In June, Forrester convened a roundtable of some of its leading thought leaders on business process and customer experience to discuss empowering customers through business process transformation. This is also the topic of Forrester's Business Process Forum later in September and our Tweet Jam on September 8 from 11:30 am to 12:30 pm ET (hashtag: #BPF11).

What follows is an excerpt from that discussion. For more, download a free copy of the Forrester report “Empower Customers By Transforming Business Processes” (site registration required).

Connie Moore: Where are enterprise suites going now that the game-changers — mobile, cloud and social — are giving new life to some apps that were looking long in the tooth? Do you think that big enterprise suites like CRM or ERP can empower customers, or do they automate the status quo? If they merely automate the status quo, how do you deliver business transformation?

William Band: There’s a debate raging about the future of enterprise apps and whether or not these apps will continue to be the core solutions that people use to support customer-facing and back-office interactions or be supplanted by more flexible or more business process-centric solutions. I would generally say that CRM apps, as they’re currently constituted, are not really suitable for transforming the way a company does business. The value of these solutions continues to be that they represent the best practices in intellectual property developed by the various vendors by working with many companies in many industries that use the application as a way to bring those best practices into an organization. Many of the companies I work with don't have best practices for their core customer base and customer-facing processes. They’re using inefficient, fragmented business processes and have poor customer data that supports these processes and traditional CRM applications.

The “big iron,” so to speak, can really help organizations bring the best practices embedded in apps to companies to make them more efficient. But these apps are also inflexible and hard to change, whereas business models change quickly. Because of this, these kinds of apps are not good for situations where you’re trying to define unique customer experiences and business processes, where you might have to change very quickly to keep up with your customers. The data-centric CRM app suites that we have now are not so good for creating transformative change. But many organizations need to bring in core, transaction-centric efficiencies, and enterprise suite solutions are still very good for that. So we see the increased adoption of cloud solutions and business process-centric solutions for companies trying to do more transformative kinds of things.

Derek Miers: We can start to think about the processes, the interactions that we have with customers as sets of coarse-grained states — a bit like milestones or phases of work. In most situations, workers go through some sort of setup phase before moving on to exercise their judgment. While the setup phase may be standardized and locked down, the next phase implies a great deal of flexibility. Dynamic case management, a highly flexible and adaptive form of process technology, provides that sort of flexibility by allowing employees to dynamically bind process fragments together at runtime to meet customer needs. The level of flexibility is a critical enabler of customer-driven transformation. Dynamic case management plays more in the flexible, adaptable end of the process than the “straight-through processing on steroids” end. Of course, you want to outsource work to your customers, particularly if it enhances their experience in the process.

Craig Le Clair: Companies have been moving functionality out of these on-premises systems and into more flexible environments for years. If you look at the investment in collaboration, BPMS, and simple things like output management technologies, it has been ongoing. The key issue we’re debating is what the rate of acceleration is. These systems were built to absorb information to create systems of record, which are critically important. But we’re in a period right now where the change driven by consumer technology is so vast and so rapid that the focus on process transformation must be more acute. I don’t think these enterprise app systems can participate in that transformation because they were never built for that.

The debate we have internally within Forrester pertains to how much of a barrier to innovation these large enterprise suites will be. Even if they adopt more agile technologies and incorporate good BPM tools, the focus will be provincial — vendor-based — and you’ll integrate Oracle or SAP apps within that suite. So, it’s going to be left to other game-changing technologies, such as cloud and horizontal coordination technologies, to fill that gap. The only question is how fast it will accelerate.