I've been working in the Business Process Management field for long time. How long? How's this—I remember when there wasn't any BPM—it was all just workflow. Plus, I remember when there wasn't any continuous improvement or Agile vs. Waterfall, it was just big bang Business Process Reengineering.
I've also been working in the content management and collaboration space for a long time. How long? I remember when people who tracked document imaging (me included) didn't know what document management was. And I remember when Lotus Notes and Groupwise defined the collaboration space, and nobody thought for two seconds about Microsoft.
Why do I ramble on through technology's memory lane? It's because I want to set the stage for what I'm about to write.
For years I've been talking about the need to marry structured processes with ad hoc processes. More than that, I've said we need to look at work from the worker's perspective, and tackle all the work that the person does. Instead of carving off the structured process and automating just that, and then leaving all that other work for the information worker to figure out how it gets done, I've argued that we should look at work holistically. We should very deliberately add that chaotic, messy ad hoc world of work to our structured processes, and stop relying on information workers to mentally and physically (through cut and paste) integrate all their collaboration tools with structured processes. After all, haven't you heard the complaints about information overload from stressed-out workers? Yep, me too—and we could do a lot to make that headache disappear by giving workers a highly contextual workplace that is powered by BPM.
But I've been a voice crying in the wilderness. I'm not kidding. Whenever I would talk about collaboration with BPM vendors, they would somehow think I was talking about straight through processes between companies. That's collaboration, right??? And whenever I would talk about BPM with content and collaboration vendors, they would look at me blankly and mumble something about using simple workflow for approving documents. It felt like two disconnected worlds that desperately needed to find each other.
In the past three months, I've noticed a huge sea change.
- It first hit me when I visited Salesforce.com in April. One of the major, high-buzz topics of conversation that day was about integrating Facebook and Twitter with Salesforce's application. The very fact that an application vendor was taking integration with Web 2.0 tools so seriously was an eye-opener. Things were definitely heating up on the integrating collaboration with structured processes frontline.
- Then, I went to SAP's SAPPHIRE conference. The same thing happened. SAP showed applications that integrated information-rich visual data from Business Objects with its structured processes. Admittedly, this was more of a BI focus than a collaboration focus, but still, it marked the convergence of structured processes with more people-designed, visual information.
- Today, I attended the Workflow Management Coalition's Process.gov event and got firsthand validation that organizations have really started to integrate the structured and ad hoc worlds. Michael Ruiz from Deloitte demonstrated an application for the US Navy that supports Marine Domain Awareness.Situational awareness is the key concept behind this app. By integrating BPM with chat, e-mail, workflow, context sensitive collaboration, mobile messaging, picture messaging, wikis and data, the Navy can provide a highly contextual world for military analysts that automates every aspect of the job. It was an amazing demonstration of how process becomes more powerful when married with all the other people-oriented tools information workers use every day.
I think a sea change is coming in the process world. Yes, straight through processes have their place. And yes, BPM tackles many back office, transactional processes that don't have a heavy or even moderate collaboration angle. But there's a huge world of work out there that involves e-mail and BI reports and documents—and we will truly put a dent in productivity time sinks if we can somehow get our arms around the entire world of work—not just that part that involves swim lanes, role activity diagrams and BPMN. Let's go work!