Adaptive Process Guidance (APG), more than just a concept

30 01 2011

Since my post on APG (Adaptive Process Guidance – https://andrewonedegree.wordpress.com/2011/01/28/adaptive-process-guidance-apg/), I have had a number of comments (either on the post itself, via twitter or from other professionals that I know) stating that they like the concept, but see BPM as the implementation of that concept (or ACM). For me, I take this as a positive step towards looking at better ways of empowering the workforce while still maintaining a level of management and process structure (as opposed to an unstructured approach or highly structured and rigid approach to processes). Perhaps APG should be seen as a complimentary concept for both BPM and ACM….

However, looking at APG simply as a concept, or a methodology in the way professionals should be thinking is wrong and not where I was going in my previous post. The point regarding APG is that an APG solution can be implemented in both a BPM type fashion and or an ACM type fashion. In addition an APG solution can be implemented in its own unique way also, providing a blend of unstructured and structured thinking to the same process. This means APGS (to distinguish between a concept and an implementation) can deliver solutions for processes that would currently be seen as BPMS, or equally for processes that are currently seen as Case Management (or ACM). This is the point of APG, that it is a singular way of thinking / approaching and implementing processes right across the enterprise.

APG as the implementation

Currently there are no APG solutions out there, or implementations, so if you want to embrace APG then your implementation will be a blend of BPM or ACM (which could be costly as an investment to an organisation). Tom Shepherd in a response to my APG post made a great analogy, “Think of ACM / BPMS as the terrain across which the driver (user) navigates and the APG solution as the GPS”. This could be seen as true, but I see the terrain as the content and the actual work that needs doing…If you see the terrain as ACM / BPM then you must see that to implement APG correctly, that you need the flexibility and functions from both ACM and BPM at least. This means that across the enterprise you will need to invest in both ACM and BPM…

I see APG as a solution that spans both BPM and ACM, so perhaps I see them as complimentary concepts of APG (if you want to look at it from another angle). But lets look at Toms analogy as it is one I like. To take Tom’s point futher, I see the terrain as the content and the work that needs to be done. APG is both my GPS and my car. This means APG is giving me all the information I need to guide me through the terrain and the tools to actually cross it. However, APG is also giving me the flexibilty to take my own route, allowing me to drive the car where I want. So as the driver (user) I can decide to pick an alternative route from the good old trusty A-Z map in the back seat of the car, or, more likely, I will take my own route based on my knowledge of crossing this terrain many times before…

What we are working hard on at workFile is this implementation of APG as a solution in its own right. An APG solution will provide a user with guidance to how work should be done, but that’s not all. It will also provide a user with information on what actually has to be done, what may need to be done and how best to carry out that work. It will, wherever needed, strictly enforce certain business rules, but it will also provide facilities, in general, to work far more adaptively and freely (simply being guided in the right direction). Business will have options for how they tackle processes, either in a very structured, rigid fashion, or in a highly unstructured fashion, or perhaps a blend of both (for the same process). The point of APG is that you can make it as unstructured and as flexible as you like, while on the other hand, making it as enforcing as you wish when you need it to be.

The benefit here to business is that a single APG platform meets all of their process needs.

Being more holistic…

One of the big drivers for me is this holistic approach to how we work or more importantly how we see work right across the enterprise. I am all for breaking down artificial silos and delivering a single platform that embraces all of the business functions associated with these, wherever they are complimentary or highly linked. I have spoken about the obvious silos being broken down such as CRM, ECM and BPM (or now APG once you accept it as a solution), to deliver a more empowering, simple and richer user experience while improving efficiency and service outcome.

As a business if you want to take control of processes (unstructured, structured or both) then I believe APG is the right type of platform, its better at delivering a holistic approach to business and empowers users in doing their work. I also believe APG delivers a more holistic approach to implementing processes within a managed environment across the enterprise. Why? Well because APG can get into more processes within the organisation, it’s not limited to either structured or unstructured processes…This is a good thing in terms of user experiences, departmental communications and of course management, not to mention IT admin and investment…

Final thoughts…

APG should be seen as both a concept / way of thinking about processes, and as a platform for taking control of both structured and unstructured processes. APG should be seen as a solution in its own right, one that embraces the good points of BPM (for structured high volume, simple repeatable processes) and the good points of ACM (for unstructured, adaptive processes), while also providing its own unique blend for processes that require a bit of both…

I appreciate that analysts and vendors out there are already heavily invested in one camp or the other (BPM or ACM), and that they will argue for their particular camp, as well they should…However, I just hope people read and digest what I am actually driving at here with APG, and that they are willing to have a look at workFile Vision 2.0 with APG implemented, once it’s release is made…

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Framework, solution, or both…

21 01 2011

This week I read an interesting blog post on Case Management with it concluding that most Case Management platforms are more frameworks than workable solutions. The solution is effectively provided by the Case Manager reseller, either as their own system/solution, or as professional services with the solution being customised to your needs…To be honest, this is true of many “silos” out there, and there is nothing wrong with it. However, businesses should understand that more often than not, the solution they actually purchase is indeed a framework, the solution part comes later…

In this post though, I want to look at how you can deliver a solution and not just the framework…Or even better, deliver both as a vendor…

Why not a solution from the vendor

Well it can be very hard to put together a solution that fits and works well for all. It is easier, and in many ways makes more sense to build a robust framework, and ensure a solution that meets the client’s needs is built using that framework. There are many benefits of working this way, many of which include greater control, integration possibilities and a real sense of ownership of the solution.

Let’s also think about the complexity here for vendors. Most vendors will specialise in a particular silo, be it Case Management, BPM, CRM, ECM etc. This means their framework is built to solve that business need. Even vendors that provide multiple silos, they still focus on each silo individually. The problem arises at the business end, as that business need in the real world works hand in hand with other silos. Effectively, what is a silo vendor, cannot provide you a real workable business solution, as they only provide a part of one. This means it is down to resellers to put together “best of breed” solutions for example, and develop that solution for the business – integrating the different silos needed…

The problem I have with this approach is that integration is time consuming, can be very costly and in the long term, can cause issues with finger pointing between systems and silos. All of these are potential problems, but none the less for many projects out there, they are real issues…

We are being sold Solutions all the time

It’s true that many vendors will claim they are selling a complete solution, that you can use their system out of the box almost straight away…But in my experience, this isn’t quite true. You can use their out of the box experiences, but end users will find them clunky, and probably will hate them. Which means you end up having resellers or professional services build software on top of the framework, that meets your needs…

Also look at the solution you are being sold, how much “coding / configuration / professional services” do you need to get to a finished solution? I think it’s a few man days…

All this being said, there are complete solutions you can purchase out there, think small scale, like SAGE line 50 for example, thats a very workable solution for many SMEs. The issue here is that with bigger organisations, or more complex needs, the solution starts to show a lot of weaknesses, you can’t do with it what you quite want, you can’t integrate it, you can’t have a third party add in new windows to the UI etc etc…

Holistic solutions can help

Holistic solutions and a more holistic approach ensure your vendor is dealing more closely to your actual business need. This means that the framework delivered will be fuller, and as such, makes it easier to build a workable solution, without integration points and lots of professional services…

Vendor delivering both framework and solution

One of the big things I am working on with workFile and the workFile Vision product is framework for delivering full solutions. That may sound like classic IT vendor talk, but what I am trying to achieve is a platform that can deliver a complete out of the box solution that is a good end user experience, but also provide the flexibility needed in todays world, to allow resellers to extend the UI and core platform to meet even more needs of the customer.

So how are we doing this. Well firstly, we have a complete holistic approach now to things, there are no longer silos within workFile, rather workFile is a single platform. This means the workFile framework incorporates all of these traditional silos in one place (ECM, BPM, CRM etc). Secondly we have identified the difference between framework and solution and as such, split the user experience into its own framework, separate from the actual platform framework…

The big benefit here is a separate framework for delivering solutions built on the workFile platform. The UI framework allows us to deliver a rich and complete solution to a business. But it also allows resellers / integrators to modify and hook into not just workFile, but also its native UI. This means no additional software needs to be written on top of something, rather it is written within the UI framework, speeding up development and providing a far better end user experience.

You can even take it so far to use the workFile Vision UI framework without using the underlying workFile platform, if you wanted to. By working in this way, workFile delivers the frameworks, the solution, and the extensible capabilities to allow it to meet pretty much any business need. The end result is solutions that fit the business need more closely, solutions that can grow and evolve with the business and solutions that are easier and more empowering to end users to use…





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….