So BlueWorks Live is Live… Now What?? #bwlive

Scott Francis
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We’d been waiting for Blueworks Live to go live ever since we first heard about it in November.  Now that it is actually live… well, now what? Why, review the reviews, of course! First up: Sandy Kemsley:
Lombardi has always been at the forefront of the integration of social and BPM, although previously focused purely on the process discovery/design phase, and the IBM acquisition has allowed Lombardi’s social process discovery to be combined with IBM’s online BPM community to create something greater than the sum of the parts. For all my criticism of IBM, they have some incredible pockets of innovation that sometimes burst out into actual product.
and later:
Overall, although there’s nothing really new about this sort of easy sequential workflow design and execution, the user interface is clean and uncluttered, and pop-up tips on the fields assist the user on what to enter. Assuming that you can wrench your users away from using email for these processes, there won’t be much of a learning curve for them to create new processes on their own, and even less to use processes created by others. If you want to see this in action, there’s a Blueworks Live YouTube channel with a couple of videos on creating and participating in a process.
But she’s not convinced that Blueworks truly addresses the community goals that Phil Gilbert set out to address, nor that the different functions are well-integrated enough. Interesting comment thread where IBM explains why the tooling is different between process execution and “modeling”.  I actually agree with the justification, and I don’t see a reason to view the separation of complexity from simplicity as a negative.  I like doing to one place for process, rather than more than one… Next up:  Mike Gammage:
Sandy Kemsley has a characteristically sound review on her Column 2 blog, and her verdict on Blueworks Live is downbeat.  She’s underwhelmed by the Twitter integration, the public and private streams, and the level of integration with the Blueprint BPMS engine.
I think Sandy’s blog comes across as downbeat because she starts with the positive (check my quote above) and finishes with the criticisms, rather than the other way around.  Mike’s central criticisms:
It’s Overly Democratic. Every enterprise wants its people engaged with process excellence and continuous improvement. But it’s a step too far to simply say that everyone should therefore be able to create and automate process.  […]
Well, first of all – these Luddites (tongue-in-cheek) already define, and execute processes today!  Using email, spreadsheets, and word documents.  Since they already do it today, Blueworks Live isn’t making it worse – it is rather attempting to give those users more appropriate tools for the job.  He continues with point #2:
It’s a Governance Headache. I don’t see how governance, compliance, risks and controls can be efficiently managed in a world where an organization’s processes are automated in such a decentralized way by people who may be experts in their field but are novices in process design and management.
Again, given that these folks are doing this today, we’re not worse off.  In fact, we’re better off because the processes defined and executed in Blueworks Live are actually tracked, keep audit trail, and feed into reports in a centralized, governable space.  And if someone is abusing it, you (as site administrator) can revoke their access or reduce their permissions. There is a real danger that IBM’s and Phil’s messaging could in a sense “devalue” the process improvement expert-  or even IT experts.  But having talked to Phil about this at length- the point isn’t to devalue the expertise or discipline of process improvement or IT – if the community functions well, those experts will actually become:
  • more accessible
  • more leveraged
  • more valuable
Because it is easier for those with process knowledge to share it.  The processes that can be executed in Blueworks Live today are so simple that they simply don’t require process design expertise.  And that’s intentional. I love Mike’s closing argument:
In that context, it’s difficult to see how Blueworks Live helps at all.  Would you dine at a restaurant where each chef did their own thing? A good menu has coherence.  A good restaurant creates the perfect customer experience by harnessing the genius and creativity of each chef de partie and their team together with the skills of the maitre d’ and his or her team. I don’t want beetroot for a pudding, or filet be boeuf Wellington served Thai style and with popcorn.
Actually, I’ve been dining at that restaurant my whole adult life.  Email, Lotus Notes databases, Excel spreadsheets, ad-hoc website forms.  Sharepoint “processes”.  Each “chef” doing their own thing – with the exceptions being a few excellent process-oriented software applications.  Blueworks may not be filet mignon, but perhaps it is fast-food? My own summary:  For “version 1” of the new vision for Blueworks Live, it is pretty good.  No one is completely satisfied, but the potential for something greater is there, and I have no doubt they’ll keep beating the drum by releasing updates every 6-9 weeks.  We’ve already “toyed” with it, using it for a vacation request process, for example.  I was a little disappointed the reporting was buried on the admin page, for example.  But otherwise it is clean and easy to use, with a LOT of room for improvement.  The key thing will be which improvements to say no to, not which ones to say yes to.  IBM is going to have to edit itself if this product offering is going to succeed. (Side Note: interesting response from Phil in the comments section of Mike’s blog: execute to get documentation) UPDATE:  In writing this, I omitted two other blog entries of note that I intended to include. First, Phil Gilbert’s own blog:
The arc of history is clear: technology advances always insert specialists to use new technology, taking control from the original worker. Then, as the technology matures and becomes more accessible, people with more general skills gain access to the technology and regain control over their work. From farming to manufacturing to computing this has been the case. We’ve spent the past half century digitizing the assets of the business and that required, in essence, that control over those assets were assumed by IT. But now it’s shifting back, and BPM is the mechanism by which that move is most fully realized today. IBM Blueworks Live is a major step in that evolution. It doesn’t solve every BPM problem – by design! But it does solve a set of problems that have eluded IT for decades: how do we give our businesses the tooling to continue the flexible ad hoc processes they need in a changing world, while normalizing the information so that those processes are more efficient, more transparent and easy to build and deploy. Meet IBM Blueworks Live: the new face of BPM.
And from David Moser:
All very worthy, but much less interesting than the next piece of news, which was the launch of Blueworks Live. This combines three elements – the Blueworks BPM collaboration community (blogs, wikis); the highly successful (Lombardi) Blueprint process discovery and definition environment; and a new workflow execution engine. All running in the Cloud and, apparently, available through your browser for a test drive from November 20th. (Yes, that’s this Saturday – perhaps one of the software world’s most specific launch dates ever…!).
In the comments Ian Gotts frets that some users won’t be happy only having access to “automated” processes and not to the modeled processes in Blueworks, but this strikes me as an unlikely problem for the real users.  Second, it is better to start with too little, than too much, in your product.  Wikipedia contains excellent links and content explaining Minimum Viable Product.
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  • Hey Scott thanks for the very thorough ‘review of the reviews’. Its nice to be able to see the variety of reactions side-by-side in one place. I think the beauty of Social BPM is that new customer requirements can be identified instantly in a “captive” environment.

    • I agree – its a good compromise – like letting the kids outside to play but keeping an eye on them through the kitchen window. The kids make up the rules of their own game, but we can see what they’re doing and help out if they need it.

      Looking forward to 12/18 and the planned obsolescence of this post!

  • Anonymous

    Given the currently implemented features, I see the live version of BW Live dangerously close to the MVP borderline. I expected more, but maybe it’s just a matter of patience and things will be shaping up. I wrote down some opinions here: http://marcobrambi.blogspot.com/2010/11/much-ado-about-nothing-reconsidering.html . Comments welcome though.

    • Actually there are a lot of features that strict MVP would have left out IMHO :) But as for the *additional* features, yes, it is not as much as people were hoping for in release 1. But I think doing much more would have risked doing too much without allowing for learning and feedback from outside your own firm.

      you listed:
      * a twitter list on #bwlive and not much more
      * a BPMS log in the shape of a twitter feed
      * an old-fashioned shared project repository
      * a form based editor just enabling trivial processes
      * execution on the cloud
      * .. what else? and in particular, what’s new?
      Well, actually, those things are new to IBM’s offering. Not every product offering (in fact hardly any) are actually new to the market, versus just new to the company offering them.
      The feed may turn out to be a critical component for enabling social benefits for BPM – or maybe it won’t. But keep in mind social in the BPM world isn’t going to be like facebook. Its about following what you care about (processes, process areas, instances, people)… so that you can have interactions with them when they matter.

      let’s see what the next few releases bring. I remember when blueprint was released and everyone criticized it – but it turned into a platform with a real user base of active and repeat users, despite its limitations. And it added a lot of functionality in 6 week chunks.

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