Does collaboration help solve problems? Sure it does. That's why "phone a friend" is such a staple of game shows like "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire." When you're struggling with a problem, asking a colleague for help usually yields better results than if you'd continued to work on it solo. So it's no surprise that adding collaborative elements to enterprise software is emerging as such a huge trend.
It's really taking off in business process management, which is logical considering how many folks within organizations (and often outside organizations as well) are touched by business processes. I wrote about it in late 2009, citing the opinions of numerous BPM experts that BPM would get more collaborative in 2010. Vendors are certainly making those predictions come true.
In the latest version of its SmartBPM Suite, Pegasystems included widgets that make it easier for users to communicate with each other within the overall environment; a new portal that allows users to sketch out a business process before implementing it in SmartBPM; a new "sticky note" feature that allows users to add comments about any given process; and a tool that makes suggestions for optimizing certain business processes once they are implemented in the system.
Oracle's BPM 11g wraps social-networking capabilities around a variety of business processes that all share a common engine alongside support for both BPEL and BPMN 2.0. As David Shaffer, vice president of product management for Oracle Fusion middleware solutions, explained to IT Business Edge contributor Mike Vizard, the idea is to create a common platform for delivering pre-packaged business processes and applications alongside custom processes that are easy to build and extend. Once those processes are created, a common communications framework is set up around those processes using social-networking software.
Many of the tools with a collaborative element have a distinct do-it-yourself aspect that emphasizes users working with only limited intervention from IT. Another example is Salesforce.com's Visual Process Manager, which allows users to design a business process with a visual design tool and instantly run it in a cloud environment.
Now Metastorm has rolled out an online work flow-modeling tool called Metastorm M3 that helps users model goals, systems, work flows, rules and projects, reports PCWorld.com. The service, which is hosted on Microsoft's Azure platform, provides 23 modeling objects from which models can be built. The goal, said Metastorm VP Laura Mooney, is for organizations to "involve more people in the modeling process." The modeling interface for this new service, which uses Microsoft Silverlight, includes built-in help guides for modeling rookies. The output from the service can be integrated with Metastorm's enterprise architecture, business process automation and BPM software.
Another new software package called Metastorm Smart Business Workspace makes a nice complement to M3. It allows organizations to create browser-based communal workspaces that include dashboards, chat software, links to reports and various widgets. The software also allows users to mash up data from different applications and create widgets.
M3 is being offered for free through the end of this year, though there will be an unspecified fee in the future, according to the PCWorld article. Smart Business Workspace is available for free to all Metastorm users and will be included with all of the company's software.