Web 2.0 is going to change business process management (BPM), as much or more than service-oriented architecture
(SOA) and Ajax already have, predicts Rashid Khan, CEO of Ultimus Inc., a BPM software maker he founded in 1994.
He offers a somewhat different point of view from this past week's Burton Group warning that Web 2.0 lacks the business impact of SOA. Where Richard Monson-Haefel, senior analyst at Burton, said, "I don't think there's a good business model for Web. 2.0," Khan believes there is great potential for Web 2.0 for transforming business processes, which would help people work more effectively and thus increase business profitability.
Kahn is more in tune with the view of Jay Simons, senior director of product marketing at BEA Systems Inc, who sees a growing expectation among business people that they will have the same user experience with the ERP systems at work as they do with YouTube at home.
"The business now expects Web 2.0 capabilities," Simons said.
However, Khan is in agreement with Monson-Haefel that no one clearly sees what the full impact of Web 2.0 will be on business in general and the way people handle business processes in particular.
"With Web 2.0 in my opinion we are living in the middle of a storm right now," Khan said. "We are not seeing all the changes going on around us. We are not fully cognizant of all the changes. Web 2.0 right now is more of a consumer thing, but I think it's going to impact businesses in a huge way."
He compares the current state of knowledge about the impact of Web 2.0 with how the software industry understood Ajax just two years ago, when he began work on a re-write of his company's BPM product, currently scheduled for release in the final quarter of this year.
"Ajax wasn't there in a big way two years ago," he said. But Ajax is now at the center of the patented Ultimus Human Services Bus, which is designed for what Khan calls the "human centric" processes with BPM.
For example, he said Ajax coupled with Web services provide real-time updates to shared documents, making things like changing calculations in a back office server immediately available to people processing a purchase order.
Khan sees Web 2.0 technologies emerging at a time when SOA and BPM are beginning to focus more on the people side of business processes, rather than just being about connecting servers and moving data around more effectively. He said this change began with the advent of Ajax, one of the key Web 2.0 enabling technologies.
A pre-Ajax business process might have required the user to fill out a form in Word or Excel and then attach it to an email in Outlook, Khan said in offering an example. That process then involved two different applications – Word and Outlook – that really weren't talking to each other directly. The Word file was sent via Outlook, but other than whatever note the user might type into the email explaining what the attachment was, there was no relationship between what was written in Word and the process Outlook was performing.
With Ajax it is now possible to eliminate the separate form in Word and the Outlook attachment process, Kahn said. He envisions a BPM developer creating a process where the form document is shared via Ajax with the appropriate people in the process so there is no need to attach it to an email to forward it along, and the information in the form becomes part of the process rather than being a separate document.
In this way, Kahn envisions the current social networking of consumer Web 2.0, which is about people sharing information – albeit photos, videos and music samples – inspiring the next generation of BPM used by corporations.
"We are leveraging Ajax technologies a lot right now to make the user experience more friendly, more powerful, more capable," he said. "We believe that's the way it's going to go forward. That will be the fundamental change."