Apps and the business process model

On 14 June 2013, Martyn Ould presented at our seminar on apps in pharmaceutical R&D on the subject of apps and the business process model.

Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it. Martyn began by telling us of his experiences at an electronics company many years ago when microprocessors first arrived, and the difficulties that introducing software into such equipment brought for those with no understanding of the particular challenges that come with software. The first introduction of personal computers into organisations brought similar issues.

Organised activity faces equivalent challenges today with the arrival of apps.  There is a risk of producing apps that provide all possible information whether needed by an individual or not (a ‘blunderbuss’ approach), typified by apps like Bloomberg, or at the other extreme producing many small apps that don’t fit together well so that one mobile device of the future contains an unmanageable plethora of apps to use.

The computing industry has faced this sort of problem before. Ted Codd invented the relational model of data that has allowed different software applications to share a common perspective on relevant data so that they can work together well. The basis of everything when humans work together, however, is process. Process needs a similar model, and Martyn gave an overview of his work on Riva and its key concepts, including roles, actions, interactions and units-of-work. Units-of-work help us structure our processes, while effective interaction is the basis of efficiency and process speed.

So, how should apps help with processes? Martyn indicated various ways we could think about applying apps, such as helping an individual with a given role in a process / unit-of-work, or perhaps a particular step or decision, or to help two or more roles interact more efficiently and effectively.

Martyn explained how the concepts in Riva can be used to devise a strategy for app development and deployment in the enterprise, ensuring that the best opportunities for apps can be reliably identified and that apps work together to enhance overall process effectiveness and efficiency rather than risk the opposite effect through ad hoc adoption.

Martyn brought his talk to a close by presenting a vision of the future, where apps assist their users by knowing the context and state of the various process instances they are being used to work on, and even of coordinating apps that present a task-list and overview to each user, coordinating work between multiple users and roles and even launching specialised apps to help the user undertake particular actions.

The slides are available here (809KB).

Posted in Design, Events, Requirements Engineering, Software Development, Systems Thinking, Technology