The Real Meaning of Social BPM


Within the business process management (BPM) community, there is a lot of chatter about the rise of social BPM. On the face of it, the concept is pretty simple. Vendors such as Oracle are wrapping social media networks around their BPM offerings to foster collaboration.

But Dr. M.A. Ketabchi, vice president of strategy at Progress Software, who was also CEO of Savvion when that BPM software vendor was acquired by Progress, says something more profound is starting to happen. The progenitors of social media software in the enterprise are applications known as groupware, workflow software, document-management systems, portals and what many people today now refer collectively to as enterprise content management.

Historically, these applications, much like social networks in the enterprise, have focused on facilitating processes between people. BPM as we know it focuses mainly on machine-to-machine processes, but lately companies such as TIBCO and Oracle have been paying more attention to the role of people in those processes.

The rise of social BPM heralds not only an advance in integrating people into traditional BPM platforms, it also signals the beginning of a long-overdue convergence of collaboration applications in general with BPM platforms. When you think about any business process, the real front end starts with some form of collaboration or personal productivity application. But because BPM and collaboration applications started out in very different places, unifying these two types of application environments to create a real end-to-end approach to BPM has been a major challenge.

Furthermore, what most IT organizations have in place is a rigid approach to BPM usually defined by the business processes that came embedded in their packaged ERP application. This, of course, is one of the prime reasons that business executives don't care much for IT these days because at a time when they need flexibility, changing the business processes in these applications can take months, if not years.

In the months ahead, Ketabchi says we'll see independent middleware companies such as Progress addressing this need for integration between these environments by fostering the development of end-to-end BPM environments that not only make business processes more visible, but also allow business executives to change those processes without requiring the skills of a programmer.

In the meantime, Ketabchi says IT organizations would be well advised to take a step back from their product-centric view of IT and start thinking in terms of business processes because social BPM is only the beginning of a new era in enterprise software that will be centered around the idea of providing the most flexibility and agility to the business.