Social processes #e2open

For the last session of the day – and what will be the last session of the Enterprise 2.0 conference for me – I shifted over to the Enterprise2Open unconference for a discussion on social processes with Mark Masterson. As part of his job developing software for insurance companies, he put together a mockup of a social front end for an insurance claims adjuster’s workplace. The home page is dominated by the activity stream, which includes links to tasks, blog posts, documents and other systems that are relevant to this person’s work. It’s not just the usual social network stuff; it also includes information from enterprise systems such as ECM and BPM systems. There would be rules to set priorities on what’s in any given user’s activity stream.

There’s also more purely social features, such as a personal profile with the ability to provide status updates and indicate presence.

When the user clicks on an item in the activity stream representing an enterprise BPM task, the information from the task and its process is pulled into this environment, rather than launching the BPM system’s user interface; this becomes a unified desktop for the user, rather than just a launchpad. Information about a claim could include external data that is mashed up into the interface, such as Google maps. The right panel of the interface changes so that it always shows information to support what is happening in the main pane; when a BPM work item is open, for example, the right panel includes links to people and content that might be related to that specific case. It also includes a tag cloud that can be used to click through to information across the enterprise about that subject; for example, clicking on the “fraudulent injury” tag showed a list of people who are related in some way (that is, they are a resource with some experience) to fraudulent injury claims, and what their role in the process might be.

Masterson presents this as a vision for what he thinks is the best type of interface to present to all the participants in the claims process: no jumping around between multiple applications, no green screens, and the relationships between information from multiple systems combined in ways that make sense relative to the adjuster’s work. I see some of this type of functionality being built into some of the more modern BPM systems, but that’s not what a lot of insurance companies are using: they’re using out-of-date versions of FileNet and other more traditional BPM systems.

As with most unconference sessions, this is a small bit of presentation and a lot of audience discussion. Some in the group made a distinction between collaboration and social, and didn’t see the sort of collaboration within business processes that happens within organizations as social. Masterson (and I) disagree: whenever you deviate from the structured business process in a process such as claims adjudication, it’s an inherently social activity since people are relying on their tacit knowledge about what other people can bring to the process, and using (often) ad hoc methods for bringing them into the flow. I think that they are confusing “social” with “public”, and have been drinking too much of the E2.0 Kool-Aid that’s being passed around at this conference.

The real unique thing here is not putting a pretty front end on enterprise systems (although that’s a nice feature, it’s just a relatively well-understood integration issue); it’s the home page as a unified view of a user’s work environment – I hesitate to call it a unified inbox since it’s not just about delivering tasks or messages to be acted upon – and the information relationships that allow the right panel to be populated with relevant information and links for the specific work context. As opposed to tagging of process instances to use as future templates for exception cases, an idea that I’ve been knocking about for a while, this goes beyond that to collect information that might be related to a process instance from a variety of sources including blogs and wikis. Consider that the claims adjuster is handling a specific exception case, and someone else did a very similar case previously and documented their actions in a procedures wiki: this sort of environment could bring in information about the previous case when the user is processing the current case. The information in the right panel is replacing the user’s memory and the line of sticky notes that they have on the edge of their screen.

There’s some cool ideas in here, and I hope that it develops into a working prototype so that they can get this in front of actual users and refine the ideas. There’s a lot that’s broken in how enterprise processes work, even those that have been analyzed and automated with BPM, and bringing in contextual information to help with a specific work step (especially case management steps such as claims adjudication) is going to improve things at least a little bit.

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