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BPM: A Flexible Backbone for Intelligent Automation (Part 1)

Roland Alston, Appian
March 26, 2020

Neil Ward-Dutton, Research Director, MWD Advisors
Neil Ward-Dutton, Author andVP, AI and Intelligent Process Automation European Practices, IDC

Digital leaders are embracing the rise of intelligent automation (IA) but many cautious execs are merely tolerating the trend or experimenting with it in silos or on a project-by-project basis.

But to benefit from the radical impact of IA, says industry analyst Neil Ward-Dutton, organizations need to go big and adopt a lightweight, flexible solution that can put the power of automation in the hands of non-developers across the organization and do it in a way that aligns with the company's overall digital transformation strategy.

Which is why, says Ward-Dutton, you also need a digital orchestrator because many of the technologies, services and frameworks you adopt to automate parts of your business are going to change over time.Digitally speaking, you need some kind of backbone that lots of different capabilities can be plugged into and modified over time.From a strategic standpoint, BPM is the perfect solution.

Yes, IA is a powerful tool to help the CIO crush her digital transformation goals. But there's also a strong argument to be made that fully scaling IA is the highest-yielding strategy.In fact, the most successful brands are multiplying the speed and power of BPM, machine learning, and robotic process automation with low-code development to provide better, faster customer service.Or gain more visibility into sales channels, operating models, day-to-day business operations and more.On the flip side, though, many organizations are taking a patchwork approach to automating workflows across the organization.

Just17% of companies have fully scaled their IA efforts, according to The Wall Street Journal.You see where this is going: Businesses that choose a piecemeal approach to IA, says Ward-Dutton, might not survive. Which brings us to the following republished interview with Ward-Dutton one of Europe's most experienced and high-profile strategic technology advisersand analysts whodrops some serious knowledge on:

    • Why it's important to take advantage of IA NOW

    • How and why the economics of IA have changed

    • Why BPM is more relevant than ever

Hope you enjoy the conversation.

Why Intelligent Automation Matters

Appian: You've written extensively about the evolution of BPM and intelligent automation. What are the business impacts of intelligent automation, and why should C-suite execs care about it?

Ward-Dutton: Fundamentally, intelligent automation is about two things. It's about cost and reach. And they're very closely related.Automation isn't new.It's been a feature of business for about 200 years. It's been around since the introduction of manufacturing processes in the industrial revolution.What's happened, though, over the last three years, is that automation technologies are now more widely available to help improve efficiency, quality, regulatory compliance, and all kinds of administrative work throughout the organization.

"The opportunity to automate this kind of work has increased dramatically, because the economics have changed."

Busting Barriers to Enterprise Automation

Appian: In what way?

Ward-Dutton: If we look back just 5 or 10 years, there was some very sophisticated BPM software and integration technology available to automate things like financial processing in banks, or provisioning of service in telecom networks, for example. These were big, hairy, challenges with lots of value associated with them.But what's happened more recently is that new tactics and technologies have become available that enable us to automate more kinds of work.That's fundamentally what intelligent automation is about without getting too specific.

It's basically about barriers to entry coming down, because it's cheaper to automate things.

Appian: And how does BPM fit into that narrative. Is BPM still relevant now that we're in the age of digital transformation?

Ward-Dutton: Yes, I think it's hugely relevant. There's been a lot of talk about how "BPM is dead." There was a big hype wave around BPM about 10 years ago. And that hype wave has passed. But like I said, much of what we did with early BPM was focused on big, hairy, problems.

But when you look at the technology that powered much of that BPM wave of innovation, it's still there. And it's now easier to use and it's also much cheaper, with the rise of cloud-based technology.So, what we're seeing now is that even if you just consider BPM by itself the ability to design a workflow system, deploy it, and have analytics drive improvements in interactions with people and coordinate work has never been more important than it is today."

Appian: We're also seeing BPM being applied to a wider variety of business problems as well.

Ward-Dutton: Yes, we're finding that instead of being applied just to very complex back office situations, we're seeing BPM also being applied on a much smaller scale, at the departmental level to solve less strategic issues. That's the first point to make about why BPM is still important.This technology enables work to be coordinated effectively across teams and departments or the whole supply chain.

"And when you start to look at all of the other automation-related technologies that are trending such as RPA, AI, machine learning, and decision management BPM plays an important role as the conductor of all of these capabilities."

Appian: You've also referred to BPM as a kind of backbone. What did you mean by that?

Ward-Dutton: Think about all of the bots that are being mainstreamed by companies everywhere. If you think of these bots as a digital workforce, you need a conductor to orchestrate this workforce. But you also need a backbone piece of technology that can coordinate all of that. And that's where BPM plays a huge role.

( For more insight into the business value of low-code automation, check out this must-read IDC white paper: Realizing the True Value of a Low-Code Practice. Finally, be sure to tune in next week for the final episode of this updated and republished conversation with Analyst and Intelligent Process Automation expert Neil Ward-Dutton.)