Social Changes Everything About Workflow

The Easy Path
Creative Commons Attribution: Flickr user nattu

Those of us who come from the ECM world have been “business process sensitive” for a long time.  We have written, designed and implemented process centric content systems for many clients around the world even if they were covered under different names.  This is because we realized early on that business content is always the input to or the output from a formal or informal business process.  This is true even if it doesn’t have an encoded SOA, BPM or JMS structure behind it.

We called it workflow.  We called it integration.  That’s because it was. (tweet this)

The big challenge is that business processes are as complex as human interactions.  Business processes documented in Visio or some other workbench tool represent the optimal flow of information and tasks from one point to another.  But exceptions to these rules are rampant.  This is because humans are complex creatures and we will often do either whatever it takes or whatever is easiest to achieve a goal.  The path we pick depends on a massive amount of external factors – our mood, our interest in the task, how deep is our stake in the outcome, if we’ve had our morning coffee… This has given rise to complex event processing (CEP) and similar systems that acknowledge this complexity.  They attempt to brute-force their way through millions of contextual premises in order to work through to a single conclusive result.  That result is often the answer to the question, “what is our next step?”  Consequently, encoding processes for content / context centricity is often an exercise in triage and attrition rather than total state awareness with full exception handling.

The social revolution has taught us that people create the process they need at the time. (Tweet This!)  They figure out the path they need or want to achieve their goal.  This path is often not the most efficient but it is often the one that enjoys the most adoption.  This continues to pose challenges to systems inherently based on predicting and improving human efficiency by assuming that we can become more machine-like.

I suspect that this same concept explains (in part) why legacy ECM is having its lunch eaten by the much simpler and less sophisticated cloud systems like Box, Google Docs, slideshare, Dropbox and even facebook.  They focus on the goal – sharing information with others.  They leave the “how to make it happen” up to the people who figure it out.  It might be emailing a link.  It might be a social invite via the service itself.  It might be via web based plugins (e.g. via wordpress or linked in).  The point is that the services leave that responsibility up to you.

This is not to say that the way the legacy ECM systems integrate and share information with processes is wrong.  It works, but it’s restrictive and often cumbersome.  And let’s face it, we chafe at things that were not our idea.  We hate being told that there is only one way we have to do something.  This is why systems such as cloud ECM are enjoying a heyday: they let the humans be human and simply make the content easily available.  (tweet this!)

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