I See Enterprise Collaboration's Future and Its Name Is BPM

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In 1974 music critic Jon Landau wrote an article in which he famously claimed "I saw rock and roll's future and its name is Bruce Springsteen." That statement helped propel the careers of both Landau and Springsteen and arguably altered the landscape of American music. (At the very least, it gave boys who wanted to play music an option that didn't involve eyeliner and spandex. Remember, this was the '70s.)


I had a Landau moment of my own earlier this week, after briefings with Tibco, which just introduced a product called tibbr, and Appian, which is rolling out Tempo. Both products leverage the companies' business process management expertise, which obviously includes the ability to monitor and react to processes and events, and add social and mobile elements to make process management more collaborative and real-time than it's ever been before.


I saw enterprise collaboration's future and its name is BPM.


One of the things that troubles me about social software, including the kind that's supposed to increase internal collaboration, is that it can create new communications silos. As I wrote in December, silos can proliferate if business units end up using lots of different collaboration tools. When I spoke with Steve Apfelberg, Yammer's VP of marketing, he told me one of Yammer's key strengths was the ability for any person in an organization to start an internal Yammer network simply by visiting Yammer's website and signing up. As I wrote:

That's great if, as I am sure often happens, one department broadly adopts Yammer and gets so much value out of it that other departments come on board and use it as well. But what if that doesn't happen? Maybe other departments prefer Chatter or another communications platform. If these departments lessen their use of e-mail, one of the ostensible benefits of tools like Yammer and Chatter, they could end up communicating with each other less than before.

When I mentioned this to Malcolm Ross, Appian's director of product management, he told me BPM is "a great starting point for social environments" because of its already very horizontal, end-to-end approach to enterprise activities. BPM is driven by events and processes. Let's face it, that's what matters in enterprise environments, not status updates.


BPM software already has access to relevant data and can generate automatic alerts. Instead of viewing static reports created with aggregated data, folks can let the system know when they want to be notified, perhaps if a key metric in a service-level agreement exceeds the accepted parameters. Then, said Ross, users can initiate ad hoc conversations to find out why the metric is out of whack, drill down into reports or other documents if necessary, and initiate an action to correct the problem.


BPM's ability to connect into process and events status will create (and more importantly sustain) interest in enterprise collaboration, said Ross, because people have "a lot motivation to view these events that drive the business." BPM combined with an interface like Appian's Tempo also helps remove what Ross called "the secrecy barrier." As he explained it, the sales department may have just modeled a process for opening new accounts. The sales folks don't understand why colleagues in finance and other areas of the business might want to see it.




With the enhanced visibility into these internal processes offered by social BPM, the sales folks "realize other departments that are related but not directly involved in their processes may have a lot to contribute and a lot of interest in understanding what's going on because it affects them too," Ross said.


The mobile element is important too, said Ross, and used several customer examples to illustrate his point. Appian had previously created an application called SmartPath for property management company Archstone, a client since 2007, to manage its leasing and property management forms. Effective property managers need to spend a lot of time in the field, not sitting in an office, however, and Tempo gives them access to important event streams and forms via their mobile devices. The prior app was "very portal centric," said Ross, and required a fair amount of training for users to understand all of the widgets and other aspects of the interface. The Tempo interface, which looks a lot like Facebook, is more intuitive, a bonus for a company that experiences a pretty high rate of turnover in its work force.


A European manufacturing company built a project management application on the Appian platform. When it went through a traditional BPM implementation to understand the bottlenecks that were occurring in its projects, it discovered project supervisors weren't spending enough time at client sites. Why? They were in the office so they could view relevant statuses from four different SAP systems. The company is interested in Tempo, as it would allow supervisors to remain on site to manage implementations while still accessing streams of information from the systems and initiating actions when necessary.


You can include Twitter and Facebook streams into Tempo if you want to, but it's hardly the point. Like tibbr, Tempo integrates with enterprise apps from companies like SAP and Salesforce.com. Ross showed me Appian's own Tempo environment, which it has been using since early October. Salesforce.com pushes information such as new customer wins to Tempo. Ross can click on the information and drill down for further details, initiate conversations with coworkers about it, and/or initiate actions. Users can also push information back to Salesforce.com, attaching notes to CRM documents, for instance. In an enterprise, that's the point.