Email is the most popular form of asynchronous, distributed interaction. It is simple to use and provides knowledge workers complete flexibility to conduct their work. Despite the pervasiveness of email in contemporary office work, the concept has its disadvantages: there is no process, no visibility, no control, no goal and limited accountability.
And as we all know from our own experience, email can be overwhelming. It is not unusual that one spends as much as two hours every day just to sort and read all the email, not to speak of responding to it. According to a study, 43% of people have actually fallen ill because of email-induced stress.
Various collaboration tools such as knowledge management, content management, groupware or online conference applications attempt to bring some structure into human interactions. They bring the knowledge workers at the same centralized information repository, facilitating information access and communication, but thereby the tools are also exacerbating the problem of information overload. People have to run faster and faster to even stand still.
The biggest challenge is not finding information, but keeping up with it. The scarcest resource is no longer storage or bandwith but human attention. In order to cope with the white water of information rushing through our daily lives, we need new means to organize information temporally (e.g. news feeds) and means to filter the relevant information (e.g. semantic tagging, collaborative filtering).
To this end, a proliferation of social networks and social media sharing services are harnessing the power of collective intelligence, but they are also, for their part, contributing to what Keith Harrison-Broninski calls network overload: the increasing volume of human interactions overall. As all the world is a project and we are moving from Information Age to Process Age, people are expected to participate in an increased number of collaborations.
To deal with the network overload, communication in collaborative activities must be structured and goal-driven. People need to understand the process context of their interactions: their capabilities, roles and responsibilities as well as those of others.
Traditional Business Process Management tools address static, structured processes that account for approximately one fifth of all business processes, but they fail to address the remaining 80% of ad-hoc, dynamic tasks that knowledge workers perform. Human Interaction Management (HIM), or Dynamic BPM, extends process management to this kind of dynamic collaborations, in which the process takes shape as it unfolds.
First tools such as HumanEdj by Rolemodellers or BizFlow by Handysoft are emerging in this space and large vendors are expected to follow. However, dynamic collaborations are very different from workflows and structured collaborations and as Jon Pyke points out extant BPM tools do not readily lend themselves to knowledge work: “I doubt there are many BPM products on the market today which will be able to meet this seismic shift in requirements - certainly those that rely on BPEL and SOA won’t; what’s more, any that have been in the market for longer than five years will need radical surgery to meet the coming challenge.”
I recently came across with this interesting and thought-provoking article entitled “The Future of the Desktop” by Nova Spivack, founder and CEO of Twine. I came to think how BPM could move to the cloud as well… Each process participant would be viewed as a generic event-processing agent in a “personal cloud” capable of performing some basic operations: subscribing to channels, publishing to channels, maintaining information and applications. Not only would it enable sharing information like in Twine or documents like in various Office 2.0 apps, but it would give the collaborations a structure, goal and process execution context like in HIM.
I am imagining an ubiquitous communication, collaboration and connectivity framework that would:
- enable mobile processes adhering to pi-calculus
- provide connectivity infrastructure to standard interfaces
- provide workflow foundation to orchestrate resources in the private context
- specify an interface for plug-n-play Ajax widgets
- leverage collective intelligence and social networks
Such a framework would bring together the best of Web 2.0, BPM and Collaborative Software. Is my thinking clouded or could this be the cloud nine of BPM?