Where Social, BPM, and Event Technologies must go

A conversation with Appian CEO Matt Calkins turned up an interesting insight into a new use for social and business process management technologies.
Written by Brian Sommer, Contributor

A trinity, that curious but powerful happening when three or more technologies converge, presents transformative opportunities for technology users. The one that's been a staple of computing lately involves social, mobile and cloud technologies. Just look at how these three technologies, together, have changed how people communicate, share and provide feedback. 

Image: TechVentive Inc, All Rights Reserved

A second trinity of recent importance has involved big data, analytics and in-memory computing. That confluence has yielded some great insights for large and small businesses. It is the democratizing impact of cheap second trinity technologies that has driven their adoption up quickly and is redefining several business processes along the way.

I’ve identified at least four trinities that are currently or will soon emerge in our technology space in prior articles.  But now, I'd like to discuss a different potential trinity. This one involves event, social and BPM technologies.

The impetus for this was due to a conversation I had this week with Appian CEO Matt Calkins. We had a spirited discussion around the future of social and BPM (business process management) technologies.

Matt sees the social enterprise concept as more of a feature, not a product. While social technologies, in a business setting, are a great way to get worker participation, they often miss a couple of very important things. According to Matt, the shortfalls of first generation social enterprise solutions are:

  • That many users are "takers" not "providers" of content. Unless these solutions bring in more external content and viewpoints, these systems will experience high abandonment rates

  • "Talk" is often the outcome not "action". Matt believes that social enterprise solutions are too removed from business actions and processes.

I agree with his premise. I even participated in a recent ZDNet debate with Dion Hinchcliffe on the social enterprise and I see the same takers vs. providers issue. I also agree that social commentary that doesn’t drive or assist business processes/decisions is not worth a lot.

At this point in our conversation, Matt made the case that social and BPM technologies must be linked. Of course, I know his firm has such a product, Worksocial, but I wanted to push the discussion even further.

Appian Worksocial Interface Desktop
Image: Used with permission from Appian Inc

I argued that what businesses need is to tie these two technologies with a third: an event driven architecture. In this way, the social content is targeted around business events and news that need input from the social community before the rest of the process can be executed.

I shared an example with Matt that went something like this: Suppose the Federal Reserve Bank of the United States raises its lending rate to banks. That external business event should trigger a series of discussions with all sorts of business executives within your firm. The CFO, Treasurer and Procurement executives should be assessing what the change will do the company’s internal cost of capital, its borrowing capacity, etc. Decisions that could affect R&D investments, IT project portfolio funding decisions, vendor purchases, etc. could all be affected. The discussion could be initiated via a smart event-driven engine that looks for the appropriate external and internal triggers that business people should be discussing as these have a likely impact on corporate strategy, competitive positioning, capital structure, etc.  Who gets invited into the social conversation could be a combination of evolutionary social conversation growth or driven by a smart process tool. And, in the end, when the discussion has produced the appropriate responses, a BPM tool can help drive the needed changes within the enterprise.

Image: Used with permission from TechVentive Inc, All Rights Reserved

This trinity of event, social and business process management technologies may take a fair bit of evangelizing in the near-term. Each of the individual technologies has been out in the market for several years.  Putting them together into coherent solutions will take work, imagination and vision. In contrast to other technologies (eg, a basic consumer mobile app), it takes some effort to make these solutions industrialized and still deliver value to the users. But what may be more vexing is that the process flow may differ significantly from customer to customer. Likewise, the potential universe of business events out there is so numerous that it would require a serious prioritization process to figure out which ones should be developed first. (Hmm — maybe that would be a great question to posit on a social network...)

I'll be at Appian's user conference later this month. I'm actually looking forward to seeing how well they're connecting the three pieces and what kind of client traction they’re building. I guess the rest of the story will have to wait until then.  

Editorial standards