BPM, Collaboration and Social Networking

Although social software and BPM is an underlying theme in a lot of the presentations that I give, today at the Business Rules Forum is the first time that I’ve been able to focus exclusively on that topic in a presentation for more than 3 years. Here’s the slides, and a list of the references that I used:


There are many other references in this field; feel free to add your favorites in the comments section.

Just call me “Your Honor”

Apparently, Shel Israel’s fact checkers were too busy to actually check facts the day that they proofed page 208 of his new book Twitterville: I am not, nor have I ever been, the mayor of Toronto.

After a couple of people alerted me (via Twitter, of course), I hiked over to the local bookstore and snapped a pic of the page in question – click to see the full-size image, and check under the heading “Tweeting International” near the bottom left where it refers to “Toronto mayor Sandy Kemsley (@skemsley)”. I didn’t buy the book: if it lists me as the mayor of Toronto, who knows what other nonsense it contains? 🙂

fyi, the mayor of Toronto is David Miller (at least until the next election), a.k.a. @mayormiller. I am, however, one of the 57 people who he follows.

AGILIPO: Embedding social software features into business process tools #BPM2009 #BPMS2’09

Three years ago, I gave a presentation entitled “Web 2.0 and BPM” at the BPMG conference in London, in which I said that the future of BPM and Web 2.0 (or what we would now call social software) will include tagging of process instances. Today, I saw some research that includes exactly that functionality, as part of a presentation on AGILIPO, an environment based on Agile principles to provide collaborative process modeling and execution. I missed the presenter’s name, and with six authors on the associated paper, I’m not going to take a guess. Update: the presenter was David Martinho of the Center for Organizational Design and Engineering in Lisbon.

This was a very fast-paced presentation with an Ignite-like pacing, so it was difficult to take notes, but there was some great material here. It really is looking at an Agile approach, with “short feedback cycles to steer instead of align” to avoid long modeling phases and allow unexpected behavior to occur.

One interesting bit is on allowing a user to create generic (non-specific) activities: what we’re starting to see in the commercial market as dynamic BPM, but simplified by allowing the inclusion of generic activities that can then be tagged with their specific details. The user adding the activity will assign tags specific to this process instance to associate semantics to the dynamically-added generic activity; the new process steps can be added back to the main process design through versioning.

Both comments and tags are allowed at the process instance level, as well as on the step in the process model.

Interesting ideas; I look forward to seeing how the concepts of process instance tagging are used in other applications.

Social media for community projects

If you ever wonder what BPM analyst/architect/bloggers do in their spare time, wonder no more:

Ignite Toronto: Sandy Kemsley -The Hungry Geek from Ignite Toronto on Vimeo.

I was invited to give a presentation at Ignite! Toronto this week, and decided to discuss how I’ve been using social media – Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, blogging – and some integration technologies including RSS and Python scripting to promote a new farmers’ market in my community. I’m on the local volunteer committee that acts as the marketing team for the market. Here’s the presentation, it’s not too clear on the video:

If you’re not familiar with Ignite, it’s a type of speed presentation: 20 slides, 5 minutes, and your slides auto-advance every 15 seconds. For a marathon presenter like me, keeping it down to 5 minutes is a serious challenge, but this was a lot of fun.

For a technology view, check out slide 17 in the slide deck, which shows a sort of context diagram of the components involved. Twitter is central to this “market message delivery framework”, displaying content from a number of sources on the market Twitter account:

  • I manually tweet when I see something of interest related to the market or food. Also, I monitor and retweet some of our followers, and reply to anyone asking a question via Twitter.
  • When I publish a post on my personal blog that is in the category “market”, Twitterfeed picks it up through the RSS feed and posts the title and link on Twitter. These are posted to both the market account and my own Twitter account, so you may have seen them if you’re following me there.
  • Each week, I save up a list of interesting links and other tweet-worthy info, and put them in a text file. My talented other half wrote a Python script that tweets one message from that file each hour for the two days prior to each Saturday market day.
  • I connected my Flickr account with Twitter, and can either manually tweet a link to a photo directly from Flickr, or email a photo from my iPhone to a private Flickr email address that will cause the link to be tweeted. I could have used Twitpic for the latter functionality, but Flickr gives me better control over my photo archive.

The whole exercise has been a great case study on using social media for community projects with no budget, using some small bits of technology to tie things together so that it doesn’t take much of my time now that it’s up and running. I’d be doing most of the activities anyway: taking pictures of the market, cooking and blogging about it, and reading articles on local food and markets online. This just takes all of that and pushes it out to the market’s online community with very little additional effort on my part.

AlignSpace social BPM community

Process discovery participantsA couple of months ago, Software AG launched AlignSpace, a social BPM community, and gave a webinar to explain what it’s about (replay here). AlignSpace is intended to be a vendor-neutral place where people doing process discovery can share ideas and collaborate on process discovery. Gartner estimates that over 40% of BPM project time is spent on process discovery, which is inherently a collaborative activity including everyone from process participants through developers and a BPM center of excellence, but there aren’t a lot of great tools out there to do this.

Software AG looked at a lot of social media sites to understand the key features that people want when working together online, and created a cloud-based platform where people can capture process requirements and model processes. This is intended to be beyond what Lombardi is already doing with Blueprint, where people can collaborate on create a specific organization’s process models, and create the potential for a marketplace as well as a collaboration platform. AlignSpace process discovery viewThat being said, their initial process outline view has a lot in common with Blueprint, with stages/milestones comprising activities, and the way that can be also visualized as a process map. You can import a model from Visio or XPDL for sharing in AlignSpace, then export it back out again. They also have a home page that shows what’s happening in processes in which you’re involved, and links to your contacts on other social sites.

The AlignSpace Marketplace is intended to be able to find or document BPM resources, whether people or products/models, then allow participants to rank those resources for others to see.

They’re still in a closed beta, but you can go there and sign up to participate. AlignSpace will be free to use, and although vendor-independent, it will be launched with a library and community of resources (some of which will, necessarily, have particular vendor expertise). There’s some lightweight Software AG branding on it, but it’s not their intention to block anyone from it: it’s really intended to be an open BPM community. I give them a lot of credit for this, since most of the other BPM communities launched by vendors are very much specific to their own products, which is going to stifle a lot of good discussion. Software AG seems to recognize, even in these economic times, is that a rising tide floats all boats: if more people are interested in BPM, and AlignSpace helps to get them over the initial barriers of adoption, then all BPM vendors will benefit. Outside the BPM vendor-specific offerings, there are definitely other collaborative workspaces and social networks around, but few with a BPM focus.

AlignSpace home pageSecurity is obviously going to be a serious consideration: even though most companies don’t put customer data in their process models (as opposed to the executing processes), the processes may represent intellectual property that provide them with a competitive advantage. They are looking at corporate-restricted versions, such that only users from within your domain can access it; the same sorts of security measures have already been put in place in Blueprint, and you can be sure that other cloud solutions are going to have to solve the same problem.

They have ambitions to move this beyond BPM and provide a collaborative space for discovery/requirements for other sorts of IT projects: a bit like ConceptShare, but with more of a focus on technology implementations rather than media and design.

I had a chance to talk to Miko Matsumura of Software AG around the time of the initial AlignSpace announcement; he admitted (which is what I love about Miko) that initially AlignSpace is a lot of big ideas but not much delivered. Like Google with its betas, the idea is to get something out there for people to use, then use their early feedback in order to decide what gets added in next. Although they’re trying to focus on “data format promiscuity” in order to allow customers from many BPMS vendors to participate, the process models are publish and subscribe rather than an interactive whiteboard model in their BPM sketchpad. The big focus is on creating fertile ground for the concept of collaborative process improvement, pulling together innovators from across multiple organizations and infecting companies with process innovation. Data formats are only one issue, as he points out: there is as much tribalism and heterogeneity in the people issues as in the systems that they use, and we need to get the tribes to disband, or at least come to a neutral territory.

From a social media standpoint, the AlignSpace presence doesn’t get full marks: their blog hasn’t been updated since June, their Twitter stream is mostly links to other BPM resources rather than any original material or updates on AlignSpace, and on Facebook they have both a group and a page, without a clear distinction between how each is used.

This all sounds great, but as yet, I haven’t seen the beta. Yes, that’s a hint.

BPM and Twitter (and other social destinations)

Professor Michael Rosemann of the BPM Research Group of Queensland University of Technology has published a short paper on BPM and Twitter on the ARIS Community site, where he lists three possible uses of Twitter with BPM:

  • Use Twitter to update you whenever there are changes to a process that you’re following. In this case, he’s talking about following processes, not process instances, so that you receive notifications for things such as changes to the process maps/roles, or new aggregate monitoring statistics.
  • Have a process follow you on Twitter (or an automated stream that knows when you’re scheduled to be unavailable), so that it knows when you’re away and assigns substitutes for your role.
  • Have a process instance tweet, either for milestone notification or with a link to the process instance, acting as a BPM inbox.

I’m not so sure about the second one, but the first and last are really just a matter of capturing the events as they occur, and sending them off to Twitter. Most BPMS can generate events for some or all of these activities, potentially available through an RSS feed or by posting them onto an ESB; as Rosemann points out in his article, there are a number of different ways to then get them onto Twitter.

My other half did a series of experiments several months ago on process events, including output to Twitter; he used a GPS as input (I wanted him to use a BPMS, but he was keen on the location events) and simple Python scripts to send the messages to Twitter. He tested out a number of other interfaces, including Coral8 for event stream processing, two blogging platforms, Gtalk, email, Google’s App Engine and Amazon’s Simple Queue Service; the idea is that with some simple event processing in the middle, you can take the relevant events from your BPMS (or any system that generates events) and send them pretty much wherever you want without a lot of customization.

I think that using Twitter to monitor process instances is the most interesting concept of the three that Rosemann presents, since you can potentially send tweets to people inside or outside your organization about process milestones that interest them. If you’re nervous about using Twitter, either for security reasons or fear of the fail whale, you can run your own microblogging service using an open source platform such as laconi.ca or a commercial solution such as Socialtext’s Signals.

I’ll be attending the workshop on BPM and social software at the upcoming BPM research conference in Ulm, Germany; I haven’t seen the papers to be delivered at the workshop (or the rest of the conference), but I’d be very surprised if there isn’t a lot of discussion about how to incorporate Twitter and other social tools into our more enterprise-y BPM existence.

Applying the successful strategies of social networks to the enterprise #e2conf

Aaron Levie of Box.net is presenting in the last breakout slot of the day, looking at how to apply the lessons learned in consumer social networks to how these can be applied within the enterprise. He started on the ideas of speed (as in speed/ease of sharing information), community and openness as key features of the consumer web, then went on to discuss why traditional enterprise software isn’t social, based on these three measures. Okay, a bit of a simplistic and technology-focused view, but let’s run with that for now. Also conveniently supports why you would use a service like Box.net…

This was followed by a pretty lightweight list of how this could be applied in the enterprise, but nothing earth-shattering. For a presentation that was supposed to be about content-centric social networks, it was remarkably content-free.

FASTforward09: Clay Shirky

I’m at the FASTforward conference in Las Vegas, where I’m blogging over at the FASTforward blog. I’ll spare you my comments on Don Tapscott’s opening keynote, since regular readers have seen a lot of it before, but move on to our second big-name speaker of the conference, Clay Shirky, who I was looking forward to seeing. I read and enjoyed his book, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations (apparently coming out in paperback in a couple of weeks), although it seems that I neglected to write a review of it. I’ve seen the power of organizing events and movements without a formal organization, and as an independent (in both the philosophical and employment sense), I’m a firm believer that you don’t have to be part of a big organization in order to make things happen. Today’s social networking tools, like Facebook and Twitter, allow us to organize and motivate a large network of friends and friends of friends with a relatively small amount of effort.

It’s not just about having a flash mob or a Tweetup or even a fundraiser party like HoHoTO, however: social networks have become a major source for news. When a plane made an emergency landing on the Hudson River last month, I turned to Twitter rather than mainstream media sites or TV to stay on top of what was happening. As Twitter lowers the bar for us all to become citizen journalists via SMS messages from our mobile phones, millions of people the world over are adding their voices – 140 characters at a time – to the torrent of information about current events available on the web.

Although Shirky doesn’t say this explicitly, this is why search is so critical: without search, you can’t find all that information that’s out there waiting to be aggregated, and without search, you can’t filter all that information so that it’s relevant to you. Bad search gives you too much useless information; good search gives you a focused stream of pure gold. Good search also allows you to fine-tune that focus, adding and removing areas of interest depending on what catches your interest that day.

Back to his talk, he discussed amateur forums that provide support or information, specifically one that discusses specific mobile phone handset/carrier combinations and the known issues: a large number of unpaid people with a huge amount of collective knowledge contribute to a knowledgebase for the common good rather than for money. This is a classic case of crowdsourcing, such as is seen in Wikipedia, but he talked more about the notion of community, and the fact that people contribute to such an effort because they enjoy being part of the community. The social aspect of crowdsourcing is really the interesting part: although it’s cool that you create a huge body of knowledge, it’s even more cool to see the connections that are made through the community. He talked about IBM’s DogEar product (an enterprise social bookmarking product that started as an internal tool), and the connections that are being made by looking at who is linking to who’s links. Exposing this sort of information across an organization the size of IBM shows how connections can be made between people who normally would never have visibility of each other, even though they have common interests. It’s not about whether an organization is open or closed, it’s about the permeability of the interfaces between parts of the organization.

Digital tools lower the cost of failure. Get out there, build something social and risk that failure: it’s not going to cost you very much.

Oracle accidentally tweets about ALBPM

Two weeks ago, Peter Shankman broke the story about a social media “expert” who twittered unflatteringly about a customer’s home city while on his way to visit them, and how the expert was slapped in the face with it by his customer. If you’re using social media such as Facebook and Twitter for business purposes, you’d better be aware of who can see your updates so as not to commit a similar faux pas.

For example, a search for “albpm” (the BEA BPM platform acquired by Oracle, and positioned as strategic in their product strategy even though it’s not clear how they intend to converge ALBPM and BPEL Process Manager into a single runtime engine without obsolescing at least one of them) shows an interesting tweet made yesterday by Paul Cross at Oracle:

Oracle tweets about ALBPM

It looks like he didn’t understand (prior to that point) that if he wants to use Twitter for making possibly controversial sales strategy statements like this, it’s important to protect his updates so that only the people who he follows can see them. By this morning, his updates were protected, but Twitter search keeps all unprotected tweets available for all time.

I haven’t heard much lately about the Oracle BPM product convergence; I’m sure that there are a lot of ALBPM customers out there who are hoping that this internal directive doesn’t mean the end of ALBPM.