A view from PEX Week – There’s an app for that #BPM #PEXWeek

I sat on a PEX Week 2012 panel yesterday with Clay Richardson, Sandy Kemsley, Nathaniel Palmer and Steve Towers. The question for the panel was what we saw coming in BPM.  I’ve weighed in on this topic recently with my 2012 predictions and a broader view of BPM’s future. I was prepared to restate much of what I’ve been saying, that BPM needs to be broadly seen as a soup-to-nuts practice that involves everything from structured to unstructured work and from human activities to automation. But spending time talking with people and listening to speakers put me on a different tack.

Data god

The reality of how we work is different from the way software vendors design applications. An application thinks in data terms; how information is routed and modified in the act of conducting business. As workers, we have been forced into this view by ERP, CRM and other systems that make humans slaves to transactional systems instead of making systems that are easy to go straight at what we need. Think of the number of clicks to get to most data, and the onerous tasks of updating sales forecasts, leads, time sheets, and expenses. In each case, centralized data is our god and we serve it through cumbersome interfaces that we love to hate. Truthfully, if you don’t think about data design in your interactions with these systems, you end up scratching your head over the error messages and prompts to complete a required field. We’re there because we serve the data, and not the other way around.

Process bits

Our reality is more like work in process fragments. Unless we’re on an assembly line, we do things that require us to stop and start nearly everything we do. Done well, our day fits together like a puzzle as we sandwich in less structured work between our structured tasks. Spending hours on a single, high-value task is a luxury saved for long flights or, unfortunately, evenings and weekends. Do our work systems align with this reality? Not at all. The time to get into and out of a data-focused system is often greater than the time to accomplish the task at hand.

An app for that?

The rise of the app, mostly thanks to Steve Jobs’ vision, is a perfect example of going at things differently. Apps serve a tighter purpose than long workflows…they are light, quickly developed and go straight at the problem. If you’re like me, you spend some part of our day moving in and out of other apps, like banking, blogging, tweeting, Facebook, LinkedIn. We check things, create things, respond to others all while living our life. We love the iPhone because it enables this pattern. Why couldn’t the same thing be the dominant feature of how our work is done? Back-of-the-napkin, here are some ideas for work apps that would keep us a safe distance from that monolithic system that saps our will to live:

  • Time card, expenses apps (using my phone’s camera to snap receipts)
  • Payroll and benefits apps
  • Corporate travel app (maybe linking to expenses app, if that makes sense)
  • Safety procedures app
  • Enterprise social media app
  • Managers approvals app (out of the box on this one)
  • Compliance reminders/acknowledgements app (if not on social media)
  • Training/testing apps
  • Leads, forecast apps
  • Form app that structures input I need to receive from multiple sources
  • Complex event app that allows me to choose discreet data and get an alert
Apps are light, purposeful and mobile.  They don’t care where the user is and they assume a limited screen size. The investment is small and therefore they can be approached as trial-and-error. Doctors are already using the Physician’s Desk Reference app and other narrow-purpose tools to treat in healthcare facilities, so why wouldn’t this approach work just as well for business process? I believe it would. In the end, an app approach would make it easy not to care where the data is located, where the user is coming from, and what platform they’re using. Just the right information in the right hands at the right time and place. 
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Categories: Future of work, Social / Collaboration

Author:Chris Taylor

Reimagining the way work is done through big data, analytics, and event processing. There's no end to what we can change and improve. I wear myself out...

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5 Comments on “A view from PEX Week – There’s an app for that #BPM #PEXWeek”

  1. January 24, 2012 at 5:12 am #

    Wow, Chris! I just started a spin-out company called UnaGoal that addresses the very issue you raise here. Our product is built on SharePoint and contains dozens of modules (read “apps”) that do all those things that fall through the cracks of ERP/CRM. We had the same idea. People need tools to help them through their day. They need to find the information they’re looking for in three clicks and it needs to be organized they way their life at work is organized. We actually have very little workflow — basic approval stuff. But, we agree that it is important to keep each piece simple.

    I would be very interested to hear some more of your thoughts. We have a starting point with a product that has matured inside of a systems integration firm, but we need to establish a broader product roadmap. Any thoughts from the Gartner community would be most helpful.

    • February 5, 2012 at 1:07 pm #

      Tom, your spin-out is validated by the announcement that IBM bought Worklight. http://www.forbes.com/sites/ericsavitz/2012/01/31/ibm-buys-worklight/
      The future is in purpose-built apps on powerful middleware that can pull data from anywhere.

      • Tom Bellinson
        February 5, 2012 at 1:55 pm #

        Thanks Chris. This is interesting. BTW, we changed our name to UnaPage (after a negotiation to acquire the domain name was successful). The first round of our product will focus on managing process execution for those processes that traditionally aren’t controlled by an ERP system.

        What is interesting about the IBM acquisition is the validation of how important HTML5 will be to everyone’s development strategy.

  2. February 5, 2012 at 2:10 pm #

    Absolutely. Check out the video link below on the power of HTML5 on the iPad. I wrote about this as part of the big changes that are coming:

    http://successfulworkplace.com/2011/12/06/anticipating-the-bpm-technology-future/

    HTML5 at work on an iPad: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gB_MSvPTZkM

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Failing just got really easy | Successful Workplace - June 11, 2012

    […] Cheap Functionality – We’re likely to look back at the 90′s and early 00′s as the Monolithic Application Age for business. Large systems like ERP and CRM became the backbone of operations. These big, bloated applications seemed necessary to pull together disparate parts of the business and had their moment as organizations struggled to go end-to-end. The rise of mobile apps, on the other hand, makes functionality much simpler and incremental. Some vestige of the monolithic still has its place, perhaps, but only as a back end to the common tasks people perform through purpose-built apps. […]

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