What Does Google Wave Mean to ACM and BPM?

  • August 5, 2010
  • Scott
  • 10 Comments

The Death of Google Wave is interesting.  We’ve written about Wave before, several times, but in particular when SAP put out its “Gravity” demonstration.

The official Google Blog blames the closure of Wave on a lack of user adoption:

But despite these wins, and numerous loyal fans, Wave has not seen the user adoption we would have liked. We don’t plan to continue developing Wave as a standalone product, but we will maintain the site at least through the end of the year and extend the technology for use in other Google projects. The central parts of the code, as well as the protocols that have driven many of Wave’s innovations, like drag-and-drop and character-by-character live typing, are already available as open source, so customers and partners can continue the innovation we began. In addition, we will work on tools so that users can easily “liberate” their content from Wave.

So, there’s a bunch of open source code, it looks like, that partners and customers might leverage.  But most of us, I think, would prefer to just use a finished product.  There are many other unofficial takes, here and here are two examples.  I had a few others linked, but no need – you can find such commentary easily!

When Wave was announced last year, I spent some time discussing with others what it meant for BPM.  Some thought it was a game-changer, some thought it was a non-event.  The thing that became clear to me: collaboration tools like this are going to tend toward being free, or extremely inexpensive.

Starting last fall, the discussion in BPM circles had often turned to “ACM” (A variant on Case Management).  Some in BPM circles would call this unstructured process. Some would call it “chaotic” or unpredictable processes/work.  Keith Swenson and colleagues even penned a book about managing such unpredictable work.  Google Wave was, to this crowd, a great example of where “knowledge work” is headed – into collaboration spaces, not into BPM software.  To me, it was just proof that email and lightweight project management tools were not going away.   If Google Wave accomplished anything, it showed:

  1. Separating yourself from email divorces you from a knowledge worker’s daily routine (some might say, process).
  2. If it isn’t trivial to involve the right people in a collaboration, then users give up
  3. Collaboration is going to be free or nearly free.  Even if it has pretty amazing features.
  4. It is really hard to do a “big bang launch” successfully.  It makes me even more impressed that Apple seems to pull this off with such regularity.

So what does it mean for BPM?  Not much.  Wave was never really about structured interaction, it was about ad-hoc interaction.  Although ad-hoc interaction is important to a good BPM strategy, no one (maybe except for SAP) was really leveraging Wave for this.  If they were, they can probably leverage the open source bits to get a jump on the development effort.  For the ACM crowd, its both good news and bad news.

First, the good news:

  1. A free competitor to your products, supported by a major software company, has gone away.
  2. Hm. I think that’s it.

The bad news:

  1. If you were counting on convincing users to leave email to use your product for knowledge work, it is time to change gears.
  2. If you were expecting that being good and free was good enough… Maybe it isn’t.  Although Wave was panned in the press, it really was pretty good at what it did, though perhaps it tried to do too much.
  3. If you were expecting to charge a lot of money for general-purpose collaboration software… I think those days are over.
  4. If Wave was your favorite example of how ACM was really relevant to what people are doing… time to find a new example.

Silver lining:

  1. Collaboration software for very specific purposes will live on (aka process modeling, or services like tripIt).
  2. Some of Wave’s features will likely get absorbed by Gmail.
  3. Some of Wave’s features will likely show up in other products.

I think Keith Swenson summed it up best for the ACM folks on Twitter:

“nooooo. It can’t beeeee. 🙁 RT @jpmorgenthal: Google waves goodbye to Wave: http://bit.ly/bg3ixC”

Well, fans of Wave and its approach were bound to be disappointed.  I saw quite a few more comments on twitter with a more positive spin on Wave being shut down.  Google found Wave squeezed inbetween email and all the other things we do in life.  It apparently couldn’t live on its own.  I’m not sure the future of ACM, per se, is anything different.  Yes, the ACM proponents will have their analogies, and they sound compelling.  And we could even agree that a large percentage of work is not addressed by BPM today, or by, more specifically, structured process.  But what ACM proponents fail to mention is that even less work is currently addressed by purpose-built ACM software.  It *could* be, but isn’t.  It is still likely to be addressed by email, project management tools, telephone, hallway conversation, and more email.

Note, I’m not arguing against ACM as a description of work, I’m just looking at the software market and not seeing it as an independent market, yet.  Willing to be proven wrong.  And I think there are a couple vendors that have the right strategy or tactics, but we’ll see if they can execute.

Working on a longer collaborative post on ACM and the marketplace.  Watch this space.

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