For IBM, Process Innovation is social and mobile

Neil Ward-Dutton

Tuesday, May 15, 2012 by

I’ve been a little slow in blogging about what I learned at IBM IMPACT (#ibmimpact) this year… apologies if you’ve been waiting for pearls of wisdom from me! ;-) I blame a big client workload. Damn those clients.

So it’s a couple of weeks now since IMPACT (at least for me – I was only there for 48 hours) and the second day was when things got interesting. Whereas Day 1 ranged across a variety of topics – even featuring the unveiling of a PureApplication System box on stage (I can’t remember if dry ice was involved, but for the full ’80s effect there should certainly have been) – Day 2’s keynote focused exclusively on ‘Process Innovation’.

‘Process Innovation’ is shorthand for how IBM is pitching its portfolio of tools and capabilities related to BPM and Operational Decision Management (a unification of the WebSphere event processing and rules technologies). This past year IBM’s Phil Gilbert has been focused on further simplifying and integrating IBM’s portfolio here, and his keynote (and other sessions at IMPACT) showcased the work that’s been done – largely in v8 of Business Process Manager, but also in version 8 of WebSphere Operational Decision Management.

We’ll be publishing an updated in-depth assessment of IBM’s BPM technology offering before the end of June, so here I’ll just point out what I think are the main highlights.

In Business Process Manager v8:

  • Simplified design tools. It’s now much easier to build more sophisticated ‘coaches’ (what IBM calls task user interfaces) that exhibit dynamic behaviours and include rich content, using much less hand coding.
  • Better support for document management. Decent CMIS support means building processes where participants need to retrieve, manage and update documents requires much less work.
  • Bringing more work context and assistance to participants. There are two key things here. First, in the context of completing a task, coaches are augmented with what I’ll call a ‘work context panel’ (not sure what the official name is, if there is one). As a participant is working on a task using a coach, Business Process Manager shows (a) the history of what’s happened prior to this task, and who’s worked on the process to this point; (b) recommends other participants who would be well-placed to assist in completion of the task; (c) enables a participant to collaborate in real time with another participant in completing the task (using real-time sharing functionality reused from Blueworks Live). Second, in the context of presenting processes and tasks to participants, in v8 the standard worklist UI metaphor is sidelined in favour of a metaphor based around rich search, filtering and lists (borrowing from popular social applications and also echoing Appian’s Tempo).
  • Better support for large-scale efforts. It’s possible to federate content across multiple instances of the Process Center repository, and also possible to link Process Center instances with other enterprise repositories containing upstream and downstream assets (think requirements docs, architecture blueprints, test case definitions and so on) via OSLC support.
  • Foundation for mobile process work. A published REST API for the BPM runtime environment makes it relatively straightforward to create custom native mobile applications for carrying out tasks in the context of processes.

In Operational Decision Management v8: borrowing UX and design-time concepts from Blueworks Live and BPM and going further. The Decision Center now comes with a business-facing Business Console that presents updates through an activity stream and faceted and free-text search, and a significantly more friendly rules editor. A Facebook-like ‘timeline view’ of rule versions is also provided to help people visualise change histories, which I suspect will also turn up in a future version of Business Process Manager too.

In Blueworks Live: the ability to model process decisions through in-place creation of decision tables, and the ability to model enterprise policies and relate them to processes.

So in summary: from a user perspective the industry-wide themes of mobile and social are writ large; it’s good to see IBM in particular thinking deeply about how social collaboration can be truly woven into work, rather than just bolted on. From a design-time perspective the main thrust is around simplification and integration, which is just as it should be.

Of course there’s room for improvement: the elephant in the room (it’s been there for a while, and is probably now sitting against a wall throwing a ball) is Case Manager. There’s some foundational integration points in place, but a clear roadmap would be very welcome. It’s also unclear to what extent IBM is interested in capturing more ‘upstream’ process improvement activity through process discovery and mining tools.

Still, IBM continues to show that overall it takes BPM very seriously, and it’s serious about taking a market-leading position as a technology provider.


Posted in BPM, Collaboration

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