Neural nets in BPM?

Just saw this article in eWeek about Fuego releasing neural net capabilities in their BPM product.

Neural Network works through a decision activity capability that lets users define a set of variables that can be analyzed for process improvement…Neural Network takes that set of variables and builds a learning activity set that can monitor decisions and suggest behavior to improve the process.

I haven’t heard the term “neural net” much since my days in graduate school when I was slogging through a thesis on pattern recognition; it usually refers to a hardware implementation consisting of a massively-parallel network of simple processors (modelled on the human brain and its highly-connected network of neurons): think grid computing on a very tiny scale. Because these terms are not widely understood, there’s a long history of misuse: in fact, the first company that I worked for after university had the word “perceptron” (a type of neural net) in its name, although we wrote pattern recognition and scientific image analysis software, with nary a neural net in sight.

That being said, I’m assuming that what Fuego is calling “Neural Network” is actually artificial intelligence (AI) or cognitive modelling, although I can understand why the marketing types would avoid the overused “AI”, with its shades of science fiction, and positively run screaming from the overly-geeky “cognitive”. The problem with introducing a functionality that is barely understood in the marketplace (besides having to explain it to your own marketing people) is that the customers have no clue what to do with it, and probably not much time to spend doing the out-of-the-box thinking required to come up with some real business scenarios that have the potential for ROI. If you keep reading the article, you’ll see that the VP of process management at an existing Fuego customer considered “the Neural Network technology” to be “intriguing but not essential”. See the problem? It’s still “technology” in the minds of that customer, not a solution to a business problem.

I think that AI has a great future in BPM, but it’s still very early in the hype cycle. As a natural extension to business activity monitoring (BAM), pushing it into the milieu of semi-automated corporate performance management (CPM), it’s going to be the next “must-do” on BPM vendors’ product plans.

By the way, I wrote this post on my tablet PC (in tablet mode) — the handwriting recognition is really good, although a bit slower than my typing. I would like copy-cut-paste soft keys on the handwriting input panel, however: I had to keep switching from handwriting mode to keyboard mode in order to use Ctrl+C, Ctrl+X and Ctrl+V.

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