BPM Gets More Collaborative in 2010

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Technology types sure are fond of their buzzwords. Perhaps one of the buzziest these days is "collaboration." (At least it's not an acronym.) Part of it is hype, sure, but there's also a growing recognition that many enterprise software applications would be more effective if they made it easier for people to share ideas with their coworkers (or with partners and customers).


So it's not surprising that a couple of the half-dozen smart folks participating in an eBizQ discussion on business process management trends for 2010 mentioned BPM with collaborative elements as a strong driver for the coming year.


Neil Ward-Dutton, research director for advisory firm Macehiter Ward-Dutton, calls it a likely "killer combination of interest." Jaisundar V, a process consultant and solution architect, predicts mainstream BPM vendors will roll out major version releases with "a host of social media and collaborative features and functionality -- along the lines of recently launched Chatter by Salesforce -- but much more directly influencing an improvement in execution of processes."


IT Business Edge contributor Dennis Byron has written about a couple of BPM releases with collaborative features over the past few months. Last month, he spotlighted solutions from ActionBase, a vendor that prefers the term human process management to BPM. (Not surprisingly, that term is used by ActionBase CTO Jacob Ukelson in his comments on eBizQ. As he defines it, the term refers to "management of unstructured, ad-hoc human processes." I wrote about these so-called "tacit interactions" last December. ActionBase was also mentioned in that post.)


As Dennis noted ActionBase is comparing its latest releases to Google Wave. The key differences between Wave conversations and ActionBase collaboration are the latter's audit trail of "conversations" and in how it relates documents to a collaboration/conversation and unstructured processes.


Some of ActionBase's products also include templates to help "get ActionBase HPM users off and running," wrote Dennis. In the eBizQ discussion, HandySoft Managing Director Garth Knudson taps BPM templates as a trend for 2010 -- although he questions their use. Says Knudson:

... because BPM design and development environments should be user friendly, starting from scratch may be just as easy as starting with a template based on the unique activities and business rules that exist within an organization.

Also last month Dennis wrote about Fujitsu's release of Interstage BPM Version 11, which offers process collaboration and knowledge-sharing capabilities among a long list of new features. He wrote:

I am a big believer in making BPM software a more collaborative tool where power users and line managers in the enterprise can make changes without having to go back to IT and/or business analysts. Interstage BPM 11's automated process discovery helps in this regard, but the discovery feature is actually a capability Fujitsu has taken from a previously available service. It is the dynamic task-creation capability - where the discovery engine kicks in and keeps track of how processes get executed - that has the best potential to keep IT out of the nitty gritty of day-to-day operational changes in the enterprise.

Dennis welcomed the software's ability run in the cloud, a big surprise considering his well-documented general skepticism of the cloud computing model. But, he said:

Fujitsu and others helped convince me that at least when it comes to BPM, the cloud can make a difference. The key is that the BPM software or service should be architected in such a way as to take advantage of the cloud. That's where multitenancy comes in.

Fujitsu apparently has big plans for the cloud. Writing on our CTO Edge site, Mike Vizard today noted Fujitsu's intent to go all-in and create a cloud computing ecosystem by providing cloud-based computing resources, storage, networking and software. You know, the whole cloud shebang.


One of the "other" BPM providers Dennis alludes to appears to be Appian, a company he wrote about in September. He lauded Appian's use of the cloud and its flexible templates (those again!) as features that help customers reduce costs and speed deployment times.


Wrapping up with a few final thoughts about adding collaborative elements to BPM, in the eBizQ discussion Jaisundar V says such elements "will force a re-think on the way many features are being handled in current versions (approvals, escalations and notifications, document management, etc)." He also mentions collaboration between between BPM and other enterprise applications. So look for mashups to be used more for BPM in the coming year. In fact, you'll probably see mashups employed to add flexibility to many apps, including business intelligence.