Two weeks ago, the French information technology company Atos declared they will eliminate email for intra-employee communication over the next 18 months. Even before this announcement, there was no doubt that email is under pressure and that this could be a great thing. If you consider that the whole spectrum of BPM involves a significant amount of human decisions and work, email has been an end user BPM tool of choice since its inception. Emails define processes, kick off processes, and are used to track processes. Here are three classic ways emails have provided BPM value over the years.
Definition and collaboration
“Do you agree we should create a presentation specific to that customer?
Email is being used to define and collaborate around a sales process step. It could have been sent to one or many people, and the replies might be in more emails until two or more people talk about the question. Easy to do, but not repeatable and not governed. Necessary, however, because there is no centralized way to collaborate on process. From a transparency perspective, this is worst-case. Lots of energy being consumed, few lasting effects.
“A new action was added to the process, ‘sales process'”
Email just became a communication tool to let the user know there is an event that should be known. It acts as a pointer to data in another system where the user goes to find meaningful information and maybe to collaborate. This is only valuable because the organization can’t be certain that people would be aware otherwise. It is necessary because there is no centralized place for people to get information in real-time…no where people ‘live’ for work purposes.
“Customer X, your account review is complete and your current balance reflects any adjustments.”
Communication is forwarded, time stamped, archived. Email is an output of process and not the way process is created, discussed, decided and conveyed. This use of email for BPM isn’t a necessary evil, but more likely connected to a compliance or regulatory requirement. Even this won’t last forever, as the step beyond personal social to professional social is likely to be a collision of our personal and professional social worlds. There’s no reason why it can’t be so. Why can’t a doctor notify a patient through social media?
Transparency is the key. Social technology has at its core the ability for the few to speak to the many as well as point-to-point communication. It allows conversations to be discovered, joined, and augmented by the greatest number of voices or as few as should be allowed. It ‘finds’ us through clever tools like hash tags and topics. It gives us the benefits that email simply never will.
For email not to be the go-to for BPM, there needs to be an always-on, always front and center way to positively acknowledge communication. Social holds that promise and in fact is already through its first implementations at places like TIBCO and is showing surprising returns. When a social technology is the fastest, easiest, most accurate and timely way to communicate, it will dominate the space that email currently occupies.
What about the stats?
“30 million horses were shod this year and that’s 10 percent more than last year!” would have been a believable statistic in the early 20th Century. It could have been used to argue that the automobile will never replace the horse. There’s a significant problem with statistics…they don’t always indicate trends. In this made-up example, the World’s population was growing, and maybe more people were able to afford horses but not cars…yet. Movements emerge before the statistics catch up as the population first understands and then adapts to new ideas.
My bold statement: If a social platform or communication method becomes as ubiquitous as email, it will replace this form of BPM. Social communications are far easier to analyze and direct than “dumb data” found in documents, including in email. Email has the same problem as Visio or any other documents-as-data. They lock important information into a source that is more difficult to mine and manage.
Prediction: Email will be around for a while…in the meantime, we need to use it appropriately.
For another take on this post, see Marco Brambilla’s post, “Are mobile and consumerization keys for event-based SocialBPM?“