With the passing of Signavio into the hands of SAP are we witnessing the last hurrah of Process Mapping software?

One would think that software that can tell people exactly how a business works would be top of every CEO’s shopping list. You only have to look at the poor track record of ERP implementations and other IT project train wrecks to see what happens when you don’t understand what you are dealing with.

Sayonara Signavio

The acquisition of former process mapping leaders such as ARIS by Software AG in 2009 and Nimbus by Tibco in 2011 was followed by continued marketing efforts for 18 months or so before their mapping software ended up in the dusty lower regions of The Price List.

Justification on the part of the acquirers has always been ‘adding to the Stack’ although in the case of Signavio, SAP’s motivation is more difficult to deduce – bringing a foster child into the family? Personally, I think process mapping vendors realise at some point that they are not in a billion dollar valuation market and so look for ways to cash out, and Signavio has played this strategy particularly well.

The story has it that SAP wanted to acquire Celonis, whose software has made a killing off SAP customers by ‘mining’ their software installation to deduce the bits of process flow between the SAP program functions. Despite a substantial multiple on Celonis’s last funding valuation they wanted more from SAP, who consequently turned to Signavio, who coincidentally (?) just 6 months prior had become a process mining vendor by sourcing a solution from FortressIQ.

But I digress. Why is such an important function as having a black and white definition of how a business works not garnering more attention at board level or at least in the C-suite?

Process Mapping sucks

I believe that process mapping has been its own worst enemy. It is not fit for purpose. It is typically purchased at a mid-manager level, used for a period (on average 5 years) and then discarded once the management moves on. It has no real stickability.

Consultants continue to use Visio, as they have done for decades - it serves their purpose, though not necessarily clients’. It’s quick and easy to put words in boxes in a flow. No need to worry about validity, it’s just a visual representation of whatever. I’ve seen decisions in boxes, even place names. What does it all mean - the diagram just ‘supports the report’.

This is the issue with all process mapping tools, Signavio included. They never got past being a diagramming tool that use flowcharting (from the first days of programming) to conceptually represent business activity. There are even rules for how to draw diagrams (BPMN - Business Process Modelling Notation).

At the end of the day business is left with a folder full of diagrams, each one independent of the others except through shared words - for which Signavio has created a ‘dictionary’. There are plenty of add-on functions to analyse and report on the content but nothing that the CEO or Board can point to and say ‘This is how our business operates’. Consequently, with it not being a C-level necessity, defining their processes is not the strategic role it clearly should be.

Do you Understand?

Process mapping is an IT construct, when the people who need to define and communicate - and most importantly understand - what happens in their organization are business people.

Process mapping has no inherent business rules, no business architecture to tell people how the components of business are supposed to interact. If you read the words in a diagram box in Signavio you can’t tell whether or not you are looking at a complete task, a group of tasks or even a piece of a task. The box should impart the business rule. A task has a start and an end. There will almost certainly be many procedural steps, but once a task is started it has to go through to conclusion – which could be premature termination for some reason, which in itself is vital to know since this is an exception to the process rule.

A group of tasks undertaken at a desk or other workplace at a particular stage in a process can be scheduled, monitored and managed centrally. The controlled passage of work between the stages is termed workflow. Whereas the timing and sequence of work a worker undertakes at the stage are at their discretion - although the sequence of task execution is provided to the worker when the process is automated.

Mapping is not Modelling

What the CEO and Board are looking for is called Process Modelling. The diagram that Signavio and other use is a process map – the same 2-dimensional construct that pirates used to find their buried treasure. A model is 3D. It has rules that when used in the context of a business determine how the components of the business are organized. When you look at a Task in a model of a business you can see that it is undertaken at a particular Stage in a Process by a person whose Position has the required Role for the task.

Digital Twin saves the day

Because the model replicates the structure and rules of business it is termed a Digital Twin. There is now, under the auspices of the Object Management Group (OMG), the Digital Twin Consortium, which is actively promoting this new generation of technology around the world.

The good news for CEOs and Boards is that they now at last have a way to see their business in an integrated fashion, rather than a folder or arcane maps. In process modelling the ‘diagrams’ are a visual representation of the model rather than vice versa. Consequently you can extract from the model visual representations not only of workflow and task sequencing, but images of the business environment itself overlaid on the model. You can see the actual machine that is represented in a manufacturing process flow and see any information associated with it.

Digital Twinning is the obvious way forward – seeing is believing, or as Einstein is reputed to have said, “If I can’t picture it, I can’t understand it.”  That said, the software behind a Digital Twin is an order of magnitude more complex that that used in process mapping. But, hey, that’s what software’s all about - to do the heavy lifting so you don’t have to.