These are crazy times for change, threatening to disrupt so much of what we’ve worked so hard to achieve over the past decades of information technology and business process. The toughest part of disruption is knowing that what took so much energy to figure out can be so quickly plowed under by something smarter, faster and more adaptive. It’s great fun to be the disruptor but we all know in the back of our minds that the disruptors, too, will lose ground to the next great idea. It can be dizzying if you pay too much attention.
A manual for disruption
It’s into this challenge that Jim Sinur, James Odell and Peter Fingar released their new book last week, Business Process Management: The Next Wave. The authors argue that intelligent agent technology is required to solve the seismic shift in information technology happening today. They point out that business process management (BPM) has until now been mostly about tactical improvements, limited in scope and mostly focused on specific business functions. Getting beyond the tactical and into the strategic use of BPM will require an enterprise focus that cuts across functional lines and classic management silos. The authors argue for moving process from an engine of execution to, “…any number of engines executing any number of processes…” They call for process being the grand orchestrator of the value chain rather than today’s common composite applications that interact with scattered processes.
What they’re describing is a wholesale change to the way business process is viewed: a Process-Oriented Architecture. They acknowledge the complexity of such an idea, and have the answer for this in the use of agent technology:
What’s an agent? Backing away from technology for a moment, the everyday term, agent, provides a starting definition: “one who acts for, or in the place of, another.” A software agent is a software package that carries out tasks for others, autonomously without being controlled by its master once the tasks have been delegated. The “others” may be human users, business processes, workflows or applications.
Their intelligent agents then become the encapsulation of key capabilities that include things like reasoning, learning and improvement, and assistance to end users. These become the way an organization handles ever-changing, highly challenging business conditions. These agents are decentralized and are affected by interaction with other agents rather than with a centralized system or controller. The reader has to get a ways into the book to find out that agents aren’t necessarily software, either, but merely something that acts with a degree of autonomy, interactivity and adaptivity.
I’ve only scratched the surface of what the book has to say and you should pick it up and read it for yourself. Sinur, Odell and Fingar are right in their assertions that the answer to today’s complexity and demanding business environment will come through intelligent agents. With cloud, social, mobile and big data, there’s really no choice but to take a new approach to business architecture.