|Issue 4, 2012
At Process World 2012, Software AG announced it is embracing the global social software movement by launching products that support social collaboration in the business context. In this article I will give some context to this announcement and elaborate on what this means to you.
Before I delve into more detail about the products that we will launch, I think it is important to add some context. Unless you live in a cave on some deserted island, you have undoubtedly noticed the groundswell of adoption of social platforms on the internet. Facebook recently announced that they have over one billion active users. The photo sharing site Instagram, less than 2 years old, has topped 100 million active users and is growing quickly. Aside from mobile adoption, social media interaction is the fastest growing technological trend in the industry. There is good reason for this - it is a much more effective collaboration paradigm than standard email exchanges.
The Evolution of Collaboration
We live in an age where typical business collaboration is defined by email usage patterns. We all know the pattern very well; a user has an idea and sends it to five people for comment. Some people respond to the email and some forward to others for comment. Unfortunately, the people who were forwarded the email do not have the benefit of the initial responses (did not receive them) and do not have context of the discussion. Within a few iterations of the pattern, the initiator of the first email has lost total control of the email thread and context of the responses received, as depicted in Figure 1. This pattern of interaction is repeated millions of times every day in tens of thousands of companies around the world.
Figure1: The inefficiency of email interactions
It wasn’t until the start of WEB 2.0 that companies started to embrace, to a limited degree, true collaboration technologies. Wiki was one of the first technologies that sprung up in the collaborative enterprise. For the first time, companies could collaboratively work on ideas and concepts. Someone could start a concept in the wiki and other members of the community could collaboratively work on it. What a concept! Next came Blogs that allowed someone to express their ideas and anyone who wanted to follow that person could subscribe to their articles. Within a matter of months, technologies like social bookmarking, social viewing, social cataloging, social online storage and even virtual worlds crept into enterprises with varying degrees of success. It was as if every enterprise knew it needed to work more efficiently but did not really know how to do it so was throwing them all on a wall to see which stuck.
Characteristics of Successful Social Networks
Much research has been done to define exactly what is needed for social technologies to work. Gartner Inc. analysts, Anthony J. Bradley and Nikos Drakos, published “Seven Key Characteristics of a Good Purpose for Social Software” (24 July 2008) that identifies the characteristics of a social network. They are:
- Magnetic, should draw people directly to participate
- Aligned, the purpose should align with business value
- Low Risk, it should fit into the culture of the enterprise
- Properly scoped, the social software should align with the business
- Facilitates evolution, start with a small project and then build upon it
- Measurable, does the use of social media fulfill the purpose
- Community driven, the value must come from the community
The best communities contribute far more to themselves than do the enterprises that support them. If the purpose requires the enterprise to contribute most of the content, and the community participants are mere readers, the enterprise has simply used the new technologies as another channel to push communications.
If all the characteristics above can be achieved, then a community will form regardless of the underlying architecture. In many ways, the underlying system is only there to lessen the friction of community interactions. The easier it is for a community to understand what other community members are thinking and questioning, the easier it is to participate.
Perhaps the greatest thing that FaceBook did for the social collaboration market was advocate and promote the use of activity streams. An activity stream is a time ordered list of recent activities performed by a human or system, as shown in Figure 2. The FaceBook timeline is an activity stream; so are a person’s tweets on Twitter. Activity streams can be followed to easily show what a person or system has been doing. Activity stream technology forms the basis of most modern social software platforms. Systems or people post to their timeline and anyone with access can view them or sometimes comment on them. Activity streams provide instant insight to the real-time activity of the producer.
While the activity stream has inherent value, so does the analysis of the activity stream data. If the activity stream can be stored for analysis, it can be used to find topic experts, gauge a company’s temperament or even find topics of interest within a company. The analysis of the activity stream can even be used in suggestive technologies in order to recommend the next best action based on what others have done before to achieve success.
Figure 2: Activity streams provide insight
Software AG's Social Offerings
Software AG enters the enterprise social space with two new offerings that were announced at ProcessWorld 2012—webMethods Pulse and ARIS Connect.
webMethods Pulse focuses on the liberation of business level events (business activity streams) that are flowing through an enterprise. Every second of every day thousands of things happen in an enterprise that “could” be used by the business to become more efficient. However, these things mostly go unnoticed by the business because they have no way to easily get to them. Pulse was brought to market to change all of that.
Built on top of the existing webMethods EDA architecture, Pulse taps into any event that is on the enterprise service bus and exposes it in real-time to the business as shown in Figure 3. The mobile client was built using webMethods Mobile Designer and it is attached to the webMethods Nirvana (or Broker) bus by a set of public APIs. Historical data is kept in a Terracotta event store for later retrieval and analysis. Activity streams are accessible on a mobile device the instant that they take place.
Imagine that you are a sales representative headed to a customer site for a sales call. You get an alert that your customer has submitted a service request for product X while you are driving. You received this message because your company’s service request tracking system is tied to Pulse and you asked Pulse to show you anything submitted by your customer. At the same time, the product manager for product X receives the notification and responds that she will look into it. The product manager received the notice because she asked Pulse to deliver to her anything that has a product name of X in it. The R&D team for product X also receives the notification at the same time and responds with a work around. The sales representative sees all of these responses and arrives at the customer site knowing exactly what the status is. He is a hero to his customer!
webMethods Pulse can adapt to virtually any type of event type so there is no limit to what it can tie into—CRM systems, processes, social networks, enterprise databases, etc. The Pulse administrator only needs to look at the events and designate which should be pushed to Pulse. Setup is quick and configuration easy.
ARIS Connect is a new social process documentation suite brought to market to allow all participants involved in a process to help in the process definition. It was built from the ground up to facilitate today’s social interaction patterns in the context of a process. This is a vast improvement over existing tools and speeds up data acquisition and process modeling.
Typical process modeling projects take months to complete. A process team will assemble, gather what they know, and then begin interviews with process participants to gather information about the process. This interview and documentation process is slow because the knowledge of a process is typically spread throughout the enterprise. ARIS Connect allows the team to log into a central server, start the project and then invite known process participants to help define the project. If the known process participants do not know all of the answers, they can invite others to log into to assist. This entire process is done in unison so that the speed of data acquisition is dramatically decreased.
Having a central, socially enabled, application has other benefits as well. All discussion and artifacts that were involved in the definition of the process are kept. This allows quick resolution to questions that might arrive after the process is completed. If someone wants to understand why a specific decision was made, they can merely review the discussions that ensued during the process definition by all participants.
The visibility and transparency that ARIS Connect enables about a process is unparalleled in the industry. For the first time all of the process participants how should be involved in the process definition can be.
Social interaction patterns are here to stay. They have evolved to a point that enterprises can’t help but take notice and act. Employees that are entering the workforce now come with the expectation that the interaction patterns that they are familiar with will be in place when they get to a company. The challenge of any organization is to choose the right technology that fits their business use.
Software AG has entered this social platform world in a very calculated way. We believe that the way social platforms allow you to work differently and more efficiently will bring about products that may not even be conceived yet. Social collaboration is an important technology trend that we embrace fully as we roll out future versions of all of our core products.