Adaptive Working Environment (@WE)

17 02 2011

In previous posts I have spoken about the importance of a holistic approach to delivering IT to business, which aligns IT solutions more closely to the actual needs of the business. I have also posted about the importance of being highly adaptive and flexible to business needs, which ultimately includes the needs of end users and the most important of them all, customers…So with all this in mind, Adaptive Working Environment (@WE) makes a lot of sense, if you understand what it is…

It was interesting to read Max J. Pucher post on ACM is Dead! Long live ADAPTIVE as many of his points regarding ADAPTIVE are areas I have been working in / towards for some years now. Sure the terms are a little different and even the areas are (I have come from a far more ECM orientated silo) but many of the points he raises about ADAPTIVE can be applied to not just the areas we frequent (CRM, BPM etc). My previous post touched on some of this, and I thought it was time I spoke about the holistic and adaptive concept I have been working on and off for the past 8 years now…

What’s the concept?

8 years ago, myself and a colleague had the idea of delivering a single platform for ECM, CRM and BPM. This isn’t that radical really, but the concept was to ensure that it was a single platform, no silos loosely related requiring integration, rather a single platform that delivered these functions.  We also wanted the platform to be as highly flexible as possible, allowing end users to change its structure, change classifications and even definitions of processes / work that had to be done. That concept started its life as project workFile, which has since become a company in its own right. The concept itself has gone through iterations too, with new “terms” being used to describe our big idea, new methods and even new approaches to delivering on that concept. But the concept has remained, a single, highly flexible platform that looks at a business problem in a holistic fashion.

Now Im not saying this is something unique, and there are vendors out there with the same holistic approach.  But what I spoke about many years ago, and what the drive is at workFile now, is an Adaptive Working Environment (@WE), which is more than just an adaptive mindset, or an adaptive holistic approach to CRM, or BPM or whatever…

The Adaptive Working Environment drive if you like, is to embrace both adaptive and holistic thinking fully. So thats in terms of a single platform, how that platform is architected, integration capabilities and delivery through a single extensible user interface. With the areas I work in that means a single platform for adaptive ECM functionality, adaptive CRM and of course Adaptive Process Guidance (APG) in place of traditional BPM.

But an Adaptive Working Environment (@WE) needs to be more; it needs to make life easier for the end user in terms of human computer interactions, so to do that, a single user experience is required. When I talk of a single user experience I mean this to be delivered through a single application, not multiple applications accessing the same platform, but a single application delivering a single user experience. That single application also needs to provide integration possibilities, have extensible capabilities so that other solution screens can be built, and delivered, via that single interface. How much simpler is that for the end user?

But we still need to do more to be completely adaptive to the business needs. We need to be aware that business will have many more applications and solutions running, many of which may need to be integrated with either tightly or loosely. That integration should be made as simple as possible, and as flexible as possible. With this in mind, the @WE (Adaptive Working Environment) needs to be built completely on a Service Orientated Architecture (SOA). A good SOA coupled with an extensible user application, provides the maximum flexibility in integration requirements.

With this kind of thinking we are delivering an Adaptive Envrionment for users to work within (hence Adaptive Working Environment). This environment empowers staff fully, it allows the business to utilise their users brains as assets, and it ultimately leads to a more efficient business that provides great customer services.

 

Can @WE be used for other silos?

Well I have termed @WE for the areas in which I have been working in, so that’s the adaptive holistic approach to CRM, ECM and (in my case) APG. We also use the term to convey other important points, such as being built soley on a SOA, and providing that single user experience that is highly extensible. 

However, the point is to be holistic and adaptive to your approach to whatever, and taking that as the point, then Max’s definition of ADAPTIVE is what we / you are embracing. As I said, we use the term @WE to describe not only our “concept” but in many ways how that concept is implemented (built on SOA, single extensible UI). 

I would argue that any platforms that embrace ADAPTIVE thinking (not necessarily related to ECM, BPM, CRM etc) can be termed ADAPTIVE, perhaps we should ask Max. I would agree though that if they are adaptive, holistic and then implemented using nothing but SOA and deliver a single extensible UI, then they are an @WE…

 

The key @WE elements to remember

To deliver an @WE, IT solution providers need to carry out the following, which will align their platform far closer to the actual needs of business:

  • Embrace a holistic stance / approach (address the complete business problem)
  • Embrace complete adaptive capabilities
  • Build their  application on a solid SOA, providing clear integration possibilities
  • Deliver the option of a single user experience that is extensible to the possible integration needs of the business

If IT does this, then we are delivering Adaptive Working Environments to the business and end user…

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Long live ADAPTIVE

15 02 2011

Today I read Max J. Pucher’s blog post “ACM is Dead! Long live ADAPTIVE!” and I really wasn’t surprised…Many are surprised though, as it sees one of ACMs strongest supporters leaving the camp, in a…well rather public fashion. But should we be surprised?

For a long time Max has spoken of ADAPTIVE capabilities and goals that reach beyond silo approaches, so why have these defined in an a three letter acronym that essentially means only a fraction of what he conveys…After all ACM is Adaptive Case Management, and that doesn’t make me think of:  

“a globally encompassing technology approach that is linked to business architecture and strategy” – Taken from Max’s post.

So why is ADAPTIVE the key term

Well read the article for yourself to hear from Max. But for me, adaptive capabilities are at their heart, about returning power to end users and putting them at the centre of how business operates, empowerment is the term and is really the only route to great business efficiency and customer services.

So with this in mind adaptive capabilities stretch far beyond Case Management, BPM and whatever else you want to throw into the mix. Business is not about IT based silos, or IT platforms or applications…Business is about getting things done, and therefore requires a holistic approach to platforms, architectures, solutions and applications. But let’s be more specific, this holistic approach needs to be highly adaptive too, in order to empower the business users…I think the term ADAPTIVE conveys this thinking far more than ACM, so horray, ACM is dead, long live ADAPTIVE…

Adaptive Working Environment (@WE)

This is a concept that we thought up at workFile almost 6 years ago now (though then workFile was a fledgling product of One Degree). Sure it has grown and changed a little, but in essence the concept was, and is, a single adaptive platform for business needs, that brings together typical silos such as CRM, ECM and BPM.

In realising this concept, the “adaptive capabilities” have often been the issue, especially for BPM. The adaptive requirements have seen us move from a typical BPM implementation to one that leverages “intelligent” business process maps that are built by developers, along to a far more flexible approach now, with APG (Adaptive Process Guidance). It has also seen us move away from a silo module approach to a single solution platform with a single user interface…

So what workFile terms as @WE (Adaptive Working Environment), I believe Max is driving at with ADAPTIVE (though Maxs products are out there to purchase and workFile Vision 2.0 is only at an alpha state). If anything, ADAPTIVE could be far wider reaching than @WE. ADAPTIVE thinking has the potential to change the way all platforms and applications are structured and delivered, in essence, how business users work with IT solutions (if we remember not to pin it to a particular silo, methodology or platform)…Now I wonder if that is what Max is conveying, or if I am reading too much into the whole ADAPTIVE thinking?

If you want to know more on workFile @WE concept then have a quick read at http://www.workfilesuite.com/what-is-@WE.aspx





Adaptive Process Guidance (APG)

28 01 2011

Now this isn’t a term I had heard, in-fact I think I may have invented it when talking to the people at workFile some weeks back (if you have heard this term before, let me know), but it seems to fit much of my thinking regarding BPM. So much so that I have been mentioning it now on numerous post responses and Twitter…

I am a strong believer in a holistic approach to BPM, one that also includes real adaptive capabilities (such as those found in ACM – adaptive case management). For me, much of what is termed BPM is far too rigid, too structured and doesn’t really allow BPM to expand into many processes a business may have.

BPM, too rigid, too structured

Thinking of BPM in the traditional BPMS sense, we find we need to design up front structured processes, typically through a designer tool. Even if we are practicing BPM and not actually using any software, we still end up using flowchart type tools. The problem here is that BPMS implements the solution based on that flowchart, which is highly structured and very rigid. This is the perfect tool for medium – high volume processes that are simply and repeatable, but how many of those do you have in your business?

When we start to look at other processes across our organisation, we find that the same structure, and rigid approach to a process doesn’t work well here, and as such, many organisations won’t implement BPM for those processes / departments. This means that for these departments, many of the benefits that BPM is there to provide simply can’t be leveraged, benefits such as increased efficiency, increased accountability, visibility and the ability to enforce a certain level of standards. So what’s the solution? Some point to Case Management, and they are right, Case Management here does fit, but, our business then will have to invested in a Case Management solution, the professional services that come along with that, and a BPMS, and the professional services that come with that too…..That’s a lot of investment….

Adaptive Process Guidance

So is the half way house a solution that has adaptive capabilities, similar to those found in ACM (adaptive case management), and the process like steps found in BPM? I think yes…

So, we want the best from ACM and the best from BPM, but compromise will have to be made somewhere. So that compromise is process guidance as opposed to process enforcement (as found in BPM).

Process guidance allows for us to deliver highly adaptive capabilities, with users identifying processes as they work and updating our platform accordingly. We can also allow our platform to adapt based on what tasks are actually being done by users in a process. In effect, we are empowering users to work how they want, and allowing them to update the process guide to ensure standards, accountability, visibility etc. etc. (all good points of BPM) are still maintained in a solution.

Adaptive capabilities in process guidance allow individuals to work how they chose, and who is to say that the way Dave works is the best way for Dorris to work (sorry couldn’t think of names off the top of my head there). The adaptive capabilities allow a user to identify, that for this particular peice of work, the process needs modification, and they can have the option to update the process guide, for good, or just update it for this single instance (adaptive capabilities can also allow our platform to learn from these changes and how often they are being made). In addition, the way we choose to work as individuals or as teams is changing, many of us want to, or need to collaborate on a single piece of work, there are even studies suggesting that teams will swarm around a single piece of work to complete it as soon as they can. This is very different to our traditional BPMS which is all about a completing my work, and moving it on to the next person (or group) and the next step in the process. With this in mind, our process guide needs to be as flexible as possible, allowing users and departments to work how they feel is best.

Don’t think though that this will lead to inefficient processes. We still can monitor our processes, update process guides based on information provided by the platform and identify further efficiency gains. SLAs can still be put in place and there are areas that we can be very strict on. We will also find that the adaptive capabilities will ensure that all of the process is captured within our system, rather than just that which has been designed and our agents having to work outside the scope of the platform.

For these reasons I prefer a process guidance to enforcement, and I believe this approach will lead to more processes within an organisation finding their way into the solution, and most importantly, more processes benefiting from the solution. APG works well for adhoc processes, collaborative working and for medium-high volume structured processes (which BPM currently handles very well). This ultimately means that as a business, you need only invest in a single process management solution, so that’s reduced investment and a far more appealing ROI (if that’s how you want to measure success).

Social?

Social is a big buzz word at the moment for BPM and Case Management. APG is no different, the concept of capturing social interactions and how they impact a particular piece of work or process is just as important. The big difference here between APG and traditional BPM, is that this interaction and capturing is far easier, you can have social interactions actually updating our process guide. This can be a highly empowering tool for your teams, allowing processes to be detected, discussed and implemented. But the most important thing is to capture these interactions and ensure they are presented when reviewing process efficiency. For all the benefits of allowing users to update processes, a BA can still add value by identifying new areas of efficiency gain possibilities…

Throw in Holistic APG

Now we throw into the mix the holistic approach, ensuring the user has a 360 degree view of all the information they need, and we have a platform that really empowers end users. With a single silo, that incorporates ECM, CRM and APG (with APG effectively acting as ACM and or BPM, however you want to look at it) you have a complete holistic approach that delivers everything the user needs to a single desktop. This is real empowerment and is enabling them to work more efficienty and effectively for the company. This level of empowerment will lead to efficient processes, better customer experiences and more and more of the organisation benefiting from APG (and much more).

Quick conclusion?

BPM is Business Process Management, which is all about managing how work gets done. Case Management is all about managing how work gets done…The difference is how they enforce / enable users to get that work done. Adaptive Process Guidance is no different; it’s about managing how work gets done. The big difference is that APG is more flexible and easier to fit into many more business processes. It works just as well as BPM for medium-high volume, simply and highly repetitive processes, and it works just as well as Case Management for adhoc adaptive processes…

All in all, APG could be the future for how we choose to manage how work gets done…Or it could simply become yet another term associated with the world of BPM, workflow, Case Management, Adaptive Case Management, Complex Adaptive Solutions, Dynamic BPM, Social BPM etc etc etc etc….





workFile Vision. A change in direction

12 11 2010

Today’s post is very much centred on Business Process Management (BPM), Enterprise Content Management (ECM), Customer Relationship Management (CRM)…

 Some of you may keep an eye on the news from my company, One Degree Consulting. If you have, you will know that our workFile ECM & BPM side of the business (platform) will be going through a transition phase in the coming weeks and months. We have effectively torn up our existing road map for version 2.0 of the workFile Vision product, and put together a new one. This new one with some big, well massive, changes to how we see the future of IT in business, the future for business solutions, the future for SMEs access to solutions and consequently to the Vision solution itself…

In the coming weeks, workFile and One Degree will publish more information on the changes, and the effects these will have on the Vision suite, and how these big changes will provide benefits to business.

In this post though, I want to give a quick outline to what some of these changes in thinking are, what the changes are in the Vision product, and what the drivers are that led to this drastic new thinking…

Single Silo…That singular degree of separation

workFile is, if you didn’t know, an ECM and BPM platform. However, it also allows records management and with that, the ability for CRM to an extent. Other business focused modules are built on top of the records management capabilities. However, all of these are very separate modules and silos, only aware of small fragments of data that can be shared between the two, effectively linking that content and making it of bigger use to an end user…

So what’s the big idea? Well the big change is to move away from a multiple silo approach, and to bring these different elements closely together, effectively delivering a single silo solution for ECM, BPM, CRM, Records Management, and dynamic content processing and capture. The CRM module will be a thing of the past, and a dedicated customer focused section of workFile built (not on top of Records management functionality not seen as a separate module).

In essence, ECM, BPM, CRM etc will become modules of the past, superseded by a new way of looking at how we work as individuals, teams and as an organisation, and also how your organisation communicates and engages with its customers…All of these elements seen as one…

So how do we achieve this with the new version of workFile Vision?

Through state awareness, user empowerment and adaption. The concept here is to ensure true state awareness between the user, the customer, the content and the process. BY process, I don’t mean a rigid path, which work must follow, rather a process guide, which is highly adaptive to the content needs, the needs of the customer and the needs of the user.

In addition, the singular UI and underlying capabilities of workFile – to allow real team working on items of work, makes life a lot easier for the agent to collaborate and process their work. This may not sound like anything that new, but it supports newer ways of working. We have a vision that people will work more as teams on individual pieces of work, effectively pulling together on items of work, not in a collaborative fashion but in a real sense of working together. This is a big move away from BPM and Case Management as it is today, with the concept that we work as individuals and move work along at the centre of work / process thinking.

Max J Pucher has a great article on the future of work, in which he talks of users “swarming” to do work. In it he also states that by 2015, 40% or more of an organisations work will be non-routine, which is currently at 25%.  Take the time to read his blog, it is very informative… Have a read of his article, http://isismjpucher.wordpress.com/2010/11/12/the-future-of-work/ )

More than a single silo…

A single silo that supports content, customers, additional records and the process information is the best approach. In addition, interconnectivity and multiple feeds of data will mean not only will users need greater perceptive skills, but their software needs to be able to deliver this to them in an easy to identify and work fashion.

workFile though provides real flexibility in terms of content, status and structured data. This allows the flexibility to teams to create new structured data records on the “fly” and in essence joining them directly to their work (which could be content based, customer based etc.) This may all sound complex, but essentially it is quite simple…Its how we would naturally work without the rigidity of structured processing…(BPM).

Distribution…

Though we are moving to a single silo, this doesn’t mean a centralised solution. On the contrary, we believe that departmental distribution is key to freedom and success. So workFile will support a greater level of distributed processing, with departments being able to create their own content guides, their own process guides, rules etc. But, this doesn’t mean we are allowing duplication. Commonality between departments will be identified and illustrated, and wherever applicable (and suitable) shared between them.

It’s a team approach

Working in “swarms” sounds quite fun, but in essence it means tightly knit teams, working together quickly and efficiently. Traditional BPM presumes we work on pieces of work as individuals, then move it along to the next person. Sure occasionally we will allow “branches” in the processing, or splitting of items of work, but it doesn’t support multiple people working on the same piece of work at the same time. So, with this in mind, Vision 2.0 will support a more team approach to working, and will ditch the rigidity of its traditional BPM platform, which was used for defining how users work.

Social Media

While social media is taking off, organisations either see this as some wonderful marketing tool or as something they need to get control of. However, social activities and social media sites, conversations etc are becoming increasingly part of a team’s working day. These conversations and interactions aren’t carried out at a set time, they aren’t structured in their content and don’t form strong ties between you as an organisation and your customers. In addition, they are often disjointed, with an organisation not being able to tie social media engagement with a customer, to a customer record for example.

So the trick is to ensure interactions can be processed by the right people, that the right people provide good information, and that Social Media is seen as a form of engagement and conversation, not just free marketing. In addition, the content generated from these interactions allow a flexible way of working, after all, the customer may send requests that don’t follow a strict pattern, and as such, the user must be able to facilitate these requests flexibly. This content should also be recorded and brought into the solution, so that other team members have all the information they need to help….

workFile will become a lot more social, interacting with typical social media websites, and allowing users the freedom to interact in an expected fashion.

Flexibility, adaption and yet accountable

Organisations and management want to have full control, however, if they do, things become too rigid, too centralised and ultimately inflexible. So, the solution is to trust our workers, to empower them and let them do their jobs. Sure we need to ensure quality, service level agreements etc. but this can be done through guidelines and empowering users. Accountability will always still be there, with solutions recording all interactions and use. But the point is, the user has the power to process the work how they wish (to an extent obviously, certain rules have to be in place for compliance).

The big winners of Vision 2.0

So who is workFile Vision to be aimed at? Well the big winners at first will be SMEs, simply because workFile is used mainly by organisations that fall into the SME category (with the odd exception). The new version will be able to drive the cost of IT and these types of solutions down for SMEs…

However, larger organisations can easily benefit from this new way of thinking and working. If anything, while SMEs will see benefits due to a smaller investment, larger organisations will not only share in this benefit, but will also see dramatic increases in productivity and efficiency. All of this with the reduction in administration and licensing costs…..See, we didn’t call it Vision for nothing.

Finally, a change in name…

Finally, the workFile ECM & BPM platform name will be no more. Though Vision is the product suite, both the terms ECM and BPM will be replaced from the workFile company name. Why? Simply because workFile will offer a lot more, and it deserves a new description of what it delivers…The marketing people can think of something I am sure….





In browser ECM / over the web ECM

2 03 2010

I have been asked to talk a little about browser based ECM solutions, or environments and I thought, why not…First off, browser based ECM interfaces haven’t always been a great hit. In the early days of the web, web based applications were rather clunky, requiring lots of moving around pages to get simple tasks completed. I am not going to talk about the short comings of the web for applications as that is well documented, but, for ECM this environment proved that many web based solutions were slow, hard to utilise and, well, very clunky…

Why are ECM functions hard on the web?

Well the basic functions aren’t that hard these days. Since we have all moved along with how to use the web and our expectations of the web, so have web based ECM solutions – they have improved drastically. However, the problem is that ECM encompasses so much, not just document management facilities, rather the complete enterprise worth of content, in all its forms. Add into this the possibility of Social Media based content and of course Business Process Management (or workflow)  and you can see how this gets more and more complex. I haven’t even touched on extensibility yet either….

So why are these things harder on the web, well they are because of the restrictions the web places on applications. The biggest restriction is the web browser itself, and follow this up with security requirements and you can see why the web becomes almost suffocating for very free content based applications…

The benefits of browser based ECM

Simple, almost no installation on the client machine and the ECM platform can be accessed by any machine with an Internet connection. This means administering the system is a lot simpler and can be moved outside your normal server based type implementations. In theory, if architected well, you will also save on user licenses as the web is “stateless”, meaning you should not have to hold a user license when you aren’t actually interacting with your ECM repository.

However, don’t think you cant utilise thin client type implementations and have your UI in the web browser. You can move web based applications out of the browser with technologies such as Silverlight. This means you get the benefits of the web, without all the restrictions (especially if you choose to run in a “trusted” mode).

 

Good solutions…

If you have and ECM platform that is rather old in its underlying technology (I can’t think of that many that aren’t) you will probably find that their web based solutions are a bit of a “hack together”. The main reason behind this is that technology, programming methodologies etc have changed greatly in the past 25 years, along with user expectations. This doesn’t mean these solutions are bad, rather it means beware that they may limit you in some way compared to newer platforms…

So what good solutions are there that run utilising the web? Well I am not going to list any or do anything like that, rather I am going to suggest that when looking at ECM solutions you think / investigate the following points.

  1. Technology used to deliver the interface into the web browser
  2. Do you have to run your web application in the browser?
  3. Out of the box capabilities / configuration
  4. Extensibility of the out of the box type interfaces
  5. Distributed processing
  6. Integration capabilities
  7. Administration

 

There are more, but I want to keep this post from becoming some kind of white paper…

What you will find is that when you get down to these questions – you will find there are still limitations for many of the ECM players when implementing over the web.

 Administration

Many web based solutions are just that, web based. However, administration and the real complexities of ECM are still delivered primarily through a traditional application (which may be installed on the server). To be honest, if you are a web based ECM provider, all features including administration should be capable through over the internet…

Distributed Processing Power

Remember the point of a web based application is that many people can connect to it, it’s available to all that need it. However, some solutions place limitations on the number of users connecting via a web server, why? In addition, some are highly restrictive with regards to what components are installed where, again why? What you are looking for is real capability to share processing power for the system. This can be in the form of P2P (a valued contributor to my posts strongly recommends this – Max J. Pucher), or distributed service architecture (my own preference). Both these methods provide vast scalability and performance and these are key when you think about the web and implementing solutions over the web / intranet…

Application Configuration

Many web based solutions provide a single look and feel and don’t allow much application based configuration. Because of this, developers traditionally built their own interfaces based on customer requirements and delivered these, making the interfaces cleaner, more relevant and incorporating such business requirements as field validation (this is always more evident when looking at web based solutions).  However, this isn’t what I am driving at. Ideally, you need the user to be able to configure parts of their user interface. This could be query forms for an example, or where menu options are displayed etc. The point is, once the user has the flexibility to configure parts of the UI, then their productivity will be increased. This is a key point, especially when we talk about my next point, extensibility.

Extensibility

This is a big big thing. Traditional ECM applications (including those not on the web) provide extensibility through their API, allowing developers to deliver applications that integrate with other LOBs, add business rules etc to the customer’s requirements (within a new application for the customer, not the “out of the box” product). This is a minimum when thinking ECM.

However, the real requirement is that the “out of the box” product, allows business rules and applications to be plugged directly into it. This is so important for ECM based solutions, as ECM within your organisation will grow and include more and more areas of what is termed content. In addition, why not allow the customer to add their own modules in there, or VARs for example, extending the way in which the application and ECM is used…

Plug for workFile Vision

Using the web for ECM is a bit of a passion of mine now, and it is one of the key driving points behind our own ECM platform (workFile ECM – http://www.workFileECM.com ). When working with many other ECM players (as a consultant) I did notice short comings and wanted to get my own platform together that was designed for the web, pure and simple…workFile ECM is a baby, and already we are improving how it works over the web… One of the restrictions to the administration of workFile ECM based applications was the web browser itself, with our own modeller / administration application working in a browser – but in a somewhat clunky fashion.

Things have moved on, and our workFile Vision repository and application takes the next step, staying on the web, but moving out of the browser…

By doing this, we still maintain all of the benefits of distributing an application over the web, however, we also have the added flexibility of running outside of the browser and providing features that can only be made available when running in a “trusted fashion”, such as integrating the web application with thick client applications (take Microsoft Office for example).

In addition, workFile Vision is fully extensible, providing an application framework that allows developers to design new modules and have these plugged seamlessly into the interface. This is to allow the ECM platform to grow with the customer’s needs seamlessly and without developers needing to re-write / re-design modules and applications. Taking this further, all modules can be configured by the user, for example allowing them to design the layout of a repository query form…

Though in the late stages of an Alpha release, workFile Vision 2.0 will deliver everything you would expect from an ECM platform, but much more in terms of the web, extensibility and scalability…Exciting times….I will keep you posted….