Simplifying BPM and the zero code hypothesis, themes from #BPMNext

A week now since I got back from BPMNext and I’m still buzzing with the seeds of ideas planted there. First up, I felt motivated to write on the recurrent theme on how to ‘simplify BPM’ and its cousin ‘Zero-Coding’ applications. The latter remains as controversial as ever and perhaps always will so I think I’ll state up front my agreement with Scott Francis’ diplomatic conclusion in his piece on ‘the zero code hypothesis’ that:
It looks like those of us writing code will have some work to do for a few more years yet.
But there are two important corollaries to this hypothesis that I think worthy of mention.
‘Zero code’ is often a short-hand for “empowering ‘real’ users who are unfamiliar with code”. And that is both a worthy and necessary goal. After all, the days when a genius such as Isaac Newton could reach the pinnacle of several fields in one lifetime are long behind us. In the modern world we are all specialists. So if we believe BPM suites are powerful tools for managing our work then we need to strive to make them available to experts in all manner of fields. Let’s not give up on ‘zero code’ whilst acknowledging the limitations of our best efforts to date.
Looking back over BPMNext, we saw some examples of how we can already allow these ‘real’ users to solve some of the simpler problems. For example: the first speaker was Brian Reale of Colossa showing how with 10 minutes and no design environment he could create effective mobile data capture tools to compliment more traditional BPM installs. Not the only use for ProcessMaker, but a sweet spot that makes sense to me. At almost the other end of the conference we saw Keith Swenson show¬†cognoscenti’s implementation of what he terms a ‘Personal Assistant’ starting to automate simple and repetitive work without getting in the way of the expert user. And others too showed how some part of what we traditionally call BPM can be placed in the hands of non-coders.
Secondly, the best of these higher-level tools allow those that are coders to be dramatically more productive. This is why I got into BPM in the first place: rather than forcing users to cobble together a coherent workflow from spreadsheets, post-it notes and highly specialised desktop applications we can smoothly hand work from one person to the next and optimise whatever makes sense to within the clear boundary of a service task on a BPMN diagram.
Not least amongst this category is BP3’s own Brazos UI framework for providing responsive UIs specifically for interacting with RESTful BPM servers. And whilst it is undoubtedly early days, camunda sponsored BPMN.io shows promise to allow a truly capable and embeddable tool for presenting, annotating and even authoring business processes. Plus @JakobFreund gets kudos for shameless geekery – laugh-out-loud! Two projects I will follow with interest.
The current trend for specialised web applications that do one thing really well and offer APIs to access their functionality is truly the opportunity for BPM to ‘cross-the-chasm’ that Paul Harmon spoke of in his keynote at last year’s BPMNext. And one I am busy working on at Syncapt. But that sounds like another post….