Sunday, 28 April 2013 08:27


“Not a company exists whose management doesn’t say, at least for public consumption, that it wants an organization flexible enough to adjust quickly to changing market conditions.” This is how Michael Hammer and James Champy opened their bestselling book “Reengineering the Corporation”, which was first published in 1993. It was a remarkable book in many respects. For one, it was groundbreaking in its emphasis on business processes as primary organizational assets. Secondly, Hammer and Champy were among the first to identify information technology as the enabler to reengineer such business processes towards higher levels of organizational performance.

When you consider the two concepts these management guru’s talked about, business process and information technology, you will immediately understand what this other remarkable book is about, the one you are reading right now. It is about process-aware information systems. Such information systems are aware - let’s credit the technology with a certain level of consciousness - of the business processes that companies execute to a considerable level of detail. A process-aware information system gives companies ultimate control over the way they do their business; it helps them to manage the activities, people, policies, data, and other technologies that are needed to produce and deliver the products and services their clients want from them.

A legitimate question now is whether process-aware systems have helped organizations to become more flexible in the way that Hammer and Champy envisioned that they all prefer to be. For quite some time, the answer seemed to be a plain ‘no’. I am old enough to recall the terrifying first case studies on the industrial use of workflow management systems, the earliest types of process-aware information systems. These studies painted grim pictures of people forced to dance to the tunes of Orwellian conductors (automated or otherwise). Even while the workers knew what was good for their customers, the workflow management system simply wouldn’t let them do it. O my! Still, that was also the time I started implementing such systems myself. In the projects I was involved in, I certainly noted the need to allow workers to occasionally deviate from perfectly good yet standardized procedure. However, when you would think a little about it, exploit all the features of the system - both the documented and the non-documented ones - you would be able to find a way to create those much-needed work-arounds. Also, the workflow management system really helped to carry out a business process more efficiently. The story, therefore, did not seem so grim after all.

This book is about lightening up the picture entirely. Its main subject is how the flexibility of process-aware information systems has evolved over the past two decades towards a very high level of sophistication. The book deals with the whole spectrum of mechanisms that we are aware of now in the Business Process Management research field. The authors of this book, Manfred Reichert and Barbara Weber, have played an instrumental role in the development of many of these mechanisms and can oversee the area as no one else can. It may seem old-fashioned to write books in a time when researchers are credited for their papers in top journals and the funding they acquire, but I am truly grateful to them for investing their time in this project. I think that students, researchers, and practitioners will agree with me after they have completed reading this book. And my message to managers that are fond of reading books like “Reengineering the corporation” is: Use a process-aware information system and your business processes will be as flexible as you like them to be. Hajo Reijers
Rosmalen, April 2012

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To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.

_ Winston Churchill