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BPM Versus BPR: Don't Dehumanize the Work Place

Malcolm Ross, Senior Vice President, Product Strategy, Appian
August 19, 2010

In the early 1990s, Business Process Reengineering (BPR) emerged on the scene promising "Radical change, fast." BPR, the analysis and redesign of workflow within and between enterprises, was first mentioned in a Harvard Business Review article written by MIT professor, Michael Hammer. He advocated a "forklift" approach when he said, "Most work done doesn't add any value for customers," and should thus be removed to maximize customer value and minimize consumption of resources. Following that article's publication, BPR was picked up by large corporations and government agencies eager to renew their competitiveness. However, BPR's shortcomings soon started showing and interest waned.

Many people often confuse BPR with BPM technology, when the two couldn't be more dissimilar in their approach. You might be thinking, "I remember when my agency deployed BPR. It was a terrible experience, so why should I consider BPM?" Let's pause for a minute and take a look at an overview of their differences:

BPR strove to create the perfect process from scratch by replacing manual labor with processes that were embedded in applications that made it difficult to observe them and understand their impact on others. BPR's forklift approach proved to be time consuming and costly, and overall a risky investment for agencies. Its radical change, fast approach translated into ineffectiveness and ultimately failure.

On the other hand, BPM gives users a platform for continuous improvement. It provides long term value by helping users understand the interactions and dependencies among people, the systems they rely on, and the information they need to effectively complete tasks. Enabled by Web 2.0 and social technologies, BPM allows agencies to improve what they already have by creating visibility into process bottlenecks, identifying areas where increased automation can enhance human-centric activities, and providing real-time data to help people make better decisions in their jobs.

In summary, BPM and BPR have the same goal of optimizing organizational effectiveness and efficiency. But, unlike BPR, BPM solutions help organizations achieve success in a dynamic world without dehumanizing the work place.