Early on the Mobile BPM Curve

Tim Scannell

Updated · Feb 04, 2013

Given that an increasingly large portion of work activity – and not just personal email correspondence, but activities that sit squarely in the middle of enterprise workflows — now occurs outside the office, it’s not surprising that companies are showing interest in mobile business process management (BPM).

However, despite moves by market leaders like Appian, IBM and Oracle, mobile BPM is still new to many enterprises.

“I see RFPs asking for ‘mobile support’ with no specifics of what that means other than desired devices,” says Janelle Hill, VP & distinguished analyst, Business Process Management Research at Gartner. “That said, the low-hanging fruit for mobile BPM is pretty ho-hum – everyone’s doing task approvals and notifications.”

From an industry perspective, mobile BPM – as with BPM itself – is fairly horizontal in that it can generally apply to a range of industries.

“Mobile is going way beyond so-called field workers or mobile workers,” says Hill. “Business professionals are all mobile workers now. On-call professionals – doctors, IT professionals, dispatchers, emergency personnel, lawyers, insurance claims personnel, utility workers, et cetera – are a big opportunity.”

Big Functionality on Small Screens?

Analysts say mobile BPM vendors, and their enterprise customers, require a better understanding of the potential of mobile BPM. They need to do more than implement a series of approve/reject capabilities.

“I think the application-centric nature of mobile will reinforce people’s perception that you need an app to do something, when you probably need visibility of the process at some point as well,” says Teresa Jones, principal research analyst, Business Process Management at Gartner. “From there, you know what should happen next, and the impact on the process if you don’t do something. But all that is hard to fit on a mobile device.”

As a result, mobile BPM is not only moving in the direction of native applications, it is also being facilitated by having BPM browser options on devices. The limited screen real estate of some form factors presents a challenge — something that, for now, has given an edge to tablets and especially the iPad. Apple’s iOS is more prevalent than Android, but that could shift with the market entry of 10-inch Android tablets like the Google Nexus 10.

“The small form factor is an issue,” says Jones.  “The iPad is the most prevalent tablet to date in business, and its usage has wider opportunities. Knowledge-centric processes – such as those that involve an expert in a hospital – are being widely demonstrated by BPM vendors as processes where tablets are being used.”

“Full BPM access, delivering the same functionality as on the desktop is really only coming with custom applications, from what I’ve seen so far,” says Sandy Kemsley, an independent consultant who specializes on BPM. “If you’re going to do something complex on a small form factor, you need to have a UX [Web usability] specialist to consider how it should be organized, which will be unique to the specific application.”

Adding Social to Mobile BPM Mix

The kicker will be mobile BPM’s ability to leverage social media. So far, there is lots of focus on approvals, task-based actions, monitoring via dashboards and metrics.

“The big opportunity is to incorporate ad hoc and social interactions and tasks triggered from mobile devices that alter the standard workflow of the app,” says Hill from Gartner. “Overrides, empowered roles with special user privileges – these can dynamically alter work and workflow.”

Mobile BPM Security

Mobile BPM’s ability to assist in decision-making while in the field, and incorporating this into business processes, can include all manner of data. For example, image capture – it could be a signed document or a photo of an incident scene – is now being built into many mobile BPM apps. But there are pitfalls here, with the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) phenomenon adding to security concerns.

“The big barrier to mobile adoption is security, especially for BYOD,” says Sandy Kemsley, an independent consultant who specializes on BPM.  “Some BPM services require that the mobile device connect to the vendor’s cloud before tunneling through to the customer’s servers, which is a no-no in many industries.”

Kemsley says that, in the case of BYOD, there needs to be a way to fence off a portion of a personal device for corporate use, and control that without having to take control of the entire device. This is a trade-off that could deliver the best of both worlds – assuming the device’s form factor and capabilities can support full BPM.

A graduate of McGill University, Timothy Wilson joined IDC Canada in Toronto as a research analyst in 1997. In 2000, he began T Wilson Associates and continued to consult for research companies, as well as working directly with large vendors such as Microsoft and SAP. Throughout his career Timothy has contributed to the IT, trade and mainstream press. He has lived and worked in Latin America and is proficient in Spanish. He has received a first place CBC Literary Award and a Gold National Magazine Award for his non-fiction writing.

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