People are asking why current processes are so dumb. For example, why can’t they:
learn from experience?
be more goal-driven?
dynamically balance between conflicting goals?
Some people suggest use of cognitive computing to help make processes smarter. I doubt anybody today really knows how far this idea can be taken. I can, however, say two things with certainty:
If you don’t know what your business rules are (i.e., what rules guided previous executions), can you really expect a machine to figure them out? A machine can undoubtedly identify patterns, but that’s a far cry from demonstrating compliance, guaranteeing consistent results, or customizing appropriately case-by-case.
Suppose self-adapting processes do become reality. The question I have is what will keep such processes from going out of bounds? How do you avoid them doing things that are undesirable, self-defeating or even illegal? These are critical questions that will always bring you right back to business rules.
To understand the future of processes, you must dig a little deeper than many people do.
Process thinking goes back well over a 100 years, to the origin of modern iron and automobile production. The raw materials and finished goods of such manufacturing and production processes are literally spatial – 3-dimensional. What can you do to significantly improve productivity in a 3-dimensional world? The answer these days is simple: You build robots. Robotization has literally changed the world during the past 30-40 years.
Rather than manufacturing and production processes, however, the world is now increasingly focused on white-collar and digital processes. What 3-dimensional presence do the raw materials and finished goods of these processes have?
Well, exactly none. The raw materials and finished goods of these processes aren’t physical and simply have no spatial presence whatsoever (except maybe for paper artifacts). Robots (at least physical ones) aren’t an option. That fact of life makes a huge difference in how you have to think about automation for such processes.
Instead, the raw materials and finished goods of such processes are all about your operational business knowledge – your intellectual capital – and your capacity to express and apply it. That capability, in turn, depends directly on your business terminology and business language. For white-collar processes you have no choice – the world is semantic. So you must deal with the subject matter semantically.
That takes us in a very different direction than most professionals currently foresee. For one thing it takes us toward natural language and away from diagrams-for-everything. That’s a huge shift in mindset. Imagine having a business conversation with your smart phone about gaps and ambiguities in business policies and in the meanings of the vocabulary you use to talk about subject matter knowledge. Don’t think that’s possible? Have you watched your kids talking to their smart phones lately?
Sooner or later businesses will realize that operational business knowledge differentiates their product/services and enables their ever-more-automated processes to function. Capturing, managing and re-using that intellectual capital puts a premium on structured business vocabulary (concept models) and on business rules expressed in structured natural language. Those business rules are the only way you have to ensure quality from white-collar and digital processes.
Read more on this topic:
Are Processes and BPM Relevant in the Digital Economy? http://www.brsolutions.com/2015/10/19/are-processes-and-bpm-relevant-in-the-digital-economy/
Measuring Quality and Defects in the Knowledge Economy: http://www.brsolutions.com/2015/10/27/measuring-quality-and-defects-in-the-knowledge-economy/
Quality and Tolerances in the Knowledge Economy: http://www.brsolutions.com/2015/10/29/quality-and-tolerances-in-the-knowledge-economy/
Jim Sinur recently wrote a short, readable and deeply thoughtful opinion piece on www.BRCommunity.com entitled “Is Process a Dirty Word?”. See http://www.brcommunity.com/b812.php.Jim’s basic point is this, “… people frown on the word process these days … [based on] the outdated view that process implies a rigid and inflexible approach to work actions that support a static business model.” I think Jim is right about that … and wrong too.Where Jim is Right. The main point Jim makes is right. Compared to traditional, static process models, processes are becoming highly dynamic. They can “not only can act, they can sense and decide new courses of action, leveraging a combination of pattern recognition and decision features based on events, cases, process instances, and data (big data or not; cloud based or not).”At the extreme, they essentially cease to exist as models “carved in stone”. Jim puts it this way: “In the future the process model will more represent the audit trail of what the process did and the decisions it made.” (Of course I think one can legitimately question whether a process model exists at all if it manifests only as facts about what each execution/performance of the process has actually done, but let’s let that go.)Where Jim is Wrong. Jim points out that “Processes are becoming more goal-seeking in their design and can change in near real time … processes will more commonly seek conflicting goals [and go about] balancing them.”When processes become ‘goal-seeking’ or ‘goal-balancing’, they address the question of ‘why’ (strategy), no longer just ‘how’ (transform). The resulting solution is a system, not just a process. Process is merely one component of such a system. By the way, I’m using system in the general dictionary sense, not in any particular technical sense: a complex unity formed of many often diverse parts subject to a common plan or serving a common purpose.Jim astutely points out that such processes can use “… pattern recognition [to analyze] the audit trails of past executions [and] identify what has worked best in the past under [the same] circumstances.” But surely audit trails (besides being data) are features of systems, not processes. And you’d always want to verify the results against business goals (which may conflict), and business policy (which may have changed).Should we call such processes intelligent? I wouldn’t. They’re just highly flexible. It’s the system that becomes intelligent. So these days I think we should be talking talk about FlexProcess and IntelligentSystem. By the way, can you do FlexProcesses and IntelligentSystems without business rules? Sure. Can you do them well? In your dreams.~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~www.BRSolutions.com
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