The Players:

  • My Mom (Age = almost 88)

  • Me (Age = less than that)

  • A telecom company who will remain nameless. Maybe.

The Issue: Cancel my mom’s service. 

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Customer Experience #1

  • Mom called the 1-800 number and immediately descended into voice response hell (the 4.5 circle of Dante’s Inferno, between Greed and Anger).

  • After a few tries she got connected to a real person, who promptly asked her for her phone number (which was, it goes without saying, the number she was calling on and the number she had already entered). He then asked for her 8-digit PIN.

  • Of course, she had no idea what the PIN was. She was surprised with the somewhat incongruous response. “Well, then, can you tell me the model of your first car?”

  • Assuming this was some sort of cognition test, she immediately responded, “A 1953 Pontiac Chieftain.” The agent asked her to repeat this, because he had never heard of this car. Not the Chieftain part (me too) but the Pontiac part.

  • Alas, this was not the correct answer, because her now-deceased husband had set up the account and he evidently did not favor Pontiacs, not to mention Chieftains.

  • After a number of rounds on this, she asked to speak to customer service supervisor, and was told that there was none, perhaps exhibiting the flattest organizational structure ever recorded. At which point she hung up.

Customer Experience #2

  • Question (me): “Mom, did you cancel that account?” Mom: “Well, I did tell them I wanted to cancel and then hung up on them.”

  • I thought given the circumstances, this might be easier to do in person, so armed with my Power of Attorney (POA), marched off to the local store. Except that wasn't a “real” store, but a franchisee.

  • Back in the car I go, off to a “real” store for this conversation: Them: “Sorry, we can’t do this here, but let me connect you with customer service.” Me: “No, I don’t know the PIN. Yes, please do text it to my Mom’s phone.” Them: “Sorry, our system doesn’t seem to be working and I can’t text it. But do you know what your Mom’s first car was?”

  • We repeated the whole rigamarole again by phone and also online after a cranky tweet by me. The valiant Twitter emergency support team for the phone company tried to help me end-run the damnable Pontiac by asking me for my Mom’s deceased husband’s social security number, which I managed to dig up. They promised a return call within 48 hours. It never came.

I reflected on this experience at the intersection of Process and Content -- everyone has their own favorite -- during a recent panel at OpenText Enterprise World that I did with my friend Connie Moore from Deep Analysis (Disclaimer: OpenText paid my way). I always love presenting with Connie. We’ve known each other so long that it feels like one of those Hollywood reunion duos in which you have the smart one and…the other one. Obviously starring yours truly in the latter role.

I spoke about three core challenges that need to be addressed if organizations hope to survive on the disruptive digital seas that lie ahead.

Address rising information chaos as a strategic concern -- An unprecedented explosion in the scale, complexity, and criticality of information is challenging our ability to automate.

  • Scale -- Volume of information coming into the organization expected to increase from x to 4.2x in next 2 years.

  • Complexity -- Over 60% of this information will be unstructured and semi-structured.

  • Criticality -- 75% of organizations say they struggle with delivering the right information, to the right person, at the right time, in context.

  • Source for above data = AIIM

Deal with demands for change -- The old approaches to managing content and processes are no longer sufficient to deal with rising demands for speed, increased agility and accelerated time to value.

  • The disassembling of content and process management capabilities.

  • The "democratization" of content and process capabilities.

  • The revolutionizing of information governance by Machine Learning.

Find a new balance -- Organizations must sustain what they currently have and modernize it at the same time -- a task akin to rewiring a house while the power is still on.

  • Create a common framework that views business processes as a series of connected digital workspaces, each containing: 1) the tasks that need to be accomplished; 2) the knowledge workers responsible for completing those tasks; and 3) the data and content needed to complete those tasks. How can the business help identify low risk tasks that can easily be handled without human intervention?

  • Create a common strategy for knowledge worker empowerment to access core content resources within the context of the business application in which they get their work done.

  • Create a common toolkit to spread process automation capabilities. Low-code application development requires that information be looked at differently and more holistically than is typical in many existing applications. Being able to design, build, manage, deploy and optimize processes gives organizations speed and agility that they need to quickly respond to opportunities and changing competitive situations.

I was particularly drawn to two slides in Connie’s presentation that did a great job in capturing both the current opportunity and challenge in modern process management.

As I read all of the many articles and Waves and Quadrants about the various building blocks associated with process management, it strikes be that she is spot on in noting that we’ve moved into a period of “terminology blah-blah-blah and technology confusion” in the wake of the breakup of the BPM monolith (as a sidebar, the same thing is going on in the wake of the breakup of the ECM monolith). My concern is that this has the potential to paralyze implementations -- “Let’s just wait a bit and see how this shakes out” -- at the very time that organizations should be doubling down on their process and content automation efforts.


The second slide focused on helping users understand that not all process automation efforts are the same. Traditional process automation and BPM has focused on Business Operations -- automating the back office. Truth be told, there is still plenty of opportunity here, and organizations that have not yet automated the back-office resist at their peril. This core automation is no longer the source of competitive differentiation that it once was – it’s now table stakes. Innovation organizations are pushing the envelope on Customer Experience. But as evidenced by my Mom’s story, not all customers are alike – not everyone is a digital native from North America in the coveted 25-35 demographic – and building CX initiatives without first building a sound foundation of Business Operations is akin to building on a foundation of sand. The promised land of end-to end, cross-functional processes (true Digital Transformation) is actually a minority of all the process automation initiatives out there – and likewise its success rests on getting the Business Operations and Customer Experience building blocks right.


Not all process automation platforms can deliver the capabilities necessary for digital, context-rich, and compliant processes. I’ll leave it to the OpenText folks to pitch the virtues of their approach, which centers around encouraging users to couple a solid content services foundation with a new set of much more agile process tools than was typical in the BPM days. Per the OpenText folks, “AppWorks provides a single platform that enables process-centric applications to be designed quickly and efficiently at lower cost. Applications can be prototyped quickly, by business analysts using the information they need to drive business outcomes. This frees up developers to concentrate on technical areas such as integrations and security.”

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All told, here are my takeaways from the panel:

  • Content matters.

  • Process matters.

  • Back-end systems matter.

  • Digital transformation requires more than a sprinkling of C-level magic dust.

  • CX is in the eye of the beholder.

  • Empowering knowledge workers to act sensibly matters.

And of course, the most important one…

  • The 1953 Pontiac Chieftain was a sweet ride.