Hajo Reijers, Head of BPM Research at Perceptive SW, on Healthcare Business Process Management

Short Link: http://ehr.bz/profbpm

Last week, during #HIMSS13, I tweeted out individual questions and answers from the following interview with Prof. Hajo Reijers, runner up for “BPM Personality of the Year” in the Netherlands. Here is the combined interview. I’ve included the original tweets so you can retweet answers to individual questions….

From Prof Hajo Reijers’ personal home page:

“I am a full professor in the AIS group of the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science of Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) as well as head of Business Process Management (BPM) Research at Perceptive Software…. My research and teaching focus on process-aware information systems, business process improvement, and process modeling. I am closely cooperating with companies from the services and healthcare domains”

If you read this blog, EHR Workflow Management Systems, or follow me on Twitter at @EHRworkflow, you know how delighted I feel to engage Professor Reijers (Hajo!) in this interview. The good professor is also on Twitter…


Prof. Reijers,

1. Splitting your time between academia (TU/e) and industry (Perceptive Software) do you ever feel pulled in multiple directions? How are you integrating and synthesizing across roles and subjects? Unexpected advantages?

Yes, the difference of pace in these domains is what it makes it a bit
challenging sometimes. Industrial issues need to be solved yesterday,
but an academic puzzle may easily span months. What I try to do is to
find a balance between working on what is urgent and what is
important. For example, we are looking into a new style of process
modeling and need to know how usable it is. So, I am having a
lightweight workshop next week with a handful of professional modelers
within Perceptive Software, which gives me some tentative insights.
Concurrently, I am setting up a much more rigorous experimental
comparison that involves a hundred modelers, but will run in a couple
of months .

Unexpected advantages? Well, I found out that in industry people seem
to take you more seriously when you have an academic affiliation. But
that advantage is almost completely negated by those academics who
take me less seriously because I do practical stuff!

2. You’ve authored, or co-authored, over 150 papers, reports, chapters, etc., plus two books. Roughly speaking, how many are directly about healthcare? How would you characterize the current state of the art, regarding relevance of process-aware, BPM-style technology to healthcare and its information management problems?

I would say that 10% of my work is related to healthcare and that this
ratio is increasing. The healthcare domain is probably the most
underdeveloped area with respect to the use of process-aware
technologies. I simply cannot think of a domain that is more
functionally oriented, which is an enormous obstacle for the uptake of
BPM. I am mildly positive that this situation will improve, though.
You can see the influence and positive experiences with clinical
pathways, which bring a process focus to the work floor. For example,
in China each hospital is required by law to implement IT systems that
support healthcare professionals in adhering to clinical pathways.
Also, given the enormous pressure on healthcare institutes to reduce
costs, handle more patients, and improve safety, I think it is
inevitable that process-aware technologies will become widely adopted.
It’s a pity that it takes so much time and that the current focus is
purely on records.

3. When and how did you come to become Perceptive Software’s Head of BPM Research? From your unique perspective, one foot in research and one in industry, what are you most excited about in Perceptive Software’s product pipeline?

I started in this new role in September 2012. Perceptive Software
offers a wide suite of products, which include tools to search through
large amounts of data, tools to turn unstructured information into a
manageable form, a wide set of process management tools, and content
management tools (for which it is best known for). What thrills me are
the opportunities that there are in combining the data that is
collected and managed by what were once separate tools. Process
management, for example, will become more effective through deeply
understanding the data context of the activities that are being
managed. Also, access to historic and contextual data will help to
better predict the nature of new cases and how they can be managed

4. In an earlier role, I had the opportunity to work with process mining technology that is now part of Perceptive Software. I’ve blogged processing mining of healthcare event data. What is the key to productizing this amazing, and potentially very useful, technology in the healthcare space?

There are some things that have to be in place, of course. The
technology must be powerful and accurate; it must also be easy to use
and configurable by its target users. Once you have that, what is
needed most are success stories. And I think they are coming in fast. One of
the postdocs in our group, Ronny Mans, is carrying out a lot of these
projects. We have recently used process mining to investigate dental
implantology and are turning to eye surgery now. It’s amazing what we
find out and I think that these insights are hard to get by in any
other way.

5. Going beyond process mining how about todays modern business process management suite. I’ve written about why BPM has been slow to defuse into healthcare. What is it going to take, to get the workflow out of hardcoded Java and C# code and into formats more easily created, understood, edited, and improved?

Well, perhaps a certain generation of healthcare professionals needs
to die out first. My experience is that many of the younger doctors
are more open-minded to the use of technology and are really
interested in holistic approaches to improve the quality of care,
including BPM. I have seen this during my long-lasting cooperation
with a group of Dutch dermatologists, who are willing to try out any
good idea. Come to think of it: They are all women as well, by the
way–not sure whether this plays a role. And we need people like you,
Chuck, who spread the word 24/7. Keep it up.

6. Europe has been, and is, ahead of the US in exploiting workflow management systems and business process management suites. Netherlands appears, to this observer on US side of the pond, to be the largest and most influential center of process-aware thinking and technology in Europe. What are the historical roots of how this came to be?

Here is my ten cents. In many European countries, there is a tradition
of purely documenting how work is being done. Perhaps this is still a
relic of all these bureaucratic empires we had here. I am not saying
that mere adiministration is always that useful but capturing existing
operations is at least the basis for thinking about processes and
re-thinking them. In the US, there is much more emphasis on direct
results. And I admit that it is hard to answer the question of what
the ROI is of modeling a process or how it will contribute to
quarterly results. Europeans seem more receptive to the idea that you
may need to invest in something that pays off in the long run. At the
same time, I am still flummoxed about a highly efficient people as the
Americans not being interested more in BPM.

7. I understand that you recently came in second place in a contest to chose the “BPM Personality of the Year” in the Netherlands. You mention this during the open session of the recent BPM Round Table in Eindhoven, Netherlands. Have you gotten over this loss?

Ouch, thanks for reminding me. No, I will not get over that.

I grabbed the following shot of a slide shown during your introduction.


That’s an interesting list of topics:

  • Healthcare
  • Process Improvement
  • Data and Process
  • Visual Analytics
  • Harmonization
  • Public Sector
  • Process Architecture
  • Process Modeling
  • Process Mining
  • Model Management

I arranged them in order from familiar to unfamiliar to a health IT professional. Even “Harmonization” should resonate, since there’s been efforts to harmonize among different healthcare data standards. But one gets toward the bottom of the list it’s less familiar. Those last four terms, process architecture, modeling, mining and management. What are they and why should they interest a health IT professional?

Process architecture is about how processes relate to each other and
becomes increasingly important once you start working in a process
oriented manner. After all, processes interact in different ways, most
notably because people may work in different processes. This topic is
about how to capture and manage the relations between processes.

Modeling is mostly about graphical ways to describe processes.
Pictures are really liked by people and simplify communication between
them about processes. I think it’s the most widely researched topic by
BPM academics, too.

Process mining deals with techniques to infer from historic records
how operational processes actually work. A guy you previously
interviewed, Wil van der Aalst, is the godfather of this area.

Finally, model management is about how to deal with large collections
of process models. In Europe and Australia, we see that large
companies now have repositories of thousands of process models. These
are real treasure toves for these companies. Just think how you can
use such a collection to identify redundant work and find
opportunities to standardize work.

8. What question do you wish that I’d asked? How would you have answered?

That’s easy: “The next time you are in Washington DC, Hajo, will you
come with me and visit the Smithsonian together? I will give you a
personal tour.” I would have said: “Gladly.”

9. I believe we connected through Twitter. Did I find and follow you first? You’re lots of fun to follow, by the way. Links you share are interesting. And you are very interactive, retweeting and replying and so forth. I’m sure you’d agree that Twitter is fun. But is it useful?

I recall that I found you. You were Tweeting long before I started.
Yes, it’s highly useful, I would say. First, I thought that Twitter is
mainly used by people who wanted to share things like: “Just taken a
shower” , “Off to work”, and “Busy with stuff”. I found out that when
you follow the right people that this is an efficient way of becoming
aware of great content. In other words, I most value the filtering
function Twitter provide me with.

10. This is a request, not a question. Perceptive Software will have a booth at the Health Information Management Systems Society Conference in New Orleans, March 3-7. They were a very active tweeter at last year’s conference in Las Vegas. I hope you’ll monitor the #HIMSS13 hashtag and retweet, reply, etc. Could you tweet an introduction to yourself so I can embed the tweet here, as well as retweet it during the conference?

Thank you Hajo. That was fun!

My pleasure, thanks for having me!

Best Chuck

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