Some quick notes on the BPM Portugal conference in Lisbon last week.
It was international in the sense that there were a few ‘foreigners’ like me, who did their presentations in English, but otherwise most of the conference was in Portuguese. And although these days I can read most business-oriented Portuguese, I definitely struggle when it’s spoken-language at full speed… So I’ll have to admit I missed a lot of the detail and the nuances there – though at least I did better than some of my compatriots, who didn’t know any of the language at all. Anyway, this is a brief summary of those parts that I did manage to catch.
First up was Jose Tribolet, professor of information-systems at Instituto Superior Tecnico, Lisbon, on BPM and enterprise engineering. Which, I will admit, tells me straight off that it’s not a good way to go: the very notion of ‘engineering the [human] enterprise’ makes no sense to me at all… The presentation itself was in Portuguese, but the slides were in English, fortunately, which made it just-about possible for me to follow what he was saying. His focus was the DEMO methodology [in Dutch] developed by Jan Dietz, and promoted by the Enterprise Engineering Institute, which seemingly depends on a plethora of impenetrable terms such as B-organization versus D-organization, C-fact versus P-fact, ‘actagenic’ versus ‘factagenic’ and many, many more. Yuk.
I’ve probably said it elsewhere, but to me, Dietz’s ‘Enterprise Ontology’ is the kind of thing that’s exactly what not to use in whole-scope enterprise-architectures: something that only an academic could love, full of absolute assertions and an IT-centric style of spurious pseudo-precision that falls flat on its face at the first sign of real-world requisite-fuzziness. Sigh… To me, the quick-summary version of DEMO is that if you’re doing only IT-automated processes, applied only to information-systems, take an exclusively transaction-oriented view of the business, and don’t need to make any allowance for any form of modality or uncertainty or wicked-problems in any aspect of your modelling, it might perhaps be relevant for you; but for my own part, let’s just say that I’m not a fan, and leave it at that?
Next up was Keith Swenson of Fujitsu America, on making BPM more amenable to the increasing needs for agility and adaptability. I was much happier with this presentation than the previous one, perhaps because he often gave design-advice that was the exact opposite from that implied by DEMO: for example, he warned that “complex systems can not necessarily be decomposed”, and that “if we enforce a single process, we increase fragility; enforcing a single best-practice on an organisation creates fragility”. And he also talked about the key distinction between ‘plan’ versus ‘planning’ – the ongoing “process and discipline of planning” itself, rather than the usual over-focus on ‘the plans’, the artefacts of that process.
There was nice quote from Ilya Prigogine, that “uncertainty is the heart of creativity”, which lead to an exploration of a spectrum of process-management from most-structured to least-structured, or from classic automation-oriented BPM (which expects everything to be the same each time) to adaptive case-management (which doesn’t really expect anything to remain the same). There was almost nothing I would disagree with there: the only point where I kinda winced a bit was where he said that “case-management is data-centric”, an assertion that, to me, runs the risk of falling back into IT-centrism – but that was probably just a misinterpretation on my part. Overall, very good stuff, anyway.
After that was a round-table with senior folks from various of the larger local enterprises – all in Portuguese, of course, and soon well beyond my limited ability to follow, so I really can’t comment on that.
Then the usual long Portuguese lunch, which gave an opportunity for some very good conversations on EA and the like; and then back to the conference itself, for which we split up into three streams. Which was a pity, because I’d really wanted to see the presentations by Ivo Velitchkov on ‘taskless BPMN’ and Denis Gagné on process simulation, both of whom were on at the same time as my own slot. Oh well: next time, perhaps?
My own presentation was on linking EA and BPM together around a service-oriented concept of the enterprise. Here’s my slidedeck for that presentation, anyway:
This was followed by someone from one of the big-consultancies (whom I won’t name) with a, uh, thinly-disguised sales-pitch for their tools and services, all wrapped up in a sort-of case-study for a government-department – all a bit odd and ‘political’ in places, though perhaps unsurprising given that the respective government minister was part of the show… (Sure, we need to keep our clients happy, yet it kinda reminds me of that wry aside in a Tweet yesterday from Jon Ayre, that “The problem for true #entarchs is that they strive for what is best for the business rather than the man who thinks he is the business”… painfully true! ) In addition to all the sales-pitch we had to endure here, I was also underwhelmed to note that their ‘new’ approach to architecture and process-management was almost identical to what we’d learned not to do back in Australia a full decade ago… but again no real surprise, given that that kind of systematic myopia and ‘old-wine-in-new-bottles’ is how large-consultancies have always operated. Oh well.
And finally Michael Poulin, on business-processes in the service-oriented enterprise. I’d been looking forward to this one a lot – for obvious reasons, if you’re familiar with my current work and writings here – but I’ll have to admit it was a bit of a disappointment. Michael has some very strange usages of terminology that are, yes, consistent within themselves, but to me just don’t make sense in relation to much from anyone else: for example, asserting that “a business process is predictable, repeatable, robust”, with no term at all to describe any activity that doesn’t always incorporate all three of those attributes; or “business process is a repeatable sequence of conditional steps”, with no means of integration with activities that don’t fit that assumption. The result of these oddly-constrained definitions in turn leads to some very strange assertions: for example, “an outside-in view cannot differentiate between process and service”, or that “a business process is a business service, but the opposite is not always true”. There also seemed to be an assumption that every activity and service-implementation is exactly fungible with everything else – which in real-world practice, especially with any kind of human-in-the-loop, they rarely are. I do like and respect Michael’s work, yet I just couldn’t make sense of this – and I know I wasn’t the only one, either. Will have to explore this more, I guess?
Anyway, overall, a good conference: hence thanks again to Alberto Manuel of ProcessSphere for setting it all up and hosting on the day, and to training-company Grupo Rumos for organisation and coordination. For anyone in BPM or EA, it was well worth attending – and good to see that there’s good work going on in that space, in a country I’ve long admired.