Just to make sure: there is absolutely nothing wrong with White Elephants. Actually, in Asia they were often regarded as signs of prosperity and success and emperors would hold them as status symbols. On the other hand, these huge animals would deliver little value and yet cost a fortune to be maintained.

A White Elephant thus shows a fair balance of blessings and curses. Much like in the world of Business Process Management, which has its own collection of trunk bearing white animals. They are called Proof of Concepts. Sometimes, it’s too hard to explain to the organization what BPM can do (especially if we ask the Mother of All Truth, Wikipedia about BPM: “a holistic management approach focused on aligning all aspects of an organization with the wants and needs of clients”, sounds – well – very holistic indeed).

A local proof of concept, pragmatically addressing a real issue in the business, is then often a splendid way to break through the inertia. As we will show through three cases at the upcoming Gartner BPM Summit, it demonstrates the value of BPM and paves the path towards wider enterprise use. But every now and then, the owners of such a prototype become so attached to it, they cannot dispose from it anymore. It becomes their own, precious status symbol. Keeping it alive, scaling, performing and integrated with other systems requires disproportionate attention and budget. It can even inhibit a wider roll-out. It looked so fresh, promising and simple in the brochure of the technology provider. But now this big white beast has outgrown its stable and is blocking the entrance.

How to prevent it? Manage expectations upfront, explicitly. Design for scalability, performance and integration. Create and maintain an architectural perspective. Essentially: think cradle-to-cradle, even when it is ‘just’ a proof of concept.

There is great potential in a new breed of solutions that have BPM inside. Just make sure they don’t grow into White Elephants. Unless you are an emperor, of course.