An Audience With….Jacob Ukelson, CTO of ActionBase

Jacob Ukelson is the Chief Technology Officer of ActionBase. Jacob has a proven track record in discovering and developing innovative solutions to real-world customer problems, and then developing them into products.  Jacob has fostered innovation in many different environments, including both research and business settings.  Until recently, Jacob served as CTO of Itemfield, the leader in next-generation data transformation, where he oversaw the company’s innovation, vision and strategy until its acquisition by Informatica.   Previously, Jacob was the CTO and business development executive for IBM’s Global Technology Unit.   Prior to that role, he was a department general manager at the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Lab, managing a group of 130 cross-disciplinary researchers.  Jacob received his doctorate of science in computer science from the Technion University in Israel.  Jacob has been published in many technical journals and has spoken at conferences worldwide.  In 1997, he received the Alexander C. Williams Ergonomics and Human Factors Award from the Human Factors Society.


Pega have recently acquired Chordiant and recently at a Forrester Tweet-up they talked about a convergence between CRM and BPM. Do you see a convergence happening in the market between sectors that are dissimilar on the surface ?

I actually don’t see BPM and CRM (or even ERP) as dissimilar technologies, just separate markets. The main difference between them is that with CRM the model is implicit and shipped with the product. BPM externalizes the model – so given a comprehensive CRM model, a BPM engine theoretically could execute the model and provide CRM process management. In other words, BPM becomes the infrastructure for CRM. The reason I say theoretically is from the business perspective it will come down to the comprehensiveness and quality of the CRM model, the user interface and flexibility – they won’t really care whether it is a standalone CRM, or one built on BPM. From an IT perspective there is value in have a unified platform, but there is a tendency to push platforms beyond their inherent capabilities – and thereby require so much bespoke programming that the platform issue is almost moot.

The convergence may happen, but I think people may be underestimated the difficulty in building a good, comprehensive CRM model – and a good GUI. It may turn out that using BPM for CRM may not be cost effective.

What’s your definition of BPM ?

BPM is the understanding, visibility and control of business processes, enabling them to be managed as strategic assets.

And what’s the difference between traditional BPM and HPM ?

Human Process Management (HPM)  is the management of ad-hoc, unstructured knowledge worker processes usually done today through email, meetings and documents. Intuitively everyone recognizes them – just look at your inbox. Exampes of these processes are complex project management, complex sales processes, audit and compliance processes, decision management processes, contract and RFP management, etc.

These processes are too unpredictable and changeable to allow for a detailed model. The best that can be done is providing a guideline or best practice as a framework that will change from execution to execution, but that provide a checklist of things that are critical for the success of the the process (e.g. specific documents that must be provided, specific sign-offs that must happen). Unstructured content (documents) plays a central role in HPM.

This is different from processes managed by BPM which are less human centric, predictable and modeled. Also, documents are less integral to BPM processes. HPM and BPM processes are complementary. Here is my HPM process checklist:

·         The process consists  mainly of interactions between human participants

o   Collaboration

o   Negotiation

·         Content is an integral part of the work, it is both consumed and produced as part of the process

·         The participants control the process, and change it on a case-by-case basis, though there may be a guideline or best practice framework

o   Flow changes

o   Participant changes

o   Activity changes

·         Every process instance has an owner

·         Every process instance has a goal, deadline and a defined work product

Gartner talks of managing ad-hoc processes and Forrester speaks about ‘Dynamic Case Management’, is this something emerging in the Case scene ?

…and the WfMC is calling it Adaptive Case Management. In many ways HPM is a generalization of case management, but can be applied in many more use cases than standard case management.  As long as people don’t get confused between “Dynamic” or “Adaptive” case management, and traditional case management – then yes, HPM is part of the case scene. good term.

Not many have heard of the ActionBase suite, can you tell me more about the company and where it’s come from ?

We started in Israel and have been around for quite a few years. We have about 100 customers (most in Israel), started selling Europe last year, and are just now making a push into the US market. Our original product was a Java based portal-like solution for managing tasks and activities. We received a lot of feedback from our customers that they love the product (and use it for everything from complex project management, to managing Board of Directors decisions) – but why don’t we embed it in Outlook and Office, which is their standard environment for doing these kinds of things. As of version 5.6. we are embedded in Outlook and Office (along with a web interface when needed) – allowing people to manage their ad-hoc, unstructured processes in the tools that are most natural to them.

Forrester recently said they’ll be turning to the process professionals more in 2010 and Gartner’s Magic Quadrant underwent a makeover in how they approached their analysis last year.  Do you still see a need for the kind of research which is perceived to be vendor led given the rise of independent professional blogs and insights ?

I think the traditional analysts will continue to provide value to the large vendors, in large established segments. Independent professional blogs and analysts will flourish on emerging technologies and markets, aka innovati

on. I think what we’ll see is that
the new areas and emerging vendors will be covered by the independents; the established players and segments will served by the traditional analyst firms.

Take our segment as an example – 2 years ago we tried, but couldn’t get any of the large analysts firms to pay attention – they were too busy focusing on traditional BPM. Now we are starting to see all of them getting interested (again different names, but all are talking about the same thing) – so they didn’t foresee the market – they are just reacting to it.

‘Social BPM’ seems to be creating a wave that appears to be knocking down a lot of silos, is it revolution or hype we’re seeing right now and if revolution, is it purely a customer focused initiative or do you see it affecting how we work internally too ?

I am positive it will be used within organizations as well. We see it happen every day – the need for merging process and collaboration in the work environment of knowledge workers. Our whole product is based on that premise and we focus on the biggest social net (and collaboration platform) out there – email.

With a few vendors picking up on the iPhone success and launching BPM focused apps do you see an increase in BPM or Case Management becoming mobile ?

I see it more useful for adaptive case management and HPM, than BPM. Adaptive case management is a people driven process, so people need to be accessible at all times. For many BPM processes, people play a less central role, so mobile access is less of an issue.

What would you like to see as the next big step in BPM ?

Not surprisingly, I think it will be a focus on ad-hoc, unstructured knowledge worker processes. These processes make up between 60%-80% of all processes in organizations, and current BPM technologies just aren’t appropriate. So as more routine, structured processes are handled by traditional BPM – the focus will move to human processes.

And finally, what next for Jacob Ukelson ?

I see the next 12 months as pivotal for the adoption of  HPM and ActionBase. As the need for managing ad-hoc, unstructured processes becomes recognized, I need to make sure that our message gets out to the marketplace –  so I will be spending a lot of time blogging, presenting at conferences and talking to customers, reporters and analysts. From a technical perspective I plan to spend more time on defining the exact boundaries and connections between HPM and BPM, and on the use of HPM as a “in-situ” process discovery mechanism for BPM.




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