Every business has the same goals in mind. They want to control costs, grow profitability and maintain compliance efforts. While there are several ways to achieve these goals, one of the tried-and-true methods is business process management (BPM). BPM, at its core, allows for a business to document their processes. But simply documenting a process is not enough. There is a need to understand each process and to know specifically how each process interacts with other processes and systems. Taking the time to understand the implications, connections and risks often comes as part of the overall BPM analysis.

Making it easier to document each process has been critical since the early days of Henry Ford’s assembly line. Over time, the sheer number of processes become unwieldy hard to maintain. In the past, the only option was to assign more people. The common role in most firms was “the Expeditor” whose only job was to move around the office or production floor and tag things to be expedited to the next step in the process. Expeditors served a vital role and the good ones were worth their weight in gold. Why? Because an expeditor could make sure products went out the door on time and with minimal errors.


One of the early goals for business process management systems was the desire to have the system aware of the status of each step. Based on the rules assigned to each step, the system would take the appropriate execution actions. This made the computer into the expeditor.  While the implementations may not be perfect, they have continued to get better and spurred the next phase of growth for BPM systems development.


Making it easier to create each process has always been a goal for every organization. In the past, it was left to human efforts to design, develop and deploy workflow solutions. While this is still often the case, there is a rising trend to allow the BPMS to design the processes.

This is not to say that the computer systems are turning into Skynet. However, there is a trend to build more advanced BPM tools and systems that make decisions based on self-governing rules.

Run time

When you forget your password at your banking institution and click on the “password reminder” link, there is no army of humans sitting in a long row of cubicles in a far-off nation. It is a set of computer instructions designed to serve a form dynamically created to match your level and role within the bank. The run rime experience is tailored just for you.

Everyone will get the standard password reminder and/or reset options. However, if you are a premier customer, you might be served a specific set of information on the form related to your level. If you are a student at the early stages of developing your credit worthiness, you could be served a few specific elements related to finance management, starting a line of credit or consolidating your student loans. The point is that these experiences are 100% controlled by the BPM software.

Throughout the business world, we are beginning to see more traditional business processes served up with specific “skins”–such as the password reminder example–that are designed to make the run time experience more efficient.

Skinning and Just in Time

The goal of “skinning” a BPM solution is to provide the correct information on the correct device at the correct time. This flows from the Agile development methodology and has parallels to the just in time mode of thinking that the expeditors of the past used to do by physically tagging items on the shop floor. Just in time is not new; it was pioneered by Toyota in the 1950s, and is sometimes known as Kanban. There are close parallels to the run time experience in a BPMS and the experience on the shop floor.

Today, many forms and reports are not dynamically created for each specific user situation, but they will be in the future. Today, most forms and reports are designed by a human (or set of humans) who is tasked with insuring the BPMS is quick, efficient and able to handle errors gracefully.

The use of skins makes it possible for developers to surface just the right information at just the right time and on the device of the user’s choosing. The concept seems simple. However, it is only in the past few years that the ability to provide skins tied to a specific user experience.

For example, imagine a process that on-boards a new employee into an organization. There are typically 20 or more steps involved in this process. This can include everything from signing documents, taking a picture or being setup in the various systems. Most, if not all, of these processes are built within a BPMS today.

At each step in the process, there may be a different person looking at the information related to the new hire. Some information should be hidden from view for certain steps, while others may need to have access to line-of-business (LOB) systems to add the new hire into the system.

The various users in this scenario can include the new hire themselves, the hiring manager, the HR generalist, the badge creation department, the IT department, the office manager among others. The BPM software should surface only the relevant information for the task at hand and no more, to ensure the information is secure while still showcasing necessary details to the task owner.

Skinnable BPM applies to Every Business

Skinnable BPM applies to horizontal and vertical solution areas. For example:

  • BPM for governmental agencies – there is a need to provide citizen access while preserving the integrity of the data and the users.
  • BPM for manufacturing and financial services – there is a similar need to surface information for auditing purposes.
  • BPM for healthcare, life sciences and pharmaceutical industries – there are regulations related to what information can be shown, shared and stored.
  • BPM for media & entertainment – there are pay walls that may need to be erected to protect intellectual property.

This list goes on and on and is only limited by the imagination of the developers. The key point to address is that a skin for BPM can be applied to the user experience and can be dynamically generated based on the role of the user as well as the context of the user request for information and also based on the device being used to make the request.

The World of Skinnable BPM

Welcome to the world of a skinnable BPM. If you have ever changed the way your smartphone looks or added a theme to your internet browser, you can quickly understand the idea behind a skinnable BPM environment. Everything from the color of the screens to the layout of the forms and even the look and feel of the icons and buttons can be adjusted.

The difference is that the skinnable BPM model is dynamic. The advances in machine learning, development tools and access to data have made it possible to expose and surface information when and where a user needs it.

Skinnable BPM is Ready, Are You?

There has long been a need for a solution that provides adaptive, flexible and just-in-time solutions. These solutions and the BPMS platforms provided are available today and continuously  improve.

Whether the BPM system is supporting an auditing, manufacturing or a selling process, the ability to provide just the right information to the person making the request is the metric of success. Using a skinnable BPM model can make it easier for end users to do their jobs while insuring the data governance and compliance requirements are being met. By helping employees, customers and partners gain access to the information they need at just the right time, their satisfaction levels will increase. The end result will be better processes that empower the user to get more done.

Skinnable BPM is the logical next step for the BPM system platforms of today. As machine learning continues to gain a foothold in the market, there will be an evolution in the way data is presented and how end users consume and engage with the BPM system itself.

This guest blog was written by Jeff Shuey. Jeff is a expert in the Enterprise Content Management industry. He is an international speaker and writer on the Intersection of People and Process in Social, Mobile and Cloud Computing. Over the past 20 years he has worked with customers and partners to design, develop and deploy solutions around the world. He has worked for Microsoft, FileNet (IBM), Captaris, Open Text, Kofax, Kodak and Gimmal and is currently the Chief Evangelist at K2. (Twitter, Google+, Lindedin, Facebook)

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