BPM and the Internet of Things

For a while I associated the term “internet of things” (IOT) with some pretty depressing applications such as fridges that automatically order food or televisions that recommend what to watch based on previous viewing behavior thus trapping owners in death spiral of both eating and watching rubbish. In the past year or so IOT appears to have left its teenage years behind and begun to develop some maturity..

From insurance to medicine IOT applications are starting to spring up and deliver some significant benefits to users. For example in car telematics devices which monitor driver behavior and adjust the insurance premiums accordingly are becoming widely adopted, especially as a way of reducing premiums for young drivers. Some telematics providers include an accident service with the black box device alerting the insurer in the event of a collision.

In medicine we are seeing perhaps the most rapid adoption of IOT from smart pill bottles that can alert patients and can notify care providers if the bottle isn’t opened to heart monitors that allow health providers to continually monitor a patient’s heart rate, transmitting data to remote application where it can be interpreted by a doctor or consultant.

So how does all this apply to BPM? Fundamentally all of these smart devices are capturing data, whether it’s about themselves or their users. What’s the point of capturing all this data on whether granny has taken her pills, your driving performance or your personal health if it still takes ages for someone to find, analyze and route the data to the right person. As we can see from the telematics use case what is necessary is for the IOT device to trigger processes.

This is where BPM and the delivery of IOT process solutions come in. Just like with enterprise social networks the BPM tool has the potential to turbo charge IOT adoption. By taking the captured data and applying it directly to processes we can significantly enhance the value of IOT devices. What if the data from the heart monitor automatically triggered a new medical case or doctor’s appointment once a certain threshold was exceeded? What if the pill bottle alerted a carer or next of kin? Could we soon reach a point where an ambulance arrives to pick you up before you knew you were ill?

In reality IOT process solutions will be a mash up of multiple technologies from BPM and Case Management to Business Intelligence and Data Analytics delivered by multiple horizontal and vertical solution providers depending on their area of process expertise.

Once regarded as a back office application BPM is now firmly established in the front office through integration with CRM and ERP and increasingly through the delivery of mobile process applications BPM has also started to invade the customer realm. IOT integration simply represents the next phase in this journey.

Alert me when I’ve drunk too much!

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Forrester v Gartner and the Future of BPM

Long regarded as the software equivalent of the offside rule in football, BPM might just be starting to get interesting. At long last there appears to be some debate happening in the BPM world with a gap emerging between analyst firms Forrester and Gartner on how they see the future of BPM (and Case Management).

First of all Gartner applied the paddles to the BPM corpse earlier this year with the announcement of their iBPMs (intelligent Business Process Management suite). They state that a iBPMs suite has all the features of today’s BPMS complemented with more advanced technologies like advanced analytics, business intelligence, social media and mobile applications. iBPMS use cases will integrate more analytics, social and mobile capabilities into processes making them more intelligent.

Confusingly though Gartner describe iBPMs as a new usage scenario, stating that it should not be compared with their previous BPMS MQ, yet they go on to state; “Our research indicates that the IBO use case represents the future of BPM tools and is experiencing rapid adoption.”

If Gartner have revived BPM Forrester might just have lobotomized the patient, completely changing its personality and how we will view BPM moving forward.  In contrast to Gartner, Forrester have a leaner, packaged, application vision for BPM and have defined a new process category called Smart Process Applications (SPA). These are packaged process apps that encompass many of the characteristics we associate with case management business processes including collaboration and variability. SPA characteristics include ease of use with the ability to be modified rapidly in response to changing business and market conditions. Crucially they expect the cloud to be the primary delivery infrastructure for SPAs making them easier to deploy, support and continuously improve.

Forrester’s confidence in the SPA market is such that they have put their neck on the block stating that they expect Business Process Management suites to be renamed “smart process platforms”.

So what’s my view? Who’s right Gartner or Forrester?

The cloud and the app. internet, as is the case for many SW applications, is a game changer for BPM. In our personal lives we are used to obtaining SW on demand, with little or no configuration required. We will and increasingly are expecting the same of our business software.

Like the software equivalent of Mr. Creosote Gartner’s iBPMS vision sees BPM moving in a different direction, continuing to expand and devour every new or emerging business trend its path. But is a BPMS really the best place for advanced Business Intelligence, Analytics and Social media capability or is it better to integrate with best practice elsewhere?  By adding all of these capabilities are we not continuing to make BPM more complex? Gartner’s iBPMS is a useful BPMS capability reference but iBPMS fails to address many of the issues holding back the wider adoption of BPM suites.

Gartner View of BPM

             Gartner View of BPM

Business process on demand, whether we call it BPaaS or SPA is the future of BPM.  BPM suites will continue to play an important role but increasingly as a cloud based engine for the delivery of on demand pre-built process applications rather than as an on premise application.

BPM in the cloud and BPaaS/SPA transform the business case for BPM applications extending the target market to small and medium sized organizations.  Increasingly organizations will look to these pre-built, good enough, on demand process applications rather than deploy and design their own in house processes. As a result I think Forrester’s leaner SPA vision rather than Gartner’s bloated iBPMS view represents the real future of BPM.

Forrester View of BPM

                                                              Forrester View of BPM

 

Will Customer Experience be the Tipping Point for Case Management?

“A relationship, I think, is like a shark. You know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark.” 

Alvy Singer – Annie Hall

Sometimes I feel this way about case management. Has it failed to move forward? Have we got a dead shark on our hands?  We’ve navel gazed for too long over dynamic and adaptive, unstructured v structured, knowledge workers and case workers. From a marketing point of view it’s all been a bit of a disaster. So what needs to be done to drive more interest case management? Is customer experience management a potential opportunity?

A 2011 Bloomberg Business week survey revealed that “delivering a great customer experience” has become the new imperative: 80% of the companies polled rated customer experience as a top strategic objective. Like case management, customer experience management has also suffered from over analysis.

The potential for case management in a customer service context has been understood for a while. CRM vendors have realized that it’s impossible to predict every customer scenario and have integrated case management applications with their CRM applications to improve how organizations handle unpredictable customer service processes. Customer experience management represents the next step and potentially a tipping point for case management.

In my opinion no other business application has the potential to transform customer experience in the same way that case management can. In a previous post on customer experience I said that customer experience requires just 2 things; fix processes and empower employees. This is the precisely the sweet spot for case management.

The time has come for case management to move forward, to step out from the shadows and hitch a lift on the customer experience bandwagon. Then, to use another movie quote, no one will put case management in the corner.

Next Week: Gamification – “Badges? We ain’t got no badges!We don’t need no badges! I don’t have to show you any stinking badges!”

Customer Experience in !ONLY! 2 Steps

Technology analysts and consultants don’t like to keep things simple. It’s obvious really since simple isn’t good for business. It’s much better to provide things like decision matrices, toolkits, 10 step programs and maturity assessments than to provide clear and concise opinions or recommendations.

So it is with Forrester’s recent customer experience book “Outside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business”. The authors recommend a set of six practices for organizations that want to deliver high-quality customer experience namely: strategy, customer understanding, design, measurement, governance, and culture. While I agree that these are all important considerations if I was a business owner looking to quickly begin the transformation of customer experience and was told by an analyst that I had to carry out Design, Measurement and Governance, oh and while you’re at it change your culture as well I’d immediately think this is going to be too complex and costly. When it comes to customer experience are we over complicating things?

So it is with a little trepidation that I’m going to stick my neck out and say that rather than 6 practices or a tool kit or a matrix there are two, yes only two, steps to improving Customer Experience. These are:

1. Fix Broken Processes.

Customer experience is often defined as how customers perceive their interactions with your company. The key word here is interactions. Each one of these interactions is a business process. Many of Customer Experience leaders just execute their business processes properly. I don’t enjoy shopping on Amazon or visiting Tesco but I return because they deliver their services efficiently.

  • Take the customer journey and ask yourself is this process working fine or does it need fixed, could it be simpler? Then move on to next process. Simplify business processes where possible. Ensure consistency of approach across multiple channels.
  • Automate business processes where appropriate in order to free up your employees to focus on the customer and where they add most value.

This brings me to my second step.

2. Empower your employees

It is impossible to predict and to define a process for every customer scenario. Customers are unpredictable. This is where you need your employees to fill the gaps your processes can’t reach. But they can’t fill the gaps unless they are permitted to do so.

Does your employee really need approval to provide compensation for poor customer service? Does he or she need approval to match the offer of a competitor? Do your employees have all the customer information they need to make a decision?

We know customers hate having to talk to multiple agents, rude or inexperienced staff and being kept on hold. They love professionalism and getting issues resolved at the first point of contact.  You won’t achieve any of this if your employees aren’t empowered. Your employees are the face of your organization, do you really want that face to be a demotivated, inflexible, rude one?

So how do we start to empower employees?

  • Devolve as much of the non-strategic decision making from the center of the organization to the periphery and to your customer facing employees. For example customer compensation decisions, renewal decisions, process changes can all be carried out at the edge of the organization.
  • Address customer data siloes. Ensure agents whether on the phone on in the retail outlet have access to all of the customer data to enable them to make more informed decisions.
  • Don’t tie agents to processes or fixed scripts.
  • Automate mundane or repetitive tasks to free agents to focus on process exceptions and unique, unpredictable customer problems.

So forget about six step customer experience plans, maturity assessments and decision matrices. If you want to start on a customer experience improvement journey the best bet is to do it one process at a time.

Customer Experience – Do we really need more Governance?

A recent Forrester post on customer experience grabbed my attention. Governance: The Key to Customer experience management.

Do we really need more governance within organizations? Will more governance really transform customer experience?

A few nights ago I was at a restaurant with some friends and the waiter spilled drinks over three of our party. On receipt of the bill, we (half) jokingly asked the waiter if we’d be getting compensation for his error. The waiter said that he was unable to give us a discount or a free round of drinks as the manager wasn’t working that evening.

Governance is key to many business critical business processes and especially business processes requiring compliance to specific industry standards or legislation. As we have seen in the example above governance however can have a detrimental impact on customer experience. Governance locks employees into fixed, inflexible business processes which from a customer point of view can deliver a terrible experience.

Governance may help deliver consistency of service but what if that service isn’t very good to start with? What happens if we quickly need to change the process? Governance then acts as a roadblock or at least delays the ability of the business to perform a rapid change to procedures. Customer experience governance simply adds another management layer for the customer service representative to navigate in search for an answer.

It may seem naïve but surely every customer facing employee should perform their own customer experience governance. We may not be able to define it but we all know what good customer experience is. After all we are all customers. As employees do we really need more layers of management within our organizations telling us what good customer experience is?

From a customer experience point of view the solution should not be more governance, instead the business objective should be to devolve as many decisions as possible to your customer facing employees. Let your employees do their own customer experience governance.

Customer Experience – Using employees to fill the gaps processes can’t reach

Customer Experience is often defined as the aggregate of all of the interactions a customer has with your brand. From a business process improvement perspective the key word in this definition is “interactions”, that customer experience is determined over multiple interactions between the customer and the organization.

At some point in their interactions with your organization the customer will engage directly with an employee. Whether it’s face to face at a retail outlet, in a restaurant or via a service desk customer experience improvement projects must consider the needs of the employee.

In many cases however these customer facing employees at the service desk, at the checkout or employed as wait staff are your lowest paid employees. Yet these employees are the public face of your organization and have a disproportionate impact on the perceived customer experience. In addition the repetitive, inflexible and low paid nature of many of these roles means that they are characterized by poor staff morale and high employee turnover.

While BPM and process improvement technologies can go a long way towards delivering a consistent customer experience across the multiple customer touch points they can only go so far. It’s impossible to predict every potential customer interaction and automate it. At some point you rely on your employees to fill the gaps that your business processes can’t reach. Thus if your customer experience improvement project is to be successful one of the key objectives must be to empower and enhance the role of the customer facing employee.  This then becomes an opportunity for Case Management.

Case Management applications support your customer facing employees who fill the gaps your processes can’t reach. By devolving power and decision making authority from the center of the organization to your customer facing teams you can eliminate process gaps, manage unpredictability and through empowerment address staff morale, motivation and turnover.

Employees play a key customer experience role

Banks; Service so Bad it’s Good

I know it’s open season on banks at the moment and writing a blog post on how bad banks are at customer service is like taking sweets from a baby. It’s definitely not the most original topic but hey I can’t help it and I’ll explain why later.

Two banking related problems stumbled into view this week.

First of all this week the RBS in the UK suffered a SW upgrade fault that caused problems for millions of their customers. Thousands of customers failed to have money transferred into or out of their accounts leading to significant problems. Now we all know every company makes mistakes, what differentiates leading customer service organizations however is how they respond when problems occur.

So how did RBs respond? Well here’s one example where they left a customer stranded at a Spanish airport for 4 days and wouldn’t increase his credit limit to allow him to proceed with his holiday plans.

It’s not as though this problem was completely unexpected either. They had a similar glitch last year as well.

The second banking event of the week concerns the ongoing problems I’m having with my own bank. In my white paper on how organizations can use Case Management to transform ustomer service I describe how last year it took them over 3 months to process a name change on my account. This year it’s taken them 4 months to process my car loan application. Some of the classic customer service issues I experienced were:

  • Repeatedly having to submit proof of identity information.
  • Failing to update me on the status of my application.
  • Failure to meet any SLAs.
  • Having to interact with multiple poorly connected departments
  • Failure to have any coherent complaints management process

Both these events are clear examples of poor customer service processes. In the first case an inability to quickly adapt business process in response to unpredictable events and in the second an inability to manage processes that cross multiple departments and involve multiple participants.

So I hear you say, well if the service is so bad with your bank why don’t you leave? To explain why I don’t leave I’m going to quote Alvy Singer. Alvy Singer is the hero from Woody Allen’s Annie Hall movie and towards the end of the movie he uses a joke to explain why he keeps putting himself through the wringer of his bad relationship with Annie.

Alvy Singer [narrating] this guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, “Doc, uh, my brother’s crazy; he thinks he’s a chicken.” And, uh, the doctor says, “Well, why don’t you turn him in?” The guy says, “I would, but I need the eggs.” Well, I guess that’s pretty much now how I feel about relationships; y’know, they’re totally irrational, and crazy, and absurd, and… but, uh, I guess we keep goin’ through it because, uh, most of us… need the eggs. 

I guess I’m the customer service equivalent of Alvy singer. I need my bank because I need their eggs. I need them to continue to show me how bad customer service can be and give me the motivation to try and improve things.Their service is so bad that it’s good.