"The customer can have any colour he wants, as long as it's black" - true or not, that statement captures what most industrial entities have been up to for a long time:
Focus on the linear Easily Repeatable Processes. Simplify them further for efficiency.
As the name implies these are the easy ones to map, model and structure. Perfect for the Big Enterprise Software vendors who have become unbeatable in delivering systems that precisely and dependably can crank out two million chocolate bars per hour or have plastic dolls delivered for Xmas at the right aisle in some midwestern Walmart without a glitch.
Easily Repeatable Processes, the real translation for ERP?
Then there are the the Barely Repeatable Processes, the BRPs.
The orphans of the big ones, the "ouch, something unplanned happened", the creative and innovative ongoing everywhere in an organisation and not to forget the processes involving the most Barely Repeatable Process generator of them all; human beings.
Some organisations does almost nothing but service these uncontrollable entities: Consulting, government, health and education - and there the resource oriented and Easily Repeatable Process systems are limited to handle HR, inventories of pills, lecture halls and time.
When enterprises are focused on the ERPs the Big Enterprise Software vendors have no reason to spend much on the BRP, after all they are "market driven" and follows the needs as they see them. Don't blame them for that.
But, the cat's out of the bag, there is an increasing call for supporting the BRPs in a most efficient way. After all the BRPs of creativity and innovation is core and government, education and health are rather important services - why should they not become as effective as producers of cars and plastic dolls?
Add that the Easily Repeatable Process IT systems is a mature business technology-wise thus the productivity growth gains little from an upgrade from a version 3.0 to 3.1. All the while the BRPs have been barely touched leaving a huge productivity potential ripe for plucking.
Something is afoot, and I see two directions emerging:
1. Collaboration as a work-around
The current popular method is mostly some version of web 2.0 and SOA mashups where social networks and collaboration are the catchwords. Niftily renamed enterprise 2.0.
The thing is that it does not entirely do away with the paper-based rules and policies that frameworks BRP today. Lacking true process structure they do not deliver much learning nor knowledge assimilation. Ditto for the ever present cracks, the "oops, forgot to..."s.
A "process" is simply anything that happens in a sequence. Everything is a "process", even collaboration. Why not accept that and act accordingly?
2. Run-time flexible processes
Accept reality and let processes remain processes, but this time focus on creating a structured framework that captures the reality and leaves no cracks while allowing the inherent need for flexibility that BRPs require.
For that you need an easy way to model and tweak and change the hard to grasp and often complex processes. At the same time leaving maximum run-time flexibility to allow for creative use of the resources.
That way you can unstick that sheet of Business Rules from your wall and recycle it to save some trees.
Not to mention getting accountability, and with capture of data; a learning process and knowledge. Pretty important stuff that.
Of course the last is an unashamed plug for thingamy... the only system where you can model and run a football game ;)