I've always heard great buzz about Austin's South By Southwest Conference (often simply referred to as SXSW). The conference brings together indie film, music, and tech to discuss and collaborate on building the future. The tech side of the conference — SXSW Interactive — is often where up-and-coming tech ventures break major news. In short, SXSW Interactive often serves as a petri dish for testing out new ideas and innovations.

Last week I attended SXSW to zoom in on emerging trends in social and consumer tech that would likely spill over into the business process — and social BPM — world over the next several years. Of the 15-20 keynotes and sessions I attended, three or four really resonated with the overall direction we see for social BPM and social business:

  • "Why Would We Think Social Media Is Revolutionary?" Clay Shirky, social media evangelist, walked the audience through the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt to highlight the role of social media in organizing and driving these revolutions. As I listened to Clay's talk, it reminded me of the blog post I published last year on "Process Populism" and how empowered business users were beginning to leverage social tools — such as BPM software-as-a-service, collaborative discovery tools, and process mashup environments — to go around IT for delivering process improvement projects. In many ways the availability of easy to use, self-provisioned technologies has radically changed the relationship between business and IT, and BPM is often the initial catalyst driving the change.  
  • "Building The Game Layer On Top Of The World" Seth Priebatsch, Chief Ninja of startup SCVNGR, made the case that we just finished the decade of social, and the next decade will be about games. On the surface, I think it's easy to dismiss Seth's claim, but if we replace "games" with "engagement", then I have to agree completely with Seth's perspective. In fact, this matches up with Forrester's view on how we see social evolving. As I listened to Seth's keynote, I imagined how game dynamics and game theory might fit into future BPM environments. I can see game dynamics and game theory fitting nicely into dynamic business process and dynamic case management environments where team members need to work toward a specific goal — particularly for highly specialized teams where team member collaboration is essential for success. I can also see game dynamics — also known as “gamificiation” — used to drive greater process engagement and guidance patterns for new generations of workers.  
  • "Death of The Relational Database" Hank Williams, founder of Kloud.co, delivered a compelling argument for replacing relational database models with "graph databases" that provide a foundation for making data smarter. While I don't believe that the relational database is dead, I agree that more flexible and adaptive data models are needed for us to make better sense of the massive oceans of data drowning us. Hank's pitch reminded me of the process data management research I've been doing with my colleague Rob KarelIn our research, we make the case that you can't successfully drive process improvements without a keen focus on master data; likewise, you can't drive successful data quality initiatives disconnected from business process. I see Kloud.co's graph database model as an example of how process and data will ultimately live in the same space, allowing data to have a better understanding of how it's used in processes and providing a framework for processes to have a better understanding of how and where master data is used.

One other trend I noticed at SXSW was the widespread use of the term "curation" — defined as an individual or group that organizes and points their followers to interesting and helpful content. The concept of curation is not new, but my interest was piqued to see the term applied broadly to different topics and information streams. I sat in one session on social shopping — friends helping friends find shopping deals and best buys — where half of the conversation was around cultivating curators that focus on specific shopping categories and keeping their social networks up to date on new hot trends. I can see this same type of paradigm playing out in the business process and dynamic case management worlds where process and case "curators" become responsible for identifying new patterns and helping colleagues adapt to new process challenges.

Following last week’s event, I’ve invested time in connecting new (and not so new) ideas and concepts introduced at SXSW with critical challenges facing business technology professionals. While SXSW does not traditionally attract a large number of business technology professionals, my prediction is that more business technology and business process professionals will make the trek to Austin as the business technology and social networking worlds move closer together. This year's event had only a handful of session tracks focused on business technology. My challenge to the SXSW coordinating committee is to beef up the number of track sessions that focus on the convergence of social networking in the workplace and helping business leaders better understand how to incorporate the latest innovations into their business models.

Sound Off

I want to hear from you. Do you think new consumer tech and social innovations introduced at SXSW 2011 will bleed over into the business technology landscape? Or will these trends only gain traction in the consumer space with little impact on business technology? Also, let me know if you attended SXSW 2011 and noticed other innovative concepts that you believe will have a major impact on business technology and/or business process. Post your thoughts in the comments section, or feel free to shoot me a quick email at crichardson@forrester.com.