The debate about the trends of Social BPM Software and Social Workflow Software continues to rage in the BPM Software blogs, forums, and linked-in groups. It is definitely a debate worth having. The BPM industry tends to lean a little to the right and be a little grey on top, so it makes sense that the industry is questioning how all of this social stuff will come to bare on BPM Software and the BPM Software Industry. And it is not surprising that the industry isn’t at the forefront of the topic.
Unfortunately, up until now the debate has been shallow. Most mention integrating with twitter, facebook, and iphones when talking about what is social, but few really get it. Yes, Twitter and Facebook are social applications, but integrating with them doesn’t necessarily turn a workflow software product into a social workflow software or social bpm software product. This is almost like mistaking cause and effect. The cause of social is not twitter and facebook; twitter and facebook are the effect. The underlying cause of something being social is Data.
SOCIAL = DATA
If I had to define social in just 1 word, it would be data. And if I were given a few more words to describe a social app, it would look something like this –
Social App – An app that not only allows users to interact and share data, but leverages that data to enhance the overall user experience and make the experience get better and better over time thanks to the combined intelligence of the community of collected data.
We are at the beginning of the next digital revolution and in retrospect it will probably be called the social data revolution and not the social networking revolution. The power of social is all about the data.
Tim O’Reilly has written about and given numerous lectures about the coming “data” revolution. But I think the connection that has not been highlighted properly is that social is really just part of a fast evolving equation that is beginning to emerge.
X+Y+SOCIAL = DATA REVOLUTION
Social isn’t web 2.0 or an ajax interface. Social also isn’t simply about having lots of users. Social is about having lots of USER DATA. Twitter is interesting because there are so many people talking to so many other people. But Twitter is fascinating because of its “trending topics” the ability to see patters in news as it is happening. Twitter satisfies one of the most basic of human desires – pattern and meaning recognition. Instead of looking back months, years, or even decades later to find meaning through patterns, be they economic bubbles or tipping point phenomena, twitter allows us to gaze at them as they are forming in real-time. What makes these patterns meaningful?
The Answer: Data.
Why is Facebook and not Bing Google’s primary competitor in Search? Simple – search is all about data. At this point Google’s competitive advantage isn’t its somewhat dysfunctional algorithm, it is simply that they have more data than anyone else and they are using it. But the future isn’t just about quantity of data, it is about quality of data. Is it contextual? Is it relevant? If I search for pizza, I want to find the pizza place closest to me, with the best pizza, and with the biggest discount at the moment I am hungry and passing by. If I search for Baby Strollers, I might prefer the opinions of my friends that have kids, i.e. my Facebook friends. In other words, data is social by nature. Local gossip is much more interesting than gossip from someone we don’t know, right?
So, if social is equal to data, or even better “relevant data,” than what does this mean for BPM software and workflow software? Relevant data could be data available across a single company, but it gets more interesting when we start talking about data across lots of companies.
If the future is all about user data then you better start amassing data. If you want to start amassing data, you better be operating your service as a hosted service (SaaS BPM, Cloud BPM, Hosted BPM) and not as a download and install software. You need to stay involved with your users.
BPM software is one piece of software which has been slow to grow in the cloud. Everyone is talking about cloud BPM and all the vendors are offering cloud BPM, but are customers really using it? The huge advantage for the first truly successful cloud bpm player is that this company will begin amassing data. How can that data be used to improve process intelligence for other companies? As I mentioned earlier, Google’s advantage at this point is no’t its search algorithm, it is the fact that it has better and more data than anyone else. So, could this ever be the case for a BPM software or workflow software provider? Could one company scale quickly enough to gain a competitive advantage because of its data and its ability to make use of it in real-time? What would this look like?
Let’s look at an example. If 100,000 SMBs were automating their purchase process on a particular cloud bpm, would it be interesting to know that your company takes an average of 5 days to approve the purchase of #2 pencils compared to an average of 2 days across the rest of the bpm cloud? Or what about if 100,000 SMBs used the same supplier registration workflow? Wait a minute…if lots of businesses used the same workflow process then wouldn’t it be better to simply have one workflow process shared across the cloud? Nothing new here, right? This is being done in lots of cases. Take the college application process, for example; it uses a universal application. See where this is going?
In other words, the challenge for social BPM is to find interesting ways to leverage data. CRM which has much bigger numbers and more total time operating in the cloud has already seen this phenomena with companies like Jigsaw and Linked-In that enhance CRM data by crossing it with other data available. Obviously in CRM software this is easier because CRM software all basically does the same thing. But this is an example of a company bringing data to a process and enriching that process experience. Of course, google maps has been doing this for years. But now there are so many niche specific variants that it is impossible to keep track of them.
Perhaps for BPM the problem is that the category is simply too wide. This seems to always be the achilles heel for BPM Software and the reason why BPM clouds may tend to be very topic specific with no single player taking all of them. After all, the trend in Internet software for sometime has been to do one simple process and do it well (with a very fluffy website). Large enterprise software companies just don’t seem to be in vogue anymore. With SOA and Single Sign On taking hold, it seems to make even less sense to do more than one thing well. The Internet has finally delivered on the promise of the perfect assembly line. We have entered a world where completely disagregated services are possible and the end user will never know or care. So where does this leave BPM Software and BPM software providers in a data intensive world?
Let me try to sum it up. If social=data, and data is process specific, then BPM Software as a tool will have a difficult time taking center stage. Rather, it is the apps built on a particular BPM software that will get all the glory.