I sat on a PEX Week 2012 panel yesterday with Clay Richardson, Sandy Kemsley, Nathaniel Palmer and Steve Towers. The question for the panel was what we saw coming in BPM. I’ve weighed in on this topic recently with my 2012 predictions and a broader view of BPM’s future. I was prepared to restate much of what I’ve been saying, that BPM needs to be broadly seen as a soup-to-nuts practice that involves everything from structured to unstructured work and from human activities to automation. But spending time talking with people and listening to speakers put me on a different tack.
The reality of how we work is different from the way software vendors design applications. An application thinks in data terms; how information is routed and modified in the act of conducting business. As workers, we have been forced into this view by ERP, CRM and other systems that make humans slaves to transactional systems instead of making systems that are easy to go straight at what we need. Think of the number of clicks to get to most data, and the onerous tasks of updating sales forecasts, leads, time sheets, and expenses. In each case, centralized data is our god and we serve it through cumbersome interfaces that we love to hate. Truthfully, if you don’t think about data design in your interactions with these systems, you end up scratching your head over the error messages and prompts to complete a required field. We’re there because we serve the data, and not the other way around.
Our reality is more like work in process fragments. Unless we’re on an assembly line, we do things that require us to stop and start nearly everything we do. Done well, our day fits together like a puzzle as we sandwich in less structured work between our structured tasks. Spending hours on a single, high-value task is a luxury saved for long flights or, unfortunately, evenings and weekends. Do our work systems align with this reality? Not at all. The time to get into and out of a data-focused system is often greater than the time to accomplish the task at hand.
An app for that?
The rise of the app, mostly thanks to Steve Jobs’ vision, is a perfect example of going at things differently. Apps serve a tighter purpose than long workflows…they are light, quickly developed and go straight at the problem. If you’re like me, you spend some part of our day moving in and out of other apps, like banking, blogging, tweeting, Facebook, LinkedIn. We check things, create things, respond to others all while living our life. We love the iPhone because it enables this pattern. Why couldn’t the same thing be the dominant feature of how our work is done? Back-of-the-napkin, here are some ideas for work apps that would keep us a safe distance from that monolithic system that saps our will to live:
- Time card, expenses apps (using my phone’s camera to snap receipts)
- Payroll and benefits apps
- Corporate travel app (maybe linking to expenses app, if that makes sense)
- Safety procedures app
- Enterprise social media app
- Managers approvals app (out of the box on this one)
- Compliance reminders/acknowledgements app (if not on social media)
- Training/testing apps
- Leads, forecast apps
- Form app that structures input I need to receive from multiple sources
- Complex event app that allows me to choose discreet data and get an alert