In this issue of the Technology Forecast, we examine the yin yang¹ of structured or repeatable work processes and versatile or variable human processes. Most large enterprises have spent much of the past 15 years implementing business infrastructures focused on standardized processes supported by modern enterprise applications. The words roll off the tongue so easily that we often forget that for most large enterprises, these highly standardized, repeatable, and automated processes represent a fraction of what really happens in the business. For every “yang” in the business, there are probably two “yins”—the more variable, responsive, creative, analytic, and insightful activities that heavily rely on the versatility of employees’ efforts.
Software-based process management of the yin of the enterprise has never really taken off. After all, if the process is highly variable, what could actually be standardized for automation? Why would an enterprise want to insert structure where it is not wanted or useful? Shouldn’t we just leave the yin of enterprises alone? How could software possibly improve on what is essentially a human process?
During our research for this issue, we explored ways that companies are beginning to bring the yin and the yang together in pursuit of end-to-end business process management. What we uncovered is that managing the yin doesn’t mean standardizing and constraining the value-creating variability of human actions. Rather, it requires adding just enough structure into the yin of creative processes to actually enhance them while connecting the overall work activity to the yang of structured process and data.
A good analogy is in the role and usefulness of music notation. The human mind seems highly attuned to the sound of music, regardless of culture or experience. Music clearly represents a creative activity for both the composer and the performer. And yet there is archaeological evidence of efforts to introduce structure into music as long ago as 2000 BC.² And the reasons are obvious.
Imagine a world without music notation and an individual playing a song. That scenario is not too difficult. Imagine now 10 musicians playing a song together—possible, but only with lots and lots of practice and after many hours of experimenting to determine which notes blend together to create a pleasing sound. Now extend this test to 100 musicians. That’s OK for very simple forms of music but nearly impossible for anything complex—unless there is some agreed-upon higher-level structure for describing the pitch, rhythm, and tempo of the sounds coming from each performer.
In fact, the specification of pitch, rhythm, and tempo, among other details, constitute the music’s metadata— creating shared visibility and making it possible for all participants to be in harmony.
Large enterprises are much like a 100-person orchestra when it comes to the human activities that really define the value propositions of an enterprise. Whether it is in product design, customer knowledge, or continually adapting a supply chain to deliver the best value, individuals and teams of bright, creative employees and partners working together make all the difference. And a few companies such as Schawk, a brand management company, are learning that metadata (a structure) can go a long way toward helping everyone work more effectively together. In the process, they are achieving higher performance from both their yin and their yang.
This issue of the Technology Forecast examines how digital assets resulting from human activity have become smarter over time. These smart digital assets present the opportunity to extend process management to human-driven activities without constraining their value-creating variability. The first article introduces the idea of meta-process management, achieved by combining digital asset metadata with asset management and process management technologies, as an approach to managing and continuously improving an end-to-end process. The article details the experience of Schawk in using smart digital assets to facilitate end-to-end process management.
The second article describes the rise of smart digital assets as metadata about them has become richer and deeper over time. The last article explores the CIO’s role in bringing meta-process management to the enterprise.
As always, our articles are supported by in-depth interviews with leading executives and thought leaders who are defining the future of IT. Stephen Kaufman of Schawk describes how the metadata of smart digital assets enables the company to manage its end-to-end process of brand management from creative to delivery, while facilitating the versatility of staff contributions to customer value. Steve Miranda of Oracle discusses how metadata is making a difference in managing human workflow processes. Marge Breya of SAP forecasts how smart digital assets combined with the personalization of process present a compelling opportunity for business process management. Ismael Ghalimi of Intalio discusses the need for process owners in an enterprise and for process models to drive execution. And Dr. M. A. Ketabchi of Savvion details how business process management systems are process applications that complement transactional and other applications.
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And as always, we welcome your feedback on this issue of the Technology Forecast and your ideas for where we should focus our research and analysis in the future.
¹From Wikipedia: In Chinese philosophy, the concept of yin yang (often referred to in the west as yin and yang) is used to describe how seemingly disjunct or opposing forces are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world, giving rise to each other in turn.
²A. D. Kilmer, “The Discovery of an Ancient Mesopotamian Theory of Music,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 115 (1971): 131–49.