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Note: This blog is the second in a series of blogs about ‘Social BPM.  The Social BPM: Definitions and Dissensions looked at the current Internet buzz about the topic and provided a set of initial descriptions.

As seen in the first blog in this series, the term Social BPM is very broad and still being defined.  For us to better understand this topic, I’d like to take a deeper dive into the subject. To accomplish this objective, I’d like to dissect the term into chewable bits so that we can concentrate on the more relevant parts.

This blog is split into the following parts: 1) A taxonomy, 2) current offerings in the marketplace and 3) the application of the suggested taxonomy to the current offerings.

A Taxonomy

Although many view Social BPM as a single entity, it is actually possible and necessary to distinguish the different use cases for which Social BPM technology can be used.  I’d like to suggest a taxonomy that will guide us on our future explorations. Setrag Koshafian in his book chapter MyBPM: Social Networking for Business Process Management provides three categories of “BPM Societies” that I find very useful to achieve this goal. I’ll also relate Koshafian’s categories to other SAP-related topics with which many of us may be more familiar.  

BPM Projects within the Enterprise“When building, executing, or analyzing the performance of BPM applications, you can have social interactions between different participants of each phase. In fact, for mid-sized and large organizations, the BPM project can span across internal value chains or across lines of businesses or functions”.  One example of this trend is the use of processes in SAP’s Value Scenarios that are associated with Business Suite 7 (BS7) .

As a methodology, BPM is about tackling SAP in a process-driven manner. Internally within SAP, this is seen as a major shift from the classic “silo-based” approach to ERP, where we talked about “modules” like FI/CO, SD, or PM. The process-oriented approach to ERP is not about modules but end-to-end processes….

(Source: Jon Reed’s blog “Making Sense of Value Scenarios: Lessons from Sapphire 2009″ – take a look at the blog for more details)

BPM across Trading Partner Value Chains“Enterprises typically interact and exchange with suppliers and consumers. The supply/value chain of processes spans multiple organizations. This is similar to processes that cross departmental boundaries, but now at a larger inter-enterprise level. So this next level of BPM collaboration can potentially involve enterprise participant roles across a supply chain”. This is related to the idea of Business Network Transformation that Jeff Word  promotes  -often used for some strange reason primarily in SAP’s University Alliances Community (UAC) –  which “describes how a company reaches beyond their traditional business boundaries to include the entire value chain from start to finish – focusing on the business relationships that drive competitive advantage”

BPM Communities“Then you have the BPM ‘Community’ at large. These communities could network on BPM standards, best practices, methodologies and templates. There are several ad-hoc discussion and research communities on BPM, as well as BPM bloggers. The greater value is achieved when the community is focused on a particular vertical domain….” An example of such a society is the SCN BPX Community that we all know so well.

A few comments about this taxonomy:

  • Although these categories are abstract descriptions, they are manifested in actual offerings and communities that currently exist in the marketplace.
  • All of these societies are involved with the active creation of process-related artifacts – they differ, however, in the purpose behind this creation – for whom the artifact in question is being created. In the first society, the focus is on one company; in the second scenario, the focus is on multiple corporations and the third society is based on a more general focus. 
  • For a similar categorization of collaborative BPM, see the Software AG blog “Do you know your type? Do you know which type you’d like to be?” which describes the categories “Non-collaborative”, “Endocollaborative” and “Omnicollaborative”

BPM Phases

BPM is a broad term that encompasses a variety of activities – these activitites can be broken into distinct phases. Although there are a variety of interpretations regarding these phases,  Koshafian distinguishes between the following phases: model-driven development, execution, and performance monitoring.  Let’s see how these phases relate to Social BPM:

  • Model-driven development: In this scenario, social networking technologies are used in the definition and creation of the processes themselves. Gravity – Collaborative Business Process Modelling within Google Wave, for example, shows how process design can occur in the flexible collaborative style as evidenced in Google Wave. The users involved in this scenario are not end-users of the process but rather those involved in its definition – for example business users with domain knowledge and solution architects.
  • Execution: In this scenario, social networking tools are used to augment existing process instances – for example, the ability for processes to send status messages via Twitter or the use of “Synchronous Collaboration” as mentioned by Koshafian. The users involved in this phase are end-users of process instances rather than abstract processes. I’ve discussed such scenarios as well in various blogs – for example, E2E: Enterprise 2.0 meets Enterprise SOA: Thoughts on new forms of collaboration: Social Computing.
  • Performance monitoring: This phase deals with process KPIs and the assurance that these goals are being met. I haven’t figured out a possible scenario in which Social BPM might be useful in this phase.

Inasmuch as I’ve examined the execution phase in other blogs, I’d like to focus on the model-driven development phase in this blog

The Playing Field

To demonstrate that Social BPM is not just a buzz word that describes vaporware, I’d like to take a look at examples of this phenomenon that currently exist in the marketplace.

Usually, examples of Social BPM can be found in communities – demonstrating the influence of “social network” technology and philosophy. 

A Caveat: My goal in creating this list was not to pass judgment on the relative merit – either in a positive or negative manner – of those sites listed but rather to illustrate the diversity of such offerings.  If a BPM-related community doesn’t meet my obviously subjective criterion for ‘Social BPM’, then I’m also not implying that is inferior to other sites.

I started collecting information about various representations of Social BPM and I immediately experienced the difficulty in defining which sites really were representations of Social BPM – this difficulty was based on the fact that the definition is still very much in flux.  So, I started to add my own restrictions:

  • Just because a BPM product has its own community with Web 2.0 technologies – blogs, wiki, forums, etc. – (for example, Intalio’s community) doesn’t mean that it is automatically tagged as demonstrating Social BPM qualities. In such Social BPM environments, the focus is not on talking about processes or talking about support issues for BPM suites but rather the act of process design itself. Although Koshafian focuses on modeling, I’m more interested in a broader definition which includes other phases before modeling actually takes place (such as in AlignSpace).  This restriction might raise the question whether the SAP BPX Community represents an example of Social BPM. I’m saying “no”, because there is no real environment where processes may be designed. Some might say that the I’ve been gliffified! Take the Gliffy Challenge can be used for process design but this is not really the intention of this tool.  I used Gliffy extensively during the BPX Community Project and, although it is an excellent drawing tool, it is not really appropriate / efficient for process design.
  • Ideally, the site should have the ability to design process within the community itself – usually in the form of browser-based tools.  I’m little unsure about this restriction, because there are sites where users can discuss processes that are created by desktop-based tools (such as the ARIS Community where users can post their ARIS-Express-based process designs so that they can be discussed).  The problem with such environments is that it appears that, although they might be to discuss a process in a forum, community members really can’t manipulate the process in a collaborative manner.  Some might see this restriction as being arbitrary but I don’t see the characteristic Web 2.0 collaboration (ala wiki) as being present in such offerings.
  • Just because a BPM product exists in the cloud, doesn’t mean that is automatically a Social BPM product.  RunMyProcess  is a new BPM offering that exists in the cloud but it is not an example of Social BPM.

A Caveat: This list does not include a detailed comparison of features (for example, how many users, BPMN import / export, etc) that the different communities provide. That is a task of analysts (Gartner, etc.) or product managers from BPM-vendors comparing their offerings with that of the competition. 

A Second Caveat:  I haven’t used all these communities. Some are still in beta and not open to test users and some require paid registration so, on occasion,  I had to restrict myself to just reading the often extensive literature about these untested sites.   

The following list contains these columns

  • Site: This is the name of the BPM Community
  • Vendor Description: This is how the owner/vendor describes the site. Don’t be surprised if some marketing content appears here.
  • Blogs / other descriptions: These are helpful links that describe the site in more detail.

Site

Vendor Description

Blogs / other descriptions

Lombardi Blueprint

The idea behind Blueprint is that the greater the number of stakeholders who collaboratively participate in and contribute to process discovery, the greater the quality of your business process improvement efforts. Traditionally, due to their complicated nature, process mapping tools have been used only by a select group of individuals and did little to provide for collaboration.

Blueprint’s ease-of-use, browser-based delivery and wiki-like structure have changed this and allow stakeholders inside and outside your organization as well as across functions, campuses and even oceans to collaboratively participate in process improvement. Blueprint takes the practice of process from the hands of the few and spreads it throughout your organization. In effect, the Blueprint platform becomes the central communication platform for collecting, sharing and improving how work gets done in your organization.

Description from Sandy Kemsley. Description from Lombardi.

IBM BlueWorks

BPM BlueWorks provides business users an easy on-ramp to business process management (BPM) with cloud-based process and strategy tools. Business Leaders and Business Analysts can create, share, and collaborate – leveraging pre-built BPM content and contributions from BPM experts and users around the world to move quickly from strategy mapping to process execution.

Description from Bruce Silver

Software AG AlignSpace

AlignSpace, the world’s first social Business Process Management (BPM) platform and community site, provides individuals a way to collaborate on process improvement with other process experts worldwide. The site’s main features are:

* Collaborative process design – Members of AlignSpace can collaborate online on a “drag and drop” process model to visualize a new business process

* Social networking – Connect with colleagues in your organization to discuss your ideas with fellow practitioners around the world.

* Universal translation of BPM models – AlignSpace can import and export process models to all popular BPM formats, so your ideas can be immediately put to the test in a Business Process Management System (BPMS).

* Marketplace – Members can share or offer for sale their value added expertise, products and processes

Description from Sandy Kemsley.

Description from Gartner

Process Wiki

The process Wiki is an online website where any user can design and describe best-practice process models, store them in a central repository and share them with other people. The Process Wiki is also a knowledge resource about process modeling in general. You can find articles, links to other websites and (free) process modeling software.

Like Wikipedia, the Process Wiki and process-repository is made up out of contributions by a dedicated online community.

Description from Keith Swenson of Fujitsu

Signavio

The Signavio Process Editor provides easy access to professional business process management thanks to innovative web technology. This allows it to incorporate more employees or even business partners, suppliers and customers into the process of process design.

Description from Bruce Silver

BPMN Community

The platform combines wiki principles, e-learning and process modeling. It’s a place for everybody interested in BPMN modeling to learn and share knowledge. You can do tutorials, discuss best practices in modeling and improve your modeling skills.

 

BPM Exchange

* A social networking platform to invite current and future BPM practitioners and experts to put in common knowledge, expertise and mutual support.

* An online process discovery and modeling space

* Group collaboration and social computing workspaces, that will allow for a deeper project consulting and management capabilities for typical or exceptional BPM initiatives

* Ability to export and execute business processes, in your platform of choice

 

Note: I’ve placed this table in the SDN wiki so that others can add their thoughts or other Social BPM sites that they have found. If there are other new additions to this list or changes based on additional information about other sites, I’ll also update the wiki.

There are various sites (Signavio, BPMN Community, etc) where there is primarily a focus on the process-model collaboration itself. Other sites include a much wider scope and encompass a variety of other process-related functionality.  I see the range of process design functionality on a sliding scale (don’t whether the scale measurement is based on product maturity, amount of resources involved in the offering, etc.) with some sites offering more than others.

This list probably isn’t complete inasmuch as new communities emerge every week. The availability of open-source process modeling software such as Oryx lowers the barrier of entry for those interested in creating their own Social BPM communities.

What is also interesting to note is that all of these offerings- with exception of Signavio – are hosted – usually in the cloud.  At the current time, the ability to set up an internal Social BPM site is still not really an option but based on security fears associated with cloud-based environments, this may be one feature for which customers are willing to wait.  Until such internal environments are possible, I expect interested individuals to experiment with such cloud-based offerings.

Categorizing the playing field

Based on the categories mentioned above, let’s try and classify Social BPM offerings that were just listed.

Note: A particular manifestation of these categories (for example, Software AG’s AlignSpace) may actually represent multiple categories.

Community

BPM Projects within the Enterprise

BPM  across Trading Partner Value Chains

BPM Communities

Lombardi Blueprint

X

X

 

IBM BlueWorks

X

X

 

AlignSpace

X

X

X

Process Wiki

 

 

X

Signavio

X

X

 

BPMN Community

 

 

X

BPM Exchange

 

 

X

This exercise is useful, because it allows potential users of such services to match their requirements with what is currently available.

What is interesting is to see how the characteristics of the specific category influences the traits of the community and the BPM-related activities that it supports.  Some communities are closely associated with particular vendors while others attempt to be more vendor-neutral.  These characteristics also influence the processes themselves that these communities may create.  Those vendor-neutral communities usually focus on process designs that contain a higher level of abstraction (perhaps sticking to process design with BPMN) while those communities that are associated with vendors contain more implementation-related process details (like User Interfaces for human tasks that are implemented with a particular vendor-specific technology).

Conclusion

The first two blogs in this Social BPM series have taken a more general look at this topic. The next blog in this series will examine the above-mentioned category “BPM Communities” in more detail, describe the problems associated with collaboration in this environment and will propose a methodology to make Social BPM-based process design in such settings more efficient.

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4 Comments

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    1. Richard Hirsch Post author
      I commented in the blog about the ARIS Community. I like the fact that yours can discuss processes that they upload but they really can’t collaborate on process design in a Web 2.0 manner.

      D.

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