BPM Milan: Workflow Enactment in a Social Software Environment

Davide Rossi of Universita di Bologna presented a paper on Workflow Enactment in a Social Software Environment, co-authored with Fabio Vitali. Davide took me to task earlier today for not responding to his comment on post from last month: at least I know that someone here reads my blog. 🙂

He started out discussing why enterprises like social software — ease of use, flexibility — but also some of the problems with acceptance in enterprises, such as traceability and enactment. Furthermore, when you look at a comparison between enterprise software such as BPM, there are some distinct differences in their structure, governance and user interaction. To bring these together, you need to consider the current methods of structured coordination as compared to emergent coordination, where there is no pre-defined process, but the users create their own processes in order to achieve the stated goal. Although there will need to be a few iterations before the process takes shape, eventually this “tools-first”approach can achieve results. There is a problem, however: the BPMS tools themselves, which are not really suited to being put in the hands of end users. Yes, I know that the vendor told you that would work, but you’ve probably already discovered that it doesn’t (usually).

The approach described is not to create a new tool, however, but to create a social layer on top of existing tools: a mashup of data and functions from a number of sources using X-Folders, which handles feed aggregation and filtering, storage management, and a reaction engine for interacting with external web services. This is not intended for transactional structured workflow, of course, but for evolving lightweight workflow processes between peers. The example shown in the paper used Google Calendar to set up events that represent time-based milestones in a business process, then used a feed from the calendar to an X-Folder so that reactions would be fired when the events occur to call web services to update activities in a discussion forum.

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