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Café Innovation – Now is not the time to shrink back!

I returned from speaking at Tech Ed ’08, Bangalore, last week but had to travel immediately to speak at SAP Insider’s inaugural BPM Conference. This sequence of events told me two things: (a) I need to manage my travel schedules a little better, and (b) the best investment in skills that an organization can make is in the BPM arena. As a result of many conversations, one other thing that became clear was that more evangelizing is necessary to keep organizations on-track with their intended platform growth – if you are currently solvent, now is not the time to shrink back just because the overall economic climate has taken a turn for the worse.

Last month I had put forth the argument (Café Innovation – Innovation is the mantra for competitiveness…even in tough economic times!) that companies that continue to innovate during the downturn are the ones that will emerge ahead once things get better. I am ever more convinced that this has to be the way forward.

It appears our national effort to shore up the economy includes the promise of unprecedented investment that will ultimately return consumer confidence and purchasing ability to levels that will re-power our economy. It is commonly understood that corporations must further stakeholder returns while national efforts are less geared toward personal profit. However, there is something to be borrowed from the logic of investment in the right areas during the downturn. Let us take the example of a corporation that is solvent, and has defined plans to grow its capabilities, perhaps requiring some form of process innovation to make it happen. In this scenario, it will behoove this corporation to not abandon its plans just because these plans demand cash outflow without the promise of an immediate return. No doubt, these plans need to be reviewed, and perhaps sharpened, but there may still be enough merit in them to promise a solid return in the future. In such a case, this growth/innovation plan should not be abandoned, but instead viewed as part of the strategy to gain long-term competitive advantage vis-à-vis those corporations that are not financially solid and cannot afford to pursue such initiatives for the time being.  

Investing in the skills of the future ought to be one such strategic initiative. In a recent interview (The Role of BPX Skills in a Changing Economy), I was asked if the recent downward swing in economic conditions would adversely impact the desire and ability of organizations to push for more BPM skills within their workforce. From what I see as trends in the SAP ecosystem, I would say that for SAP-centric organizations gaining sharp skills in NetWeaver BPM, as it continues to evolve, will be important; and this is especially true for those who must use modeling to successfully deploy SAP solutions in response to their process requirements. The SAP practitioner of the future is one who must possess modeling skills, and preferably in the tool of choice that SAP has begun to direct them to. With that in mind, forward-thinking organizations will, likely, resist the temptation to put on hold the evolution of its SAP-inclined workforce.

I find many in the SAP ecosystem have questions around this subject. I welcome your thoughts, input, and suggestions.

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  • While I am not opposed to innovation, BPM etc (on the contrary I am a big fan, and do evangelize it every opportunity I get), I am not sure if this will gain speed in current economy.

    Even in good times, most companies don’t spend much money on any training that cannot be tangibly used in a project in immediate future. This is something I have seen in both consulting companies and end user companies. In bad times, there will be less number of new projects, and even lesser use of “new” tools. A few visionary companies, with deep pockets will probably step up, but I would be surprised if this will pickup momentum in the ecosystem as a whole.

    Where I see a spurt of growth is when the economy rebounds – I think companies will jump into the bandwagon and set themselves up for future success by going for configurable and executable business processes.

    If you can convince a company to commission a BPM project, now would be a great time to get some skills in it – you can then make a killing when market improves. But without a potential project, I would not want to put any money on such training in bulk – maybe just train a few so that they can keep tab of how the discipline and tools are developing. It is not productive to put several people through a skill training if they won’t get to use it in real life. By the time they get to use it, the tools and techniques probably would have evolved into something where they probably need retraining any way.

    My 2 cents..

    • Vijay,
      Thank you for your rather substantial response.

      I agree that there will not be tremendous momentum in this in a down economy. This is exactly what I am asking forward thinking companies to go against — to go against a predictable knee-jerk reaction and to evaluate if they can afford to move ahead. In the end there will be some who do and some who don’t. The ones that do will be better positioned when the difficult times are behind us.