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Workflow

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Connecting Appian, Rinde and Wardley with the intersection of process and social

I've been pushing the concept of using social technologies for collaboration and connections both inside and outside of business to make companies more effective since early 2006.  The naming has changed from web 2.0 to enterprise 2.0 to social business, but the concept is the same.  However, when some areas of technology like smart phones or tablets have made such an impact on business in such a short space of time, why is the potential of social media in business, apart from use in external marketing and customer support, still largely unrealized?  I believe it's the C word (and that's context).  To explain that, three things came together over the last few weeks - a briefing session with Appian CEO Matthew Calkins, a blog post from Sigurd Rinde about the fallacy of the Information Age and the need to move to a better framework, and one from Simon Wardley on flow structures and what he explains as the move from Pioneer, to Settler, to Town Planner.  

First, let me set the scene by reminding you that we've been running businesses with incomplete ERP systems for decades - they usually cover a company's core processes but leave plenty of gaps.  I was reminded of some of the ...
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Thingamy with ESME points to where enterprise 2.0 is heading

Yesterday I got the "lowdown" on how Thingamy, which Sigurd Rinde describes as a "Work Processor", has just been connected to ESME, the microsharing and collaboration platform.  I believe  the combination is a big step forward for Sig's solution, as well as representing one of several approaches that signpost the direction of enterprise 2.0, or enterprise collaboration for 2010.  It's all about linking collaboration to process.  

First let me disclose that, although we don't have a contractual relationship, we're big fans of Thingamy,  we've been playing around with the product for years, and we're on the look out to help and support Sig to find potential clients here in the UK.  Although the basic concept of Thingamy remains the same, the user interface and way you use and deploy the product have steadily improved over time making the product much easier to grasp than when we first met Sig back at the start of 2006.  

So what is Thingamy?  It's a product that addresses all of the things that any organisation does which are NOT  handled by their conventional business process based systems.  Sig calls these Easily Repeatable . ...
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SAP TechEd 2008 - Awesome, Entertaining, Underwhelming

SAP TechE2008 at ICC BerlinI've just arrived back from a very enjoyable 3 days in Berlin at SAP's TechEd 2008 conference. The theme was "Connect, Collaborate, Co-innovate" and I could see plenty of connections, some good examples of collaboration, and one stand-out example of co-innovation (called ESME - more on that in a later post). It started with Community Day, a multi-threaded not quite "unconference" with sessions for the SAP Developer Network and the Business Proce...
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Sig and the art of Barely Repeatable Processes

I had a great session yesterday with Sigurd Rinde on the latest version of Thingamy. We've been part of Sig's ecosystem of consultants and partners working with his innovative business modelling solution for some time. Sig was showing off the product's new interface and talking through the latest prototype he had been demoing at a media company while he has been in the UK. That demo crosses over with some of our own thoughts on creativity, because it was all to do with creating a repository for ideas to be captured, developed and actioned through to the point that they add value to the organization. It's the kind of thing every organization does to a lesser or greater extent. Thingamy
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Approvr tackles document and design sign off

ApprovrBack last year at the Office 2.0 conference I was struck by the volume and overlap of web 2.0 products that have come on to the market in the last couple of years.  Amongst the ones that stand out are applications which address a specific, real world problem that most businesses have, but with an elegant and cost effective web service that is easy to use.  FreshBooks and BaseCamp are good examples.  The former tackles the invoicing and collection problem that all businesses have, and BaseCamp tackles project management.  Both can be used by a very small business to tackle one of their crucial issues and help them look as professional as a large enterprise. 
 
My friend Mat Atkinson is a few weeks away from starting the "beta" of an excellent new web service that fits in to the same mould - Approvr.  The problem he is attacking is document and proof sign off.  Whether it is collaboration over a contract, or approval of a complex design, most companies have to deal with circulating documents and designs for comments and eventual agreement.  Mat's recent background has been heavily involved with marketing processes.  He was the founder of Mtivity, a SaaS based marketing resource management solution that we still partner with.  Consequently he's made sure his new service can work well for the kind of documents and proofs that go back and forth between marketing and designers and service providers every day. 
 
Approvr example screenFirst you drag and drop the document or proof to Approvr.  Then you tell it the e-mail addresses of the people that need to review and sign off, with a covering note, and the date/time they need to complete by.  The approvers get the mail with a link to the file, which they can download, so that avoids e-mailing big files and hitting mailbox limits.  The approver can add date/time/name stamped comments overlaid on the design or document, but everyone sees all of the comments in real time to avoid any conflicts or duplication.  You get a dashboard that helps you track the various documents and proofs you've sent for approval, so that you can easily chase to get the job done.   The system even handles comments in PDFs, which can be imported and exported by Approvr to make it easy to work alongside existing tools like Adobe Acrobat. 
 
Obviously this works on both Mac and PC - in the design environment that is essential.
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itensil at Office 2.0

A few months ago we were having a serious discussion about marketing processes with our good friend Mat Atkinson.  Mat is the original founder of Mtivity, a SaaS based Marketing Resource Management product that we partner with.  Mat had been squeezed out of Mtivity and has started a consultancy called Marketing Operandi that we do work with.  We were talking about the lack of control and systems that many corporate marketing departments have, and brainstorming the kind of product that we would like to develop that would help tackle the issues.  We decided that the product needed workflow capability, linked to a wiki/social media, linked to a digital asset management system.  I've just seen two out of three of these component in a new product called itensil (short for information utensils - like it!).
 
David Tebbutt and I itensil - makes information utensilsmet with Keith Paterson their CEO, Grant Gongaware their CTO, and Susan Scrupski, one of my fellow Enterprise Irregulars who is advising them.  The demo was just before the reception on the eve of the Office 2.0 Conference.  I hope they don't mind me saying this, and maybe I caught them before they got in to their stride, but their demo needed an "elevator pitch" to introduce the concept properly and some real world examples to bring the possibilities to life.  Quite a few of the demos I saw at the conference suffered the same way.  The other David T is a very bright guy with over 30 years experience in the software business, who also develops a product called Brainstorm, but was struggling to "get it" for quite some time during the session.
 
itensil is essentially injecting a workflow engine in to a wiki page.  Their aim is to have just enough workflow capability, combined with just enough wiki and content management capability to keep things straightforward, avoid any complexity, and allow their tool to be used for a whole variety of task and project management scenarios.  I've spoken about how many businesses develop ad-hoc systems using Excel and e-mail before.  They work, but often use complex drop downs and macros, and are prone to problems when somebody on the team has been missed off the circulation list, or has got the wrong version of the spreadsheet.  itensil addresses exactly this kind of ad-hoc system.  They're targeting the many places where organisations have repeatable processes, but with lots of exceptions.  This could be things like a product launch, a company's emergency procedures, the workflow around an ad campaign, or the recruitment process.  The product gives me a mechanism for creating my workflow or "to do" steps, and links that to wiki pages where I can capture the unstructured information that I want to document around this task.  Where there is a structure, I've got a form builder to develop that data format and drop on to the wiki page, and then all of this is captured in an underlying MySQL database.  Importantly the MySQL data is accessible by th
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Thingamy takes on SAP, but they have a mountain to climb

The other day Dennis tipped me off to Sig's latest challenge of Thingamy versus SAP.  Sig likes to explain how he can replace your traditional ERP with Thingamy, but this is different, and probably more important!  By the way, Sig is one of those guys you absolutely hate to stand next to - older than me, but taller, fitter, better looking, more money - I have explained to my wife that I'm never introducing him to her.
 
This challenge is all about Sig's other passion, which is cycling.  From his blog:
"In two weeks, on Saturday 30th (wind less than a gazillion mph from all directions as only constraint) a hardcore SAP cycling team led by Thomas will arrive Provence where I (and hopefully a few more) will join up for a ride up Mt Ventoux for charity!"
Now when I read this, I never followed the Thomas link, and it was only a few days ago that I discovered it's Thomas Otter, one of my fellow Enterprise Irregulars.  The charity in question that they are raising money for is Warchild, and please follow this link to donate some money to their cause.
 
Just to explain the challenge they are taking on, wikipedia says:
"22 km over 1610 m. This is the most famous and difficult ascent. The road to the summit has an average gradient of 7.6%." 
Mont Ventoux - SAP vs Thingamy challenge
 
 
My guess is that in cycling, as in enterprise software, SAP have got quite challenge on from the "little" guy.
 
Update: If you want to find out more, or even join in, go to the HughPage.
 
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Standard apps, wikis and workflow - a perfect threesome

I've been buried in a couple of projects over the last few weeks, and now that I'm in catch up mode I can see lots of great ideas and posts I need to comment on.  Zoli had a great piece on JotSpot and Salesforce last week.  He talks about the marriage of structured, off the shelf applications like CRM from Salesforce or NetSuite, working well with wiki technology like JotSpot or SocialText to capture the unstructured information the business needs.
 
Businesses do need a blend of both approaches.  Standard data and processes which are common across different businesses, and so it makes sense to "buy" an accounts, CRM or ERP package to do that part of the job.  But you also need to capture knowledge to help the business, and this is where wiki technology comes in to its own.  Everyone can collaborate to build up the company knowledge base, and a useful structure will evolve and adapt using the flexibility of the wiki technology.  We see that phenomenon working in our clients, along with a third component, which is workflow applications.  Every business has specific, structured processes that aren't handled by their standard business applications, but need to be catered for with the minimum of management and policing.   The situation is complicated as these processes tend to evolve as the business develops - the routing changes, but they still need structure.  We're using workflow products to handle those processes, to replace the manual or Excel based "half systems" that companies tend to use.
 
So for me Zoli's marriage becomes a menage a trois - the solution becomes a combination of three different technology styles - standard applications, wikis and workflow to provide a more coherent and complete solution for the business.