We’ve been talking with users lately on what the promise of “technology for the masses” really means for the BPM suite market. And more specifically, how BPM technologies will evolve to compliment ECM strategies and implementations. The flavor of many of these discussions comes down to transitioning “x” amount of design, control and execution from IT into the hands of “process-savvy but less-technical” corporate domains.

In other words, transferring capabilities into the business — thereby creating BPM environments that eliminate throwing applications over the wall and then spending precious resource dollars to manage the inevitable boatload of change requests thrown back. According to Howard Smith and Peter Fingar, authors of Business Process Management: The Third Wave, the challenge for leading corporations is not to bridge the business-IT divide, but rather to obliterate it.

These conversations are familiar to content specialists and information architects who demanded the evolution of content technologies such as WCM from programmer-centric environments to business-driven applications that required little IT maintenance. In fact, “non-IT” buyers became more and more important on the radar screens of WCM vendors during the mid to late 90’s as content management went mainstream. Budgeting, evaluation, and approval teams were a mix of marketing, sales and IT personnel. C-level executives were primary decision-makers and had efficiency, cost reduction, and revenue generation on their checklists. The corporate desire to move from centralized control to decentralized collaboration was paramount. Desktop features, Web-based interfaces, templates, and coaches/wizards were hot.

The content technologies market learned simple but undeniable truths during this period that drive sales and deployments in the ECM suite market to this day. Usability matters. Usability drives adoption. Adoption drives the ROI, whether the desire is efficiency and cost savings or revenue generation and customer satisfaction. Vendors: know your buyers! Buyers: know your users!

As the BPM suite market evolves, it will face technology convergence, vendor consolidation, and the need to decentralize capabilities to achieve the enterprise sale — as did the ECM suite market before it. Complex, hybrid business processes, i.e. those that merge data + content + straight-through processing + human-driven interaction requirements, require collaboration and interactions that “cross the divide” between IT and the business.

How can business managers — the compliance officer, the human resources manager, the account manager, the underwriter — work with technologies for modeling and rules management, business intelligence, performance management, and analytics within familiar environments? Complex, hybrid processes increase the need for the business to create, view, interact with, and optimize the process through its execution and inevitable exceptions.

Debates on whether savvy Excel business users can “do modeling” aside, increased BPMS vendor messaging on providing common, “Visio-like” interfaces for process modeling, “zero-code” BPMS, integrations with Microsoft Office, and collaborative “business user-oriented” dashboard environments point to a market that is evolving to answer one of the more critical business buyer questions: — What does it look like and how easy is it to use?

Putting the business in BPM underscores the “usability matters” mantra. A solution that cannot demonstrate it to the savvy business buyer at the ECM/BPM intersection — who envisions an environment where ECM and BPM are seamlessly complimentary — should probably think twice before the demo.