The upcoming yearend fuels the predictions on the future of process and content management and social collaboration. Most are however focused on the features of the various software product categories and not on the needs of the business user. Even Keith Harrison-Broninski’s futuristic HIM or Human Interaction System isn’t enough. In the end it is all about usability and the user experience. How many systems is one user supposed to learn and use? The ability to create a personalized user-interaction is still broadly ignored. I propose that business needs a Social Workplace that has to offer a consolidated interaction for content and process in business transaction context. It is not just BPM, ECM and/or E20, but a user focused functionality! That can’t be just a programmed GUI either, because where would that leave your business architecture that must survive in a complex adaptive world?
The Social Workplace – like adaptive process – isn’t a new invention. Five years ago the concept of an ‘Information or High-Performance Workplace’ started to appear. Recently, the belated advances in social and collaborative solutions at large vendors such as IBM, SAP, Microsoft and Oracle have awoken the slumbering beauty in the analyst mind, while the progress made by the vendors of Mashups, Portals, and application platforms was ignored.
What is a Social (high-performance or information) Workplace?
Forrester Research: An Information Workplace is software strategy that drives knowledge worker efficiency through the integration of commonly used applications like content management, collaboration, communications, and enterprise social and business application functionality through an integrated, contextual user experience.
Gartner Group: A High-performance Workplace combines technologies, processes and management so workers can create more value. This area integrates multiple technology perspectives, including collaboration, information access, content and knowledge management, messaging, portals, e-learning and productivity tools.
So it will neither be BPM or Social or a combination of both, nor an ECM System of Record and another System of Engagement. The Social Workplace supports an emergent, iterative and thus adaptive approach to human business interactions. All that is not yet enough, because the main access to the Social Workplace will be through iPad-like tablet computers or mobiles. The main users of this functionality will be knowledge workers, decision makers, management and executives. They want to go mobile and they will not want to go back to seven to ten different APPS on PC, tablet or mobile.
Technology has already advanced to that point in other places, i.e. for marine navigation. Would you not want the same consolidated navigation display for all the relevant business information in context? Yes? You will however need to invest in new technology. I too had to completely replace the electronics on my boat and it wasn’t even five years old. To think one can hack existing applications and technology to get there is an illusion.
Thus it won’t be about SOA versus REST, Flash versus Silverlight or Ajax, or a choice of programming techniques such as Java or XML and it is irreleant if it is OPEN or not. And stop fooling yourself, because all solutions are proprietary, even if based on Open Source or using common interfaces. That includes Ajax toolkits, Workplace or Mashup vendors once you write a single line of CODE! Adobe, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and Tibco are proprietary to the hilt with huge technology stacks to maintain. Programmers simply don’t focus on understanding user personas (roles) in needs and scenarios, business strategy, business value, or on business architecture. Decisions about technology are too often developer-driven, vendor-driven, consulting firm or system integrator driven, while they need to be business user driven.
Well, one has to commend Apple for going HTML5 in iPad and Safari, which won’t however be finalized for many years. The offerings from Yahoo, Google, Apple and Amazon hide the proprietary stuff under the CLOUD cover. You won’t know what it is and if that is ok with you, then go there, but no one knows however how stable and maintainable all that will be. And hope they won’t pull a ‘Wikileaks’ on you …
Business Empowerment by Technology is the Key!
While I admit to be a technology advocate too, I do focus on enabling business strategy. No software solves management problems, but it does empower people, while best practices and methodologies are a substitute for management skills.
Given the above, CIOs must apparently make risky, strategic bets with broad and long-term implications to empower knowledge workers to collaborate in an adaptive, real-time business context. Context is about PEOPLE – workers and customers – and what they are doing with business resources right NOW. It is about transparency and not about BPM enforced predictability that reduces the agility of a business no matter how ‘matured’ the process bureaucracy supposedly is. Because of integration complexity and the governance overhead, business users are not happy today with what they get from IT.
Email and office tools have alleviated the lack of solutions somewhat, but create an information management nightmare. The other advance that attacks both ECM and BPM is the investment in instant messaging, Web, video and audio conferencing, collaboration workspaces, search tools, blogging and VoIP. Microsoft currently still cashes in with Sharepoint with the promise of simple collaborative solutions that will bring office tools back under control. Sharepoint kills the enterprise content management market and given some time it will kill the process management market as well. But tablets and mobile are Microsoft Office killers and without MS-Office, Sharepoint might be in trouble. So the apparently cheap and safe Sharepoint bet is an utterly risky one as well. You might be locking out the main user device. And no, you won’t be able to keep mobile out of your business!
Some propose that the future might be a Facebook like application that some call Activity Streams. Interaction would be via a news feed that we comment on, post a private message to the sender or if online we can even chat. We add resources such as documents, photos or video and link to other resources by hyperlinks. Sounds cool, but Facebook is not adaptive in its support of reusable processes.It is extremely rigid in some ways and completely chaotic for the rest. And it has not been made for the knowledge worker. Truly, Facebook is terrible and using it drives me nuts. If I would have to use it for business each day, I would resign and retire. And have you tried it on mobile? Much of the apparent integration is gone. You switch between various functions. The performance is to cry about and the cost while roaming is unacceptable. And there is no button in Facebook to ‘NOT LIKE’ the Facebook GUI and interaction and I can’t change it to suit my needs. I don’t see how any of that would help me to navigate the stormy business seas.
All social interaction concepts completely miss business context and goals. People ‘browse and surf’ Facebook. They wait what is happening and post when bored. That is neither productive business activity nor does it further a distinct process entity towards some goal. It needs reasonably defined work tasks, checklists and GOALS. And those must be reusable and adaptable.
For a Social Workplace the challenge for IT will be to ensure adoption and proper usage. More technology silos will create more problems than value even if they are ‘Social.’ Users will simply not give up email and office. If just shared document storage and general collaboration would be enough then why hasn’t Lotus Notes taken the world? Ray Ozzie was there first! (… and WHY did he resign from Microsoft?) Does anyone really think that there will be some standard coming across the BIG SIX – Apple, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP – that will bring their stuff to a coherent Social Workplace? Ok, so lets hard-code-integrate-best-of-breed for ECM, BPM, CRM, ERP, Social and into a ‘RIA-based Information Workplace.’ Nope, as it won’t provide an adaptable business architecture paradigm without which all your architectural efforts will be going to waste. Emergence and adaptiveness need a definable ontology of terms mapped to a taxonomy of resources.
And let us come back to mobile: Apple will have sold 30 million iPads and 50 million iPhones at the end of 2011. Similar numbers can be expected from other vendors. So let’s assume that this adds each year over a 100 million of incompatible mobile devices to the market. Has anyone considered that this will require to deploy a CONSOLIDATED Social Workplace to those? ‘There is an APP for that … for that … and for that!’ won’t work in the enterprise. I propose that it won’t even work on the Internet. And as individual APPS won’t integrate, typing data from one APP into another is a return to text-terminal hell. Security will be one of the major issues too. Simple portal based solutions won’t be good enough and will be extremely expensive to use because of the required bandwidth that mobile networks aren’t capable or viable to handle. And the telecoms will not make it cheaper to help us out.
The ‘Social Workplace’ needs to provide:
- A completely user-definable GUI with dashboard features that can also be auto-deployed to different tablet and mobile technologies.
- Enable workers and their customers to register, link-up, define roles/skills, assign tasks and delegate authority.
- Information about individuals such as role, skill, calendar, tasks, contacts, notes, and reports while retaining security and privacy.
- The linking of individuals to create a goal-driven organization in which everyone can define their desired outcomes.
- Adaptive Processes with definable rules that feed knowledge and experience back into reusable templates.
- Individual solution to problems provide emergence, but have to be guided towards the common business goals.
- Task and check lists related to goals and outcomes to replace the BPMN diagram for the business user. (A flowchart editor for mobile is a joke …)
- Business entities and content mapped to exposed backend transaction services must provide the business context.
And as much as I would like to make everyone happy with short and clever posts that highlight problems or make brash predictions on where some irrelevant TLA market fragment might go, it would be a waste of time and Internet bandwidth. While SIMPLE (as in Facebook) makes sense for basic user interaction, a Social Workplace ought to be easy to use, but won’t be simple under the covers. It will need a serious piece of technology to provide an ubiquitous and pervasive Social Workplace and that’s what we need to be working on. And from me that is not a prediction, but a promise!