Right now there is a lot of noise around how to manage ad-hoc and unstructured business processes with a push in some quarters to look deeper into what they term as Dynamic Case Management. Since traditional BPM tools are focused on mapping processes and capturing the exceptions how can you achieve this when the process itself is so fluid and refuses to be prescribed ? In steps Jacob Ukelson and Hemy Fintsy of ActionBase to show me how they tackle this business problem.
ActionBase regard themselves as a Human Process Management System (HPMS) that focuses on what they call the ‘knowledge worker kind of processes’, handling and tracking activities which are centred and triggered primarily around email and documentation. It started off as a java based portal but as the market and software industry grew and matured the new version is based on .Net which offers tight integration with email and document software like Outlook and Word.
ActionBase see their suite (ActionMail and ActionDoc) as complimentary tools to those which model and automate structured and routine processes. Jacob explains that with these ad-hoc processes users spend more time piecing together information and tracking different versions of documents as they are worked on which is unproductive and not part of their role. With ActionMail, Outlook is enhanced to become that mechanism for managing those unstructured processes.
To begin a process is as simple as creating a new email in Outlook; select the recipients, complete the subject lines and content as normal and tag a due date then send. What ActionMail then does is create an action from this email to the recipient who can accept the piece of work and that status is then recorded. They can work on the action or indeed request further clarification or otherwise and respond back to the originator. Users can reassign emails, work on them, close them off and all the while ActionMail is keeping an audit record of what is happening which can be viewed in a tool called Process Viewer which provides a full view of all the open items being worked on and can be drilled down into the sub actions which have been spawned during the process lifecycle. In the latest version Jakub states that this will be enhanced with graphical representations of the status and other items.
Moving away from email and ActionBase have created similar functionality within their ActionDoc solution which creates actions and processes from within documents. Simply by highlighting text it allows users to create actions from the document and is then reflected back into the document itself once completed, interfacing with ActionMail to again trigger the process and audit trail. Users can create further attributes within ActionMail that allows them to report on progress of the document. An interesting feature is that by using ActionDoc you can publish and distribute to a list but only those who require to act on it (rather than read the document for perhaps confidentiality reasons) are send the actions only. Anything which is marked up for actioning on a document won’t actually be shown in any printed versions too.
What’s interesting is that ActionBase functionality can be tracked outside of an organisational boundary, so these tools are useful for tracking progress throughout a supply chain for example. This is done via their Process Bridge which integrates with GMail and allows those users outside of the organisation to complete their actions (although there are limitations around this, such as if the external recipient forwards the email onto someone else to complete then essentially the chain is broken and not tracked.)
Jacob states that they can provide templated versions of ActionMail and ActionDocs which suit particular environments that get users up and running with little lag for example; Executive Decision Making, Contract/ RFP, Project Management use cases.
For me this was an interesting way to manage and track those dynamic processes which refuse to be contained within a rigid process map, making use of enterprise software which will be pervasive throughout an organisation. Again it seems there is a focus on creating complimentary solutions with Microsoft platforms which reduce the amount of integration work required for IT. A solid and simple way to manage the seemingly unmanageable.