Wrestling with Collaboration

Michael Vizard

For more years than anybody can count, application vendors have been trying to capture the elusive workflow surrounding a business process.

The ability to capture the business process in the form of an enterprise resource planning application is relatively simple. But those applications only tell us what happened, not why it happened. The first set of applications that really took a shot at trying to capture the workflow that goes into a business process was Lotus Notes. Since then, we've seen the rise of SharePoint, the rollout of dozens of different workflow applications, and now we have applications from Mindjet, Cisco and even Google Wave that to one degree or another are trying to integrate collaboration with workflow.

Now there is a new attempt in this space in the form of a collaboration application from SAP that is codenamed 12sprints, currently in beta. Like other collaboration applications, 12sprints is trying to capture the workflow that goes into a business process. SAP would argue that rather than trying to capture that information in another application, it would be better to use a collaboration application that is tightly coupled to the business processes manifested in the suite of SAP applications.

That doesn't mean SAP doesn't think other sources are not critical to the workflow process. SAP's 12sprints application has been specifically designed to integrate with productivity applications, electronic mail systems and a host of other applications that all contribute to the workflow process. What SAP is trying to do is capture that information in a way that allows a customer to understand what thinking went into any given business process event, says David Mayer, senior vice president for emerging technologies at SAP Business Objects. To accomplish that, 12sprints is being developed so that it works seamlessly across a cloud computing and on-premise delivery model, he said.

But when it comes to collaboration software in general and workflow software specifically, building the application is only half the battle. Getting people to use these applications is the hard part because none of these offerings really fit neatly around how people want to work. People want workflow and collaboration software that bends to the way they want to work, versus making them bend to the way the software wants to work. That very well may be an impossible task, and it's not something that SAP is widely known for.

But the one thing SAP does deserve some credit for is trying, because whoever solves this age-old challenge is going to make the biggest advance in enterprise application software in recent memory.

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