for BlueworksLiveat IBM. Besides having the coolest job title, Mihnea and I both live in Toronto, so have the advantage of being able to really put “social” into BPM by meeting for coffee to discuss how IBM is making BPM social with BlueworksLive. Yes, I make him pay for the coffee.
  • Jeremy Westerman, Senior Product Marketing Manager for BPM at TIBCO. Part of TIBCO’s “British invasion”, Jeremy and I have a long history of me asking him about what’s coming up in their product releases (such as “how’s that AMX/BPM to tibbrintegration coming along?”), and him trying to say things that won’t get him in trouble with TIBCO’s legal department. Obviously, he’s a big fan of my “everything is off the record after the bar opens” rule.
  • Thomas Olbrich, Cofounder and Managing Director at taraneon. Unlike the other vendors on the panel which provide implementation tools, taraneon provides a process test facility for process quality, meaning that they have the best process horror stories of all. Thomas is the only one of the panelists who I haven’t met face-to-face before now, although I feel like I know him because of our lengthy Twitter exchanges, only some of which are about shoes.“

I’ve sat in on these panels often enough and in the past there have been occasions when panelists should have been asked to check their weapons at the door: Vendors trying to outdo each other and boring the audience to death, your truly hitting out at the vendors (the privilege of being the odd man out) for failing to understand the business perspective. Not so in this case. I think it’s a definite sign of how far these products have matured over the past years that vendors can now afford to address the business concerns of their clients. I made the point that in fact BPM systems had now reached a point that there was a danger that clients lacked the ability to handle them. Improving process awareness (one of my favorite topics) is what I think is urgently needed. Tongue in cheek Denis Gagne asked from the back row if we might not also consider dumbing down BPM systems.

Rest of the day was spent getting to know new contacts, reacquainting with former friends and collegues and enjoying the wine provided by IBM (yes, they get an extra mention for that). Lots of new ideas which unfortunately led me to do a redraft for Thursdays Process TestLab presentation on process quality. (11:30am, Room Diplomat 1)

Final thought for european BPM conference organisers: It does make a noticeable difference to the general mood when conference attendees are not simply treated as a source of income. Day one was dominated by smiles from attendees, chatting about their experiences, finding the presentations as enjoyable and equally important as the networking. Customer orientation is not only a BPM issue, it should also be an issue for conferences. The team at BBC have done a great job.

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