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A Beginner's Guide to Enterprise Collaboration Technologies — How the BPX Can Use Collaborative Tools to Extract Reliable Business Process Solutions

by Marilyn Pratt | SAPinsider

April 1, 2007

by Marilyn Pratt, SAP Labs, LLC SAPinsider - 2007 (Volume 8), April (Issue 2)
 

Collaboration isn't a new concept, nor are collaboration platforms novel ideas. But emerging trends are shaking up past notions of how corporate cultures should manage knowledge and share information:

  • More and more, companies now collaborate with competitors, both across and within industries

  • Collaboration doesn't stop within corporate walls either; it straddles organizations, time zones, and hemispheres

  • Companies are challenging corporate structures and constraints — when it comes to sharing information, they're leaving traditional hierarchies and titles at the door and are loosening up their governance over collaborative environments

Accompanying these trends in knowledge management is a new wave of collaborative technology, which many industry experts have deemed the "Web 2.0 era."1 This marks a turning point for the business process expert (BPX); unrestricted social networking tools, such as wikis, blogs, and community-moderated discussion forums, can help you transform processes and create more value in relationships between customers, partners, and employees — but only if you use this collaborative technology.

"Great discoveries and improvements invariably involve the cooperation of many minds."

— Alexander Graham Bell

What Collaboration Tools Are Available to the BPX?

A variety of collaboration tools are at your disposal. Which ones you use or implement will depend on your communication style as well as your enterprise's needs.

Wikis: Prevent Structure from Being a Barrier to Participation

While the most famous example is, of course, Wikipedia, a wiki is simply a group of Web pages that allows community members to add and edit content, often without needing special permissions or HTML skills. Wikis are most useful for creating collections of frequently asked questions, aiding process design, annotating business issues, reducing email floods, increasing efficiency when chronological discussions are unnecessary, and generally promoting creative thinking.

Imagine a business process improvement activity — an improvement for a discrete set of capabilities, for example — that is designed within an organization, but also derives input and experience from external collaborators. The Enterprise Service (ES) Package wiki at https://wiki.sdn.sap.com/wiki/ display/ESpackages/ES+Packages is a real-world example of how BPXs are collaborating via a wiki to brainstorm and share information about using enterprise services in ES bundles.

Blogs: Express Opinions Through an Informal Posting

A blog is a Web-based content posting, consisting primarily of periodic articles (normally in reverse chronological order). These are especially useful when you have one or more experts on a topic, or a continuous source of useful content serialized by a single author.

In the SAP community networks (see sidebar), blogs and their authors have prompted major software development changes, enabled code-sharing projects across companies, and served as powerful communication vehicles that supply BPXs with how-to knowledge and innovative business process solutions.

For the BPX, a blog can provide a window into a customer project and can link directly to artifacts stored in a BPX's repository that, in turn, can be reused by other customers and community members. The blog "Dispute Management with the Visual Composer — A first experience with xApps," posted at www.sdn.sap.com/irj/sdn/ weblogs?blog=/pub/wlg/5712, is an example of how the BPX community uses blogs to share composite applications. These applications, accessible in the SAP xApp Analytics: Composite Applications Resource Center, can be downloaded and used by other customers looking for new ways to access, analyze, and interact with SAP and non-SAP data.

Discussion Forums: Interact with Community Members in a Peer-Mediated Space

Forums are Internet facilities for holding discussions and posting user-generated content. These are ideal for quick problem solving and more interactive idea sharing. For example, a recent forum thread, accessible at www.sdn.sap.com/irj/sdn/thread?threadID=260706&tstart=0, is a lively discussion of feasibility studies — what they are, how to conduct them if you're assigned one, and what tools to use to help ease the process.

In some cases, forums can even reduce the need for customer support resources, especially as the efficacy of peer-to-peer interventions increase. In the SAP community networks, average response time — from initial post to first reply — is measured in minutes: between 6 and 18.2

The Technologies to Support This Collaboration

Supporting these collaboration tools are several technologies that enable a user-driven approach to knowledge collection and transfer. What makes them unique in a corporate setting is that they provide an open, unrestricted approach to knowledge assets, and are often more agile, accessible, and decentralized than a traditional repository approach. These technologies allow each user to determine what content is valuable and what taxonomy is most appropriate.

  • RSS — Real simple syndication; a family of Web-feed formats used to publish frequently updated digital content, such as blogs, news feeds, or podcasts. When a BPX seeks urgent, real-time news and updates, these feeds aggregate a personally defined list of relevant content. Google Reader3 is a common example of how to structure the important forums, blog comments, and topics found on the BPX Web site.

  • Folksonomy — A practice of collaborative categorization using freely chosen keywords; in other words, a group of people cooperating spontaneously to organize information into categories.4 Here, a BPX can communicate with peers, polling opinions and reaching out to alternate sources for ideas and experiences. Folksonomic tagging services, such as Diggit and del.icio.us,5 help users rank and order content, showing BPXs how their peers have rated certain knowledgebases, how-to's, and best practices.

  • AJAX — Asynchronous JavaScript and XML; a speed-enhancing load technique for creating interactive Web applications. AJAX streamlines work processes by providing more interactive access to Web content and forms. The benefits? Better user experience and reduced access time — two important goals for the BPX. When learning about these collaborative and usability-enhancing technologies, BPXs should focus not on how they evolved, but rather on how to use them to provide value to their organization, perhaps even rolling them out to begin conversations within their own company.

When learning about these collaborative and usability-enhancing technologies, BPXs should focus not on how they evolved, but rather on how to use them to provide value to their organization, perhaps even rolling them out to begin conversations within their own company.

SAP Communities Support This New Wave of Collaboration

SAP occupies a unique place in this new collaborative paradigm, hosting two well-known communities housed on the SAP NetWeaver platform.

The SAP Developer Network (SDN; www.sdn.sap.com) is home to developers who extend scripting languages, experiment with emerging technologies, exchange ABAP and Java code samples and snippets, create composite applications, and exchange conventional knowledge about SAP NetWeaver. The evolving Business Process Expert (BPX) Community (http://bpx.sap.com) draws business analysts, business and application consultants, business process architects, and process developers who share deliverables including case studies, methodologies, and solution maps, as well as customer-created modeling templates.

In both communities, BPXs can find content collateral — including articles, white papers, voice-enabled presentations, podcasts, videocasts, and sneak previews or trial downloads of emerging technologies — that can help them solve process challenges and close gaps between business and IT.

Conclusion

What's fascinating about new collaborative technologies is that they are prevalent not because of imposed corporate strategies or international conglomerates, but as a result of individuals — the customers, partners, and employees, including BPXs, who use them. The fact that enterprises now acknowledge the existence of these technologies and recognize their legitimacy is a testament to the zeal of their proponents and adopters. Even to those that may regard these technologies as too ungoverned or chaotic, the active use of these tools — in SAP online communities, for example — proves that the BPX can derive credible, reliable results, even from something that's unstructured and unfettered.



1 See thought-leading sources on Web 2.0 — the perceived second generation of Web-based services such as social networking sites and communication tools that emphasize online collaboration and sharing among users — in the "Additional Resources" section at the end of this article.

2 For more on SAP community networks, see "The Top 8 Things You Didn't Know You Could Do Through SDN and the BPX Community" by Mark Yolton in this issue of SAP Insider (www.SAPinsideronline.com).

3 Learn more about Google Reader at www.google.com/reader.

4 See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Folksonomy for more about folksonomy.

5 Visit www.diggit.com and http://del.icio.us/ to learn more.


Additional Resources

http://bpx.sap.com

"Make Collaboration Part of Your BPX Skill Set" by Swen Conrad in the January-March 2007 issue of SAP Insider (www.SAPinsideronline.com)

Web 2.0 concepts:

Marilyn Pratt joined the SAP Community Network team in January 2005 and is presently the evangelist for the Business Process Expert (BPX) Community. After nearly a decade acting as the liaison between IT, business, and the community in a communal enterprise in Israel, Marilyn returned to her native US and enjoyed seven years as a Certified ABAP Consultant and Senior Instructor for SAP Education. While instructing, Marilyn completed a master's degree in distance learning. She can be reached at marilyn.pratt@sap.com.

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