Google #Wave – A Disruptive #BPM Solution?

Scott Francis
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I’ve previously written about various Google Wave blogs and the SAP Gravity Demo, and continuing on that theme, Jacob Ukelson asks whether Google Wave is good enough to become a disruptive force as a “good-enough” BPMS, on the ActionBase blog. I think there’s no question that Google’s Wave could serve as a “good enough” BPMS for many collaborative, informal, or as-yet-unstructured processes.  It could also serve as a useful collaboration companion to structured process.  One need look no further than two examples from IT history, which are still with us in many enterprises and in many processes: After several years of doing “kill-the-fax” initiatives, businesses turned their attention to these other bastions of bad process – Excel, Notes, and Sharepoint.  We’ve done so many projects to replace Microsoft Excel-based processes and Lotus Notes-based processes that we’ve lost count – and often we’re brought in to save a process that is running on Sharepoint.  I wish we had kept statistics on this as it would make for interesting trending data now that we have a large enough sample size. Google Wave, if it addresses the various security concerns for storing proprietary information outside the firewall, could very well get adopted for informal processes – especially when the participants and managers of the process have not yet come to think of it as a process.  We could refer to these as emergent processes.  Perhaps the first time you do it, you don’t know if it is a one-off or a process.  After you’ve done it a few times, you have a sense that it is process.  After you’ve done it a few thousand times, you start to wonder how you can do this process more efficiently or less often… However, Jacob goes further than to suggest that Google Wave would disrupt these more entrenched technologies’ use as a poor man’s BPMS.  He suggests that with a few minor enhancements it could fully replace a “full fledged BPMS”.  I don’t see that happening anytime soon for a few reasons:
  1. It isn’t really Google’s intent to build a BPMS.  They don’t think of the problem Wave is solving as a “process”.  As a result, they’re unlikely to take it in that direction.  I don’t think you end up with a good BPMS my accident.
  2. The structured parts of process are actually useful for larger organizations that actually have that kind of structure or volume.
  3. There is a lot of magic under the hood of a BPMS that wouldn’t be trivial to recreate using Wave.  Not impossible, just not trivial.  More likely is a mash-up approach like the SAP Gravity demonstration.
  4. It still sits outside the firewall of the corporation, and for all too many companies, that is still a regulatory problem, not to mention a security problem, for their data.
Having said all of that, Google Wave presents itself as an alternative for collaborating on processes to email, Sharepoint, Excel, and Notes.  I also think the real disruptive threat that Wave poses in the BPM space is to vendors that focus exclusively on the unstructured, user-specified processes – these seem like the lowest hanging fruit to capture in Wave.  On the other hand, I can see Wave being fertile ground for tools that inspect your systems to find out what processes you’ve *actually* been running by inspecting the data, rather than starting with a top-down design.  These tools may have a massive new datasource to mine for their customers, assuming Google makes the data available.

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