If This Then What is the future of Workflow and BPM?

IFTTT (If This Then That) is a service that lets users connect multiple different mobile apps based on a simple rule. “This” is the process trigger, “That” is the process action. Today the tool lets users rapidly create connections between 71 applications or what IFTTT calls “channels”. The simple workflows created between channels using the IFTTT rule are called recipes and can be shared within an IFTTT community.

iftt

So what’s the big deal?

In the BPMS suite we’ve been executing simple and complex business rules like If This Then That for years. The emergence of IFTTT is important because it does two things that BPMS does not do well; integration and simplicity.

Many business processes cut horizontally across organizations and as a result touch multiple business applications. There is thus an ongoing drive among BPM and Case Management vendors to continuously enhance their integration capabilities. This is however a continuously moving target and integration remains one of the greatest obstacles for the successful deployment of both cloud and on premise BPM solutions, often adding considerable cost and time to projects.

When it comes to the integration of cloud and mobile applications into business processes the difficulty multiplies. We are only just seeing the emergence of smart process applications and on demand business processes. Mobile BPM applications have emerged with integration to back end systems but is any BPM vendor doing mobile app to mobile app integration?

Mobile and cloud app integration is a key IT battleground. As business software users we regularly use mobile apps and on demand software to address business problems. This consumerization of the business IT landscape however sits uncomfortably with IT heavy BPM projects.

IFTTT radically simplifies the process of stitching together and automating web services and as such throws down the gauntlet to other business applications that are heavily reliant on application integration.

Consistent with consumerization IFTTT empowers users to integrate and develop their own workflows. It doesn’t take a huge leap of faith to expect this simple IFTTT rule to be extended to support more complex rules and events and ultimately encroach into the market for workflow and BPM applications.

IFTTT Channels

IFTTT Channels

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Are Bosch the First Mover in the BPM Internet of Things?

Earlier this year I posted an article on BPM and the internet of things. I suggested that it’s pretty pointless having smart devices unless they can trigger business processes and to do this smart devices will inevitably be linked to BPM applications.

Internet of Things Ecosystem

Internet of Things Ecosystem

A number of companies Philips, Rest Devices, and Bosch have now started combining process management with the IoT. Of the established BPM vendors Bosch seem to be making the first move with yesterday’s announcement of their integrated BPM, Rules and Device Management software suite.

While traditionally BPM has focused on the automation and optimization of human centric tasks integration with smart devices will see BPM increasingly used for the orchestration of machine to machine and human to machine based business processes.

Much of recent BPM vendor and analyst focus has been on the extension of process to mobile devices with BPM being used to bridge the gap between what has been termed Systems of Engagement (Mobile, Tablets, App Internet, Social Media etc.) and the organization’s Systems of Record (ERP, CRM, legacy databases etc.). The systems of engagement v systems of record debate however ignores the role of smart devices. Many, many more smart devices will be connected to the internet than smart phones. GSMA estimates 24 billion devices will be connected by 2020, while Cisco and Ericsson think we will hit 50 billion.

The internet of things isn’t just a major opportunity for BPM it’s an opportunity for business intelligence, analytics and automatic capture vendors as well. Increasingly we will connect processes to smart devices in the same way we connect processes to CRM, ERP and legacy databases today.

BPM and the Internet of Things

For a while I associated the term “internet of things” (IOT) with some pretty depressing applications such as fridges that automatically order food or televisions that recommend what to watch based on previous viewing behavior thus trapping owners in death spiral of both eating and watching rubbish. In the past year or so IOT appears to have left its teenage years behind and begun to develop some maturity..

From insurance to medicine IOT applications are starting to spring up and deliver some significant benefits to users. For example in car telematics devices which monitor driver behavior and adjust the insurance premiums accordingly are becoming widely adopted, especially as a way of reducing premiums for young drivers. Some telematics providers include an accident service with the black box device alerting the insurer in the event of a collision.

In medicine we are seeing perhaps the most rapid adoption of IOT from smart pill bottles that can alert patients and can notify care providers if the bottle isn’t opened to heart monitors that allow health providers to continually monitor a patient’s heart rate, transmitting data to remote application where it can be interpreted by a doctor or consultant.

So how does all this apply to BPM? Fundamentally all of these smart devices are capturing data, whether it’s about themselves or their users. What’s the point of capturing all this data on whether granny has taken her pills, your driving performance or your personal health if it still takes ages for someone to find, analyze and route the data to the right person. As we can see from the telematics use case what is necessary is for the IOT device to trigger processes.

This is where BPM and the delivery of IOT process solutions come in. Just like with enterprise social networks the BPM tool has the potential to turbo charge IOT adoption. By taking the captured data and applying it directly to processes we can significantly enhance the value of IOT devices. What if the data from the heart monitor automatically triggered a new medical case or doctor’s appointment once a certain threshold was exceeded? What if the pill bottle alerted a carer or next of kin? Could we soon reach a point where an ambulance arrives to pick you up before you knew you were ill?

In reality IOT process solutions will be a mash up of multiple technologies from BPM and Case Management to Business Intelligence and Data Analytics delivered by multiple horizontal and vertical solution providers depending on their area of process expertise.

Once regarded as a back office application BPM is now firmly established in the front office through integration with CRM and ERP and increasingly through the delivery of mobile process applications BPM has also started to invade the customer realm. IOT integration simply represents the next phase in this journey.

Alert me when I’ve drunk too much!

Mobile BPM Apps and Agile Businesses

Most of the leading BPM and Case Management vendors emphasise the business  agility benefits delivered by their solutions. Whether it’s Dynamic BPM or Adaptive Case Management the vendor focus is on enabling businesses to be responsive to change, delivering business fluidity and managing the unpredictable. The mobile ecosystem with its multitude of device types, form factors, operating systems and speed of evolution epitomises this dynamic, unpredictable environment across which today agile business processes must now be able to operate.

Currently mobile app developers have three choices; Native, Web or Hybrid. All three can be used to extend BPM or Case Management solutions to mobile employees or customers however as I’ll discuss below, at present, only the Web apps can deliver business agility.

Native mobile apps have a number of difficulties when it comes to delivering business agility, specifically approval time, extensibility and cost.

Approval Time

At the moment it can take two weeks or more to get a native app approved on the Apple app store, post-Christmas this could be even longer. This fact does not sit well with the requirement for BPM applications to deliver real time process change. Leading BPM vendors are selling solutions today that allow business processes to be modified in real time in response to changes in their business environment. Waiting two weeks to deliver a change to a CEO’s mobile dashboard or to change the process steps required to execute a sale in the field just won’t cut it.

Extensibility

BPM mobile applications are unlike applications traditionally found on mobile devices such as games, social media or retail apps where the app is identical for all clients. No two BPM customers will have identical business processes and back end integration requirements. Business process improvement is a continuous process and customer requirements will evolve over time. Mobile BPM applications must therefore be easily extensible and allow organisations to react quickly to change which today is difficult to achieve via the native app route.

Cost

Business Process Management solutions are now increasingly to be found at the edge of the organisation through integration with for example with CRM systems. Mobile will take this a step further delivering BPM solutions not only to your mobile employees but directly to customers, all of whom will be using a variety of mobile devices. Within the organisation operating system fragmentation will continue to grow as organisations increasingly allow employees to bring their own devices to work. The onus will be on BPM vendors to deliver mobile apps across a multi-device, multi-operating system infrastructure. Developing and supporting Native Apps for this multi device landscape is prohibitive and as a result will constrain business agility.

While Native apps have definite advantages for specific market segments and business models e.g. gaming and retail where user experience and route to market are key factors for BPM customers these advantages are less strong and are outweighed by the business agility benefits of Web Apps that bypass the approval time, extensibility and cost difficulties of native apps.