Google gets workflow wings with KiSSFLOW. Can they democratize BPM?

An April Fool’s joke from last year, my post on Google entering BPM with Noodle, continues to get views every day. I always wonder how many readers may be taking it seriously, it was a joke after all.

Some of what I wrote was, and still is, plausible. Meanwhile, though, Google and their partners continue to bolster their Business Google Appsofferings portfolio. 5 Million businesses have ‘gone Google” and Gmail has got 425 million users, as Google announced at its annual Google I/O Developer Conference in June this year. As an alternative to Lotus Notes and Microsoft, Google has been pitching hard for its Google Apps – claiming some large customers such as KLM, GM, Roche, and 50+ Universities in US.

News bytes make for some interesting analysis, but one aspect that stands out is that most of the customers on Google Apps are SMBs. Google Apps is pretty lightweight and excellent collaboration platform for small businesses.

The question, however, is – what happens when these businesses grow and need a more sophisticated workflow and process solutions? Or, even, what do the current mid-size customers do for workflows on Google Apps?

Before getting into that, there’s the BPM and Enterprise Platforms side of the story.

I wrote sometime back that with PaaS and Process Platforms, IT leadership within Enterprises has the opportunity to transform from being a DevOps shop to a Business Platform provider. But, PaaS or Cloud is only an enabler, as technology always has been. The real hindrance is the mindset and the legacy that continues in the larger Enterprises.

CoIT & BYOD on the fringes of the organizationsOn the ground, the change is already taking place from the fringes of the organizations, driven by Consumerization of IT and BYOD. Information Workers have started using Self-Purchased Technology for work. This is also one of the implications of the blurring lines between the Business Technology and Personal Technology – will write more on this later as I consider that as one of the prominent game-changer trends. SaaS has played a major role, though, with decoupling of the Business Solutions Decisions from the Central Capex Decisions. The reality today is, sales and marketing go ahead and buy Marketing Automation or CRM solution off the web, and manage it on their own.

SaaS will continue to drive the momentum in the direction of Niche Solutions, very specifically built for a domain and even customized to a application territory or even geography, as we noted in The Future of Business Applications. So, for any business looking for the specific solutions, there are ways to get it on their own without needing the IT involvement, with a pinch of salt.

So, coming back to the story of Google Apps. Gmail and Google Docs are excellent collaboration tools and will continue to be the nerve center of the business operations for their customers. However, there comes a time when one of the managers or the business owner needs a small approval workflow. This could be a purchase approval, or a simple expense claims workflow. What do they do? They may go ahead and pick an off-the-shelf SaaS solution, but these solutions are typically overly complex, or too broad-based, or simply too demanding, or just costly for the small task at hand.

Google gets Workflow WingsThis is, I believe, the premise of KiSSFLOW. The makers refer to it as Workflow for Google Apps. Most of the simple, small workflows in SMB organizations are very custom, specific to the need, but straightforward. The department heads and the business owners want to focus on their core work areas, and not on trying to get these workflows built from IT (IT wouldn’t care for smaller niche needs of business users, for that matter). And, many of them do not even have IT organization – not having matured in their systems, and instead taking the cloud route! This is where business owners would leverage the power of SaaS and BPMS together – to build their own simple workflows.

However, in order for this to happen smoothly in Google Apps environment, you need the following:

  • A straightforward guided workflow development
  • Very small development lifecycle, so that the business users can quickly develop it, deploy it on their own, and get to work
  • Seamless out-of-the-box integration with the underlying Google Apps platform, so that they don’t need to go to IT or any central infra guys.
  • Non-Tech Lingo, ability to define the workflow model, user forms, and permissions on the go
  • Ability to leverage the underlying Gmail and Google Docs platform, since those are central to all the collaboration before workflows came in.

KiSSFLOW - Workflow for Google AppsKiSSFLOW seems to do all that, and very well. I can imagine a lot of Google Apps customers lapping it up, especially with the Free option to get started. This also fills the important workflow gap in the Google Apps portfolio for Businesses. Power of the workflows can be very addictive, as I have realized in my own long stint with BPM.

Having said that, The area of BPM can get very involved and complicated though. For a long time now, we have still been arguing over the definitions (conversations two years back, and recently on EbizQ again!), usage, and governance areas in BPM and BPMS. However, as they say, the power lies in the hands of customers and users. People want “I, BPM”. KiSSFLOW hands the power to the Business Process Owners, Business Heads, Department Heads.

BPM Lego-Work and EnterprisesHowever, BPM Lego-work aside, can we say that Google and KiSSFLOW combination would democratize BPM / BPMS, and go really big? Few aspects need to be addressed for that to happen –

  • One of the reasons Lotus Notes Databases became cumbersome to maintain was that they followed a pattern that KiSSFLOW may kick off in the Google environment. A fragmented, isolated development of business applications and workflows leading to Long tail of Business Applications. Governance will have to kick in sooner than later.
  • Processes cannot work in isolation. There will be a need, over time, for the process interactions – through data interfaces or through event models.
  • One of the headaches as well as driver for BPMS has been the handling of process changes. KiSSFLOW would need to find a way to do that transparently to the users. But, this is where it starts getting complex.
  • As with most initiatives on the fringes of the organizations, the success brings in institutionalization. And, that’s when a central control, a bit of hierarchical approach, and also the ability to integrate the workflows with each other, with the Enterprise Data Model, and with other infrastructure will get demanded. A developer-oriented studio to edit and administer the existing workflows (developed by business process owners) would be required over time.

Now, these are only some of the areas that BPM Consultants, the Enterprise Architects, The IT strategists, and the analysts would be probing in. However, as for as the Business Users are concerned, most of them don’t worry about these and want to get their work done. Now, this is the gamble that KiSSFLOW team has taken.

The stand of the makers, as per the KiSSFLOW blog, is

…to make smart trade-offs. By focusing on the 99% use cases in workflows such as “Approval”, we can make majority of workflows simple to build… There will always be that 1% of workflows that can not be built because of this abstraction. But, that’s the trade-off that makes the 99% of workflows tick. That’s the core of what KiSSFLOW is all about – Keeping it Simple & Smart.

The number 99 is highly debatable, but we get the drift.

Referring to similar scenarios, Jim Senur, in his article “Beware of the Dark Process” wrote

Dark processes (aka shadow processes) exist in many companies and are demonized by many. A dark process is an unoffical process used to deliver results and not visible to management. The process folks are claiming that dark processes need to go away for companies to be successful with process efforts. I, for one, believe they will always be with us because there are so many forces that are there to generate them.

Jim goes on and concludes -

Let’s not fear them, but reduce the number of opportunities to create and feed them for no good reason. Intelligent business operations allows for intelligence built into processes to reduce the need for dark processes.

There’s even more debate on Dark Processes by Gary, and on EBizQ.

Whether this combination of Google & KiSSFLOW results in Long tail, or Dark Processes, or finally creates an environment that would democratize BPM; remains to be seen. It depends a lot on how KiSSFLOW team goes forward with the growth of the processes and the vision of the product. It depends, more importantly, also on whether CIOs and IT Leadership would want to go with the flow, accept this consumerization & democracy, and focus on governance aspects; or whether they’d want to go back to being the DevOps in their comfort zones.

What do you think? Can this democratize BPM/BPMS?

Disclaimer: I’ve been, in my previous employment, associated with OrangeScape – the organization behind KiSSFLOW. However, as always, views in this blog are strictly my own!

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  1. #1 by guest on September 14, 2012 - 10:23 am

    would you have a look at runmyprocess (dot) com

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