Posted by: Adam Deane | 10/08/2010

The Ethics of BPM

BPM EthicsLike all of us, I go around my day-to-day life trying to be a decent person, doing the right thing, trying to feel comfortable with myself and my actions.

As I spend so much time at work, it’s only natural that I would ponder now and again over the ethics of my job.

That’s why I found Mike Gammage’s blog from last week most interesting.

“…the hard reality is that the business case for any significant BPM project is almost invariably based on job losses…”

So I’ve been thinking the last few days of a suitable response to a serious question:
Is my job, BPM, ethical?

One of the stronger messages used in BPM sales is:
Automating business processes enables you to reduce headcount

Every manager at every customer I have ever gone to has told me that they would love to get rid of the slackers.
Employees are also anxious that the new system will threaten their job.
So, from a theoretical point of view it makes sense that BPM should cause job losses.

But that’s not I see in the field.
I’ve never seen an employee lose their job because of a BPM implementation.
In fact, I usually see the opposite. Additional job titles suddenly appear:
“Head of Change Management”, “COE Manager”, “Head of BPM” …
Even in a project that they set “removal of slackers” as one of their main goals, I found out that the “slackers” were just transferred to another department in the organisation.

I’m sure my response to Mike’s question would have been different had I actually seen loss of jobs due to BPM implementations.
It might be me, it might be the type of BPM implementations that I do, it might be luck…. but I haven’t seen job losses.
I’m guessing that most of your implementions don’t cause job loses either.

My gut feeling tells me that “reducing headcount” is more of a sales message than an day-to-day reality….. But I might be wrong.


  1. I have often seen job losses tied to BPM implementations. Usually, however, the job losses are not a byproduct, but rather the job losses have been mandated by management, and a BPM implementation is how the business manages to still work with less people.

    Very common scenario in back-office transaction processing implementations in financial services.

  2. This is the famous “buggy whip” argument. The invention and production of the automobile caused job losses in the companies that made the whips used to control the horses.

    Is it ethical to make and sell automobiles? — given that this is ultimately about job losses in the buggy whip manufactures, not to mention all the other suppliers to horse-drawn buggies.

    Is it ethical to sell a “Word Processor Software” since it obviously puts the typing pool out of work?

    It is all a bunch of hogwash. Job functions are continuously change. A company with X dollars of income, should support Y number of employees. But those employees need to produce more and more things, and BPM is one technology that helps them do so. Those employees need to continually redefining what they do for the company. If they insist on remaining buggy whip makers, then they will be out of a job.

    The ultimate value of a company’s goods and services will never come from automation — it always comes from human intellect, that difference that a person can make. Thus a company’s bottom line is always dependent upon the number of people involved, and their ability to adopt new skills as those skills are needed.

    Shortsighted managers will think that they can automate and eliminate people from the company, and keep the same revenue, but they find that anyone can automate, and any edge they might have had disappears with the automation. This forces companies to automate what can be automated. But to maintain a profit, you need humans that will do the new, creative tasks, and without that the company will fall behind.

    Ask yourself this: how many high-revenue companies have automated everyone else out of the company. Just a CEO and a bunch of machines? There are early adopters who make money for a while this way, but once the basic idea gets out, everyone wants to do it, and the profits are reduced to right around that of a single person job.

    Oh my — this has turned into a blog post. Sorry. Good question though.

  3. […] Quotes of the week On the Ethics of BPM – Keith Swenson It is all a bunch of hogwash. Job functions are continuously change. A […]

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