I’ve been working on a big idea for several months.  The genesis of that idea was an internal collaboration about the future of enterprise suites versus business process management suites (BPMS). We actually had a mock debate about the future of these two software categories and asked: 

  • Will enterprise suites, like CRM and ERP, dominate in 2015?
  • Or will BPM suites come on strong by 2015 and displace them as the next-generation software platform for processes?
  • Or will both types of suites sit somewhat uncomfortably within the same organization tackling different types of processes? 

Interestingly, enterprise suites won in our mock debate (kudos to Paul Hamerman and Clay Richardson), but the BPMS advocates (Derek Miers and Craig Le Clair) definitely held their own. It’s just that companies have such massive investments in SAP and Oracle (Siebel) that those software products are not going anywhere very fast. So that’s how it will turn out in 2015: BPM suites will keep making bigger and bigger inroads, but they will fill in the spaces for “untamed processes” that big software packages can’t touch. (For more on this topic, see Craig’sStuck In Cement: When Packaged Apps Create Barriers To Innovation” report and William Band’sThe Smart Way To Implement Process-Centric CRM: Deliver Breakthrough Customer Experiences By Transforming Business Processes” report.)

Our internal discussion sparked a bigger question that’s harder to answer, but in many ways is even more important.  That über-question is  “What’s the future of business processes?” and leads us to also ask:

  • What will business processes look like in 2020?
  • How should business and IT leaders prepare for the future, given that many of them are implementing isolated BPMS  projects or sponsoring departmental process improvement projects by Six Sigma teams?

I’ve been working hard to answer these questions, and the results of that analysis will be published soon. In the meantime, here’s a sneak preview.

First, we need to define a new term: 

Big process is when senior-most business and technology leaders embrace business process change by shifting the organization’s focus from isolated BPM and process improvement projects to a sustainable, enterprise-wide business process transformation program that is then supported and driven by top executives.

Moving to “big process thinking” is a tall order. I don’t see how this can be done using a bottom-up approach; it must be envisioned, supported, and driven by very senior executives and then radiate out through change agents up, down, and across the entire organization. Obviously, change management is hugely important; but the companies that have embraced big process thinking in the C suite (Medco comes to mind) have achieved amazing results.

So how do you get to big process thinking by 2020? We think there are five tenets of big process thinking to adopt:

  1. Transform processes, don’t just improve them.
  2. Give the customer control.
  3. Globalize, standardize, and humanize.
  4. Embrace big data.
  5. Double down on process skills.

These tenets are absolutely critical for looking at business processes from a strategic, transformational perspective rather than a continuous improvement viewpoint. When the report I’m writing gets a little closer to publication I’ll put up a blog post for each of the five tenets to explain them further — I know some of them are a little cryptic. In the meantime, if you’ve got any suggestions, thoughts, or differences of opinion, please share your ideas with everyone by making a comment. And stay tuned.