An Audience With….Peter Shields, CEO of BusinessPort

Peter Shields, is the CEO and Founder of BusinessPort, specialising in BPM software and Project Implementation.  In 1992, after a successful twenty year career in the Oil & Gas sector specialising in Quality, Risk, & Compliance Management with Halliburton, Peter became interested in the emerging sector of Process Management.  The aftermath of the Piper Alpha Disaster in 1989 had created multiple standards now applicable to all operations.  This meant an international workforce required guidance on following the strict regulations set by a newly vigilant Health Safety & Environment body.  It soon became clear a sea change was needed in order for the new standards, a plethora of regulatory demands, internal controls for a multi-national workforce, and shareholder demands to be communicated across remote offshore sites.

In order to address this, Peter adopted business process methodology to reduce the complexity of information, focus ownership of the processes to the worksites & relevant disciplines, and by designing a ground-breaking Process-based Management System.  The web-based systems proved to form the ideal platform for Business Assurance to control Process, Risk, Compliance, and Competency.  Encouraged by the dramatic adoption of process management by the offshore sector, Peter made the leap from the corporate world to form BusinessPort in 1996 and pioneered the concept of BPM in the industry.  

Peter has an MBA from RGU University in Aberdeen and as CEO of BusinessPort works closely with clients and their in-house IT Strategy Team, to design practical, valued technical solutions to increase clients’ process efficiency.

 

2009 was seen as a fairly turbulent for most but towards the end of the year many kicked off major change programs focused on process transformation.  How do you expect 2010 will unfold for the BPM industry generally and for BPM Vendors ?

The aftermath of 2008/9 has added more focus to operational efficiency and with reduced head-counts & tighter budgets for process transformation programs – the downturn has exacerbated the need for not just process  streamlining and general efficiency drive, but also to align personnel within the restructured organisation and the existing business processes.  The downturn has had a positive effect on process performance; we achieved our largest profits since forming.  This proves there are organisations out there which grasped the moment and initiated transformation programs with the view to emerging from the recession leaner and more competitive.

While there can be a reduction in IT costs due to the Cloud, you have to wonder whether the savings of this approach will be of a significant percentage to the overall project costs, (Business Analyst day-rates, system build, training, & product support) to make the decision-makers stand up and yell, “We’ll have some of that”.  The jury is out on this one for now.

As to what the market for BPM solutions will be this year, “It’s all about the economy, stupid”.  Unfortunately, there are numerous reasons why the BPM market could be relatively flat with the unease in the economy’s performance, restrictions on bank borrowing, poor exchange rates, post-election tax hikes to combat national debt of stratospheric proportions, slashed public budgets, need I go on?

I do however believe that BPM vendors will receive the “bugle call” from distressed organisations once they reach the tipping point of poor output due to inefficient and ineffective processes.  Additionally, the pressure on corporate governance and the need for transparency throughout the organisation has increased the opportunity for BPM to act as the catalyst by providing a framework that is visible to all stakeholders. I now believe there’s a greater understanding on the benefits of BPM to those organisations previously classed as traditional or lacking in technical sophistication.  The appearance of Microsoft Office 2010 will include, “Visio on steroids” which could change the perception of BPM from an elite IT technical solution, (not my words) to a more practical business enabler.

The tight financial climate may well restrict “blue-chip” budgets, however as our Agility System is scalable, we are seeing greater numbers of SME’s employ our system that combines full Process Management, Document Management and has the ability to highlight both business risks and  maintain multi-standard compliance.

Do you expect clients to alter their buying criteria as a result of the downturn and concentrate on initial cost first rather than ROI or the need for BPM itself to support strategy ?

Our client base (Defence/Oil & Gas/Transportation) has always been appreciative of the benefits of BPM.  Implementing BusinessPort’s Agility System involves top management, through middle-management to the shop floor involvement, therefore the need for improvement which is caused by a problem such as process redundancy, duplication or company growth is on the management team’s radar.  This transposes into strategy and then through to deployment of a BPM solution.  While in theory, the solution should be factored into any change strategy, the reality is that the problems occur and the solution is applied to address the deficiencies.

With regard to buying criteria, we have found that the key barrier to project award is the “ROI acid test” where diligence on achievability has reached new levels.  Gone are the days of looking skywards and thinking of a number.

Our methodology provides an accurate reflection of how the organisation actually operates their business.  While I have read that some vendors are fortunate to be part of a company’s strategy from the start, BusinessPort tend to become involved when problems occur due to accidents, incidents, poor client audit reports, non-compliance, sloppy service, project losses, late delivery of projects resulting in penalty payment, claims from poor services – get the picture?  While the problem will inevitably be process related, the BPM solution becomes the more obvious choice as problems become more apparent. It is my experience that the need to justify a ROI at a granular level reduces with the extent of the problem, in other words organisations who suffer process meltdown are acutely aware of the need for improvement.

When we do win contracts,we have honed our Discovery Exercise to be both quick and accurate, providing the scope of work against client’s requirements and clear focus on the project deliverables.  Our initial Business Case highlights potential areas of improvement (kpi’s) which are measured immediately after system start-up.

Forrester recently said they’ll be turning to the process professionals more in 2010 and Gartner’s Magic Quadrant underwent a makeover in how they approached their analysis last year.  Do you still see a need for the kind of research which is perceived to be vendor led given the rise of independent professional blogs and insights ?

I understand the nature of prospective customers needing to have the “warm fuzzy feeling” about vendors and the comfort and justification that it brings to the selection process.  Blogs and social networking sites are an excellent collaborative medium however this should only form part of an overall evaluation exerci

se as opinions and feedback can be glean
ed from a variety of sources.  From experience, our clients include a review of rival products, hold “beauty contests”, and visit other client sites to discuss our performance in person, out-with our earshot before deciding to progress.  Call me old-fashioned, but that approach appears diligent enough for me.  Although I‘ve had no experience with the large analyst firms, their value would surely be to advise the latest technology, trends, follies, methodologies etc.,  therefore I assume their services to be beneficial.  On the other hand, when it comes to Magic Quadrant, I suspect that losing a project to another vendor who had paid significant sums to gain a decent write-up would “irk me” to say the least.  In a bid to be totally PC, I would imagine there are benefits hidden in there somewhere which would justify their abilities to instruct unknowing clients of who they think is best to employ.  `Nuff said`.

My experiences with independent analysts, (Theo included) have been very positive in that there is flexibility, informality and unbiased judgement which is refreshing and informative.  There is most certainly room in the market for a different, more suitable business model which focuses on the smaller BPM vendor and helps to gain access to a larger audience, at reasonable rates!

What’s BusinessPort’s definition and philosophy for BPM?

BusinessPort places the person on “centre stage” and provides key information on how they deliver their responsibilities through the medium of Process Management.  Our experiences have shown that 25% of processes can be automated, the remainder being, “people-centric processes” which are graphical representations but unlike the current Visio style, are intelligent through their links and interactions with Risk, Compliance, and Competency Management.

As I mentioned earlier, we provide a topographical representation of how the company operates and through the adoption of BPM, we provide the road map of operations to simplify the complex information and enable understanding by the workforce.

While we are focused on providing efficient business processes, our system has in-built Document Management functionality, which assists collaborate and information sharing.  Our approach to system development differs from the vendor automated workflow.  Why?  Well, while the organisations financial spine (incorporating material control, production etc) is best controlled by workflow, our client base have considered it impossible to operate their business 100% with automated routines.  Disciplines such as Design, Planning, Project Management and HR are decision led and while the true “techie” would argue the potential of automation, the cost of deploying the myriad of decision options would render the process hugely expensive.  Our partnership with Nintex has increased our process automation offering considerably, and we have found that where an ROI may appear less visible for the people-centric processes, the benefit of process optimisation and value received is certainly more evident.

Our philosophy of BPM is to provide a platform that delivers the best possible product or service in the most efficient manner, using the minimum of resources and waste, and at a price that adds value with an ROI in the shortest possible time-frame, we’re not asking for much I hear you say!  .  In practise we adopt Prince 2 Project Management techniques to control all costs, activities, and planned deliverables on time, and being raised in the Oil & Gas markets, our implementation philosophy has instilled a level of governance that has shown through the test of time. 

Not many people have heard of BusinessPort ?

Formed in 1996, we have 50,000 users of the Agility System and have clients from USA, UK, Europe to Australia. Some of our clients are “blue-chips”, while others are progressive companies who value a no-nonsense, practical approach to a BPM system that provides the organisation with the ability to improve performance.

We have always focused on technology and our client offering, instead of marketing and gimmicks which has resulted in our dark horse image.  BusinessWho I hear you say. However, now is the time to create awareness of the Agility System to ensure that we are included in the “beauty contests” being held out there.

BusinessPort have been profitable since day one, and while the “visionary award” is not yet on the mantelpiece, we will continue to provide BPM solutions that does “what is says on the tin”to a diverse client base.

With a growing number of Cloud and Social Platform enabled BPM tools and services coming onto the market how do you see BusinessPort staying ahead of the game?

Having offered the outsource model 5 years ago we found there to be a general reluctance with our client base, however the reduced IT costs of the Cloud have acted as a stimulant to explain the renewed interest in our new  initiative.

We are aware of the benefits of the Cloud as the speed at which we can implement our system is second to none, for example we received a call from an oil operator in Holland one Monday morning, within 2 hours the system was deployed and we were selecting start-up “vanilla” processes after lunch.  This rapid deployment, and our extensive process knowledge means reduced installation costs, no IT expenditure, and once the processes have been “tailored to suit” the basis for a system that will be operable within weeks instead of months.

Mobile market: we developed a process based tool for a client in Utilities in 2004 to allow access to operational processes in the field. The routing of process decisions to the Blackberry does sound interesting however I am sceptical on the UI. We have embarked on a major survey of client wants/needs and hope to receive feedback to support our future strategy. 

And what about the social platforms, do you see them as being integral in future offerings to allow collaboration in process improvement projects and BPM or should it be left as a marketing tool ?

I think the advent of social platforms is a tremendous leap forward as collaboration is king.  Introducing this medium into the company portal will increase communication and should form part of the information management.  I see our UI displays being radically changed as the young workers join the information management community – this is a medium that is here to stay with the link from personal chat to business being just around the corner.

IDS have released ARIS Express recently, a free version of their ARIS Professional modelling tool. Do you see a growing trend for BPM vendors to release free versions of their higher end products?

Maybe this is a lead-in to an excel/visio tool but a program that creates significant efficiency within an organisation needs to have a price reflective of the value provided. Anyway there are no free lunches.

Finally, what next for Peter Shields ?

Our new system upgrades are exciting and will be ready for mid-summer.  We still have an expanding client list and expect further growth as the year progresses. Having been consistently profitable over the past 14 years and with our considerable experience of client transformation projects, we are looking to the future with confidence.  Our next product release, Agility 2.0 improves our IU, process mapping format, measurement functionality and introduces business intelligence using portal technology so watch this space!

Or aim for the Agility System is that it will be compared to the best in the market for features, functions, and for the efficiency and competency of our Business Analysts during system deployment.

We are passionate about the benefits of BPM, our product is improving all the time through our adopted technology, we have always been committed to research and development and we have recruited some very impressive individuals with the vision to take BusinessPort into other industry’s.  On an optimistic note, we see a huge pipeline of opportunity – 2010 is going to be an interesting year.

 

BusinessPort has been recently been reviewed and can be read here on Redux.

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