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Where do we draw the line between an iBPM and BPM platform?

What is the difference between iBPM and BPM? Is iBPM simply an extension of the old BPM ways, or is truly something unique? Esther Shein tackles this question.

First there was the electronic form. Then workflow was added, which eventually morphed into business process management and the BPM platform. And now there is "intelligent" business process management.

The line of demarcation between BPM and iBPM is fuzzy, industry observers say, and the only way to choose between the two options is to map out business needs.

"IBPM takes some of its clues from the underlying analytics that maybe BPM does not,'' said Steve Weissman, founder of the consultancy Holly Group. With BPM, people are writing the business rules, he said. "IBPM might do essentially some of the thinking without human intervention, drawing upon actual analytics based on customer behavior to look for trends that humans setting up rules couldn't possibly foresee."

The transition to iBPM

Some vendors have embraced the term iBPM because they've added a few new capabilities, "but it's the same market, the same evolution," Clay Richardson, a principal analyst at Forrester Research, said. He views the two terms interchangeably, maintaining that the entire BPM market is shifting to support digital transformation.

"If you think about digital, there are new use cases, like mobile, doing BPM in the cloud," Richardson said. "I just don't think a new product has emerged in that way. The use cases change, products change. But it's still a BPM market."

Now, for example, if a company has a worker in the field inspecting wind turbines, they would use their tablet to check things off while conducting the inspection. In the past, using a non-digital process, the worker would have to go back to his laptop in his vehicle or office and log in to some system and upload the information, Richardson said.

With iBPM, Richardson said, once the information is entered, the worker can be guided, step by step, through the things he needs to look at as he enters data. The process can now also give feedback on what to do if three things are wrong, for example. The additional analytics were not available previously, he said.

"Most systems have the same capabilities, and there's not really any delineation other than the label [BPM or iBPM] from what we see,'' Richardson added. Vendors are making the progression naturally to iBPM because of the added analytics functionality.

It's all about the business case

"I don't think I see clients using the term 'iBPM' for a use case. I think clients, if they do have a use case that's related, [such as] 'using our BPM platform to drive digital,' that's the more common use case I see,'' Richardson said.

Weissman concurred. As technology users, "we spend way too much time trying to delineate between these technologies, when the differences between them are degrees of sophistication and how much they let us do,'' he said. "We like to 'bucket-ize' things, and it's an enormous distraction."

Organizations need look at the essence of the business problem they're trying to solve, he stressed. Otherwise, the vast majority of IT projects may not meet expectations. It's not that the technology doesn't work -- it likely does -- it's that IT or the business may have been expecting it to solve a different issue, he said.

Weissman also added that the decision between an iBPM and BPM platform should not be an either/or decision, but rather one that determines what the best use case is for each. He also added that organizations should not feel pressured to chase after iBPM if resources don't allow for it.

"If you don't have the scale it's not worth the time or money," Weissman said. "It all comes back to what problem you're trying to solve."

Weissman also cautioned that organizations should not make the mistake of trying to define the business problem in terms of the technology. "I plot things on a graph according to customer need and it becomes immediately obvious that a number of technologies, by the labeling, could be used to solve a problem," he said. "So you have to look at all of them, otherwise the vendor shapes the solution."

A changing BPM market

Forrester Research recently did a survey on how the BPM market is changing. Among the findings were that the top three skills companies are planning to increase around BPM are data science, customer journey mapping and design thinking, Richardson said, adding that there is a notable shift in the drivers for BPM.

"What we saw was two years ago, the primary driver was cost reduction, then I think it might have been regulatory compliance," said Richardson. "Today, it is customer experience and digital transformation."

Respondents also noted that this digital transformation and customer experience management represents a significant flip in business priorities.

"If we go back to the 2013 time frame, companies are still dealing with regulatory compliance and managing costs ... [now] they realize they need to grow,'' he noted. "How do you do that? Customers."

In a couple of years, the focus will be on how companies can engage customers and if processes are optimized that engagement. "You have to continue to build new digital products; I think that's where companies have the most anxiety: staying on top of the digital opportunity."

Improving the customer experience using a BPM platform is a "hot area and hot use case for BPM right now,'' Richardson said.

"This is not one versus the other,'' Weissman said. "This is [about] what do you need and which vendor offering fits better. You have to look at what capabilities are they offering. At the end of the day it's not as binary or clean as 'BPM or iBPM' -- they both have lots to offer."

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