One of the biggest barriers that business process management has still to overcome is the apparent disconnect between process codification and the more ethereal element of collaboration within processes.
Although BPM is seen as an essential technology for creating structured processes, its use is less clear when it comes down to human interaction within unstructured or semi-structured processes. This is one of the reasons why workflow is still being touted as a separate and distinct technology to BPM, even though the two are immutably connected.
If BPM is to gain even greater traction in the market, and also answer the new computing environments of social networking and Web 2.0, vendors will need to examine how they bring structure to what is essentially an unstructured milieu.
The use of social networking and other loosely structured collaboration tools will have a huge impact on BPM. Creating codified processes that are often little more than automated procedures, even when they involve humans, is only the first stage in the move to a completely process-centric organisation.
Process-centricity should not be seen as being prescriptive or proscriptive, but has to be viewed as a way of bringing elements of control and structure to what are essentially uncontrolled artefacts.
Collaboration is an essential element of many processes that exist within all organisations, and the new technologies that allow for greater collaboration are to be welcomed. However, collaboration at this level has to have controlling elements, otherwise processes will fail to reach satisfactory conclusions within a required timeframe.
A simple answer to providing control is to allow collaboration within a certain timeframe, but giving the 'final say' to one member of the collaborative team. Certainly, this brings control, but the essential rationale for having collaboration in the first place is denied.
Having voting options within collaborative processes is seen as more democratic, but is hardly a completely satisfactory answer to the problem. A 'mistake by committee' is still a mistake.
The truth is that there is almost certainly no simple answer. An effective starting point is to understand that the collaborative part of any process is not divorced from the process itself. The first role that BPM has to play in this collaborative effort is to help maintain focus by inserting the process aim into the collaborative effort as and when required.
Rules will have an important part to play in this as they can bring structure where no structure exists. Representing this graphically, the collaborative effort could be contained by a set of structured rules, one of which would most certainly be providing for time limits. These rules would have to be 'intelligent' enough to understand the context of the 'conversation' taking place to ensure focus.
It will be interesting to see which vendor takes up this challenge and truly starts to bring workflow into the BPM arena.