Archive for the ‘Web 2.0’ Tag

Human-centric Business Process Management (BPM) and Web 2.0: A Perfect Match

After reading numerous articles, blog posts and definitions of Web 2.0, and separate hype from reality, I have concluded that there are three essential ingredients of a Web 2.0 application:


i.             A rich user experience in an Internet browser.

ii.           “Mashups”, or the ability to pull together information from various sources that is relevant to collaboration.

iii.         Strong emphasis on collaboration, or sharing information and ideas.


When I look at Web 2.0 and BPM, and the underlying objectives and challenges of each, I find a perfect match that can greatly boost the acceptance and usefulness of BPM.


First, let’s look at rich user experience for Internet applications,  also called Rich Internet Applications (RIAs). RIAs are developed using new technologies such as Asynchronous Java Script (AJAX), Adobe Flex or Microsoft SilverLight. Every BPM product in the market today does not use these technologies. Only a few do. However, there is no doubt in my mind that BPM vendors, like other software vendors, will all rollout new versions of their products that use these technologies. I can safely predict that in the next 2 years or so, most vendors will have their user interfaces as RIAs, some moving faster than others. Indeed, the sheer benefits of an RIA from a usability and customer satisfaction perspective will make it a competitive advantage, compelling BPM vendors to accelerate their development efforts so as not to be left behind. As I pointed out in another blog “What it will take to deliver BPM SaaS?” (, if BPM SaaS is to be widely adopted some key components of BPM have to be exposed in browsers so that users with rights can not only participate in processes but also configure and adapt them to their changing needs. Converting these components of BPM into an RIA will go a long way towards BPM SaaS.


Second, with respect to mashups, I would strongly argue that BPM is one of the first application categories to offer mashups even before Web 2.0 was popularized. Think of the modern BPM “client”, or the application that users use to participate in a business process and do their work. The BPM client is a classical example of a mashup. It pulls information from a number of sources such as databases, Web Services, EDMS (for document attachments), the BPM server (for status information), and often from other enterprise applications such as ERP and CRM. This information is collected in real-time and then presented to the user in a manner that is conducive to quick decision making and getting the job done. Of course, the ease and flexibility with which BPM applications allow these mashups to be created depends on the capabilities of the underlying BPM software that is used. However, the point is that the BPM client is a mashup used by all the participants in a process. Likewise, other BPM suite components such as BAM/reporting and administration have attributes of a mashup.


Finally, with respect to collaboration, I think it is clear to everyone that BPM for system-centric processes, also called straight-through processes, is optimized for speed and has little human involvement. By their very nature, these system-centric solutions are not collaborative and they do not need to be. They are automated production lines which are fully robotized. Then there is another class of BPM solutions, called “production workflow” in the 1990’s, that do involve humans but are for high volume, fairly rigid processes for claims processing and call centers, etc. Again there is not much need for collaboration in such applications, and the focus is on structure, compliance and speed. So neither of these two types of BPM solutions need Web 2.0 characteristics.


On the other hand, there are a large number of business processes that involve humans, and especially knowledge workers. In the early days of BPM/workflow, these processes were classified as “administrative/ad hoc”. The word “ad hoc” tried to capture the collaborative nature of these processes, even though technology at that time did not provide much opportunity for collaboration and ad hoc flow of processes. These human centric processes is where BPM truly has the potential for becoming a stellar Web 2.0 application for the simple reason that humans work in extremely complex ways, and the way they interact can often not be anticipated and programmed in advance. Here are some uniquely human things that people do when they work together:


i.             Confer: Knowledge workers often want to discuss an issue with others before they make a decision


ii.           Inform: Knowledge workers want to let others know why they made a specific decision.


iii.         Assign: Knowledge worker often wants to assign tasks to others in the case of work overload or absence.


iv.          Reject: Knowledge workers often reject a task they are assigned because it has incorrect of incomplete information.


v.            Validate: Knowledge workers want to review other information in order to validate and support the decision they are making.


vi.          Share and Assimilate: Knowledge workers want to share the decisions they are making or the information they have gathered, not only with the participants of the process but with a larger community or co-workers. This sharing and assimilation fosters organizational learning.


All these actions, and you can probably think of others, are ad hoc and collaborative in nature. Many BPM clients offer some of these capabilities. However if BPM is to truly address the needs of knowledge workers, the BPM client will have to offer all these capabilities in the future. The rapidly growing popularity of Web 2.0 applications such as blogs, wikis, instant messaging, forums, Internet document sharing etc., means that BPM solutions can leverage these technologies to provide similar capabilities to BPM users.


So my bottom line is that Web 2.0 is a perfect match for human-centric BPM. By the very nature of their core purpose of enabling people to work together, human-centric BPM solutions must become even better in collaboration, mashups and RIA technologies. Vendors who are nimble and deliver BPM as a Web 2.0 solution will have a significant competitive advantage, and will have the best opportunity for transforming their end customers and creating sustainable value.


NOTE: This post is an adaptation of my October 2008 column in BP Trends ( )

Is the BPM Industry stuck in no-man’s land?

I have noticed three constants in my 14-years in the BPM/workflow industry. First, every BPM market forecast prepared by reputable firms has estimated a market size of anywhere from $1 to $3 billion, and a growth rate ranging from 10% to 20% per annum. Even if I take a conservative forecast and assume that the market was $1 billion in 1998 and growing at 15% per annum, it should be at least $4 billion today. But the most recent forecast continue to put it in the $2 billion range. So where does all the growth fizzle away? Second, every BPM vendor and analyst can provide a number of actual case studies of BPM deployments that demonstrate remarkable ROI and productivity benefits. And it is relatively easy for senior management to understand why BPM can deliver such results. Yet the penetration of BPM in organizations is still small and I would venture to say that less than 10% of processes are automated despite all the ROI and productivity proof points. Third, every year BPM vendors claim impressive growth and publish a roster of new customers. Yet most pure-play BPM vendors are relatively small companies and none have been able to go public despite the claims of growth and the fact that many of them have raised tens of millions of dollars in venture capital.

It seems to me that the BPM industry is stuck in a no-man’s land. The pure play vendors neither have the flexibility of really small companies, nor the resources or clout of large companies. While BPM has tremendous potential, the challenges which these vendors face are very significant which makes growth akin to progress in trench warfare. First, BPM sounds glamorous, but it is not easy. This is because human beings work in extremely complex ways. Developing software that caters to all these ways is not easy. The “human interface” of BPM is complex and challenging. Second, the IT environments in which BPM has to thrive are very complex, varied and in constant flux. BPM cannot be successful without seamless integration with the rest of the IT infrastructure. The “application interface” of BPM is complex and challenging. Third, as the size and impact of BPM projects becomes larger, buying decisions gets escalated to executive leaders. Executive leaders prefer to deal with large platform vendors such as IBM, SAP, Microsoft and Oracle, and this preference limits the opportunities of pure play vendors. The “market interface” of BPM is also complex and challenging. 

I believe that pure play BPM vendors are stuck in the no-man’s land because of the challenges of the “human interface”, the “application interface and the “market interface”. However, I am still optimistic about the market and its opportunities.  I am optimistic because extreme focus and technology changes generally benefit the smaller and more agile companies. We are again going through a period of technological change that can be leveraged by the pure play vendors. Web 2.0 provides an excellent opportunity for pure play vendors to attack the “human interface” challenge. The increasing maturity of SOA provides an excellent opportunity to address the “application interface” challenge. And finally, time, relentless focus and persistence provide the means to address the “market challenge”.

What do you think?