Jim Sinur is an independent thought leader in applying business process management (BPM) to innovative and intelligent business operations. Until recently, he was Research Vice President at Gartner Inc., covering the business process management sector.
This blog is an interview with Jonathan Sapir, the founder and CEO of SilverTree Systems. Jonathan is committed to bringing these worlds together with his technology Xpeditor. Let’s dig into the premise and find out the logic behind bringing these forces together.
Jim: How is the nature of work changing?
Jonathan: The virtualization of the workforce – where employee can work from anywhere – and the virtualization of work – where work may be done by anyone, inside or outside the organization – significantly increases the everyday problems all organizations experience: things falling through the cracks, lag time between tasks, and the lack of visibility over who is doing what when.
This means that we have to manage transitions better, I assume?
All of these problems come down to work transition – work transition is the silent killer of productivity of every organization. Like a relay race, things quickly fall apart when the transition of the baton between runners falters. In business, the point of transition is hard to see, so it doesn’t get nearly enough attention. But with virtualization of work and the workforce, effectively managing the transition of work becomes a critical success factor.
This has always been a problem, why such a big deal now?Typical work transition questions include:
- How do I know when you are done with your task so I can start mine?
- How do I know that you completed everything you were supposed to do before I get it so I don’t have to go back and forth to get what I need?
- How can I make the best decisions and take the right actions if I don’t have all the context I need?
- How do I know you are working on something, or if something is running late, without having to call or email?
It’s hard enough transitioning work successfully to the person down the hall, but when that person works for another company, is somewhere else in the world, and speaks a different language, successful transitions are infinitely more complex.
The complexity word pops up again. How can the combination of BPM & PM solve that?I think there has always been an artificial barrier between process management and project management. Project managers certainly have no interest in learning BPMN to run their projects. But every project of course is based on an implicit process, so if you are able to give project managers a way to easily exploit the process explicitly, there is an enormous amount of benefit to be gained. So while the benefit of having a time dimension for recurring processes is useful in being able to proactively manage resources and possible bottlenecks, it becomes extremely beneficial for unique processes – which are in effect projects.
So process management manages the transition of work and project management manages the dynamics of time?Yes. This combination helps organizations to focus much more attention on work transitions. They need to put in place a simple way to transition work between people inside and outside the organization, between people and systems, and increasingly, between people and “things”.
Successful transition includes:
- End-to-end visibility over who is doing what, in real-time, reducing the need for status meetings, and increasing the ability to preempt possible problems.
- A common medium through which everyone involved can communicate, including external participants.
- The ability to easily collaborate at transition points, where context is readily available.
- A clear understanding of what is required to be done before the work transition can take place. Because of the short shelf life of knowledge and the transient nature of workers, there has to be a way to provide fresh packages of knowledge to workers when they need to get something done. Includes context – be able to see conversations and decision made along the way.
- The ability to set monitoring thresholds so that notification, reminders and escalations can be automated to reduce lag time between transitions.
- The ability to automate rules to reduce the possibility of error when the transitions take place.
- The ability for work to follow the worker. With mobile, there is no longer some monolithic application to go to to take action – applications are made up of many “mobile moments”, specific functionality designed for specific users. The worker needs to be told when they need to do something, and this notification needs to come with everything they need to do complete the work – without having to go somewhere else.
So you decided to build Xpeditor to support both?
Yes. A few years ago, my company built a custom system for a fast food company that was installing a new point-of-sale systems in 6,000 stores across the country. This involved a complex process that required the coordination of many different parties – employees, vendors, contractors, franchises, training, etc. But there was also of course the need to schedule things and allocate resources as needed. Was this a process or a project? Clearly, both.
The reasons they ended up with a custom system because there weren’t any off-the-shelf packages that could do what they needed. As the application we built started to be used by other departments in the company, it became clear that there was a place in the market for a product built from the ground up to address both process and project management as equals. So we took what we had learned and started building a package that could be used by anyone.
Why did you decide to build this on Salesforce?
I think it is virtually impossible today to create a product with the scope of Xpeditor from scratch. Building your own infrastructure, databases, networks, social, mobile, and keeping up with the rapid pace of technological innovation just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Salesforce was an obvious choice for us, since it provides all the functionality you need to build – and run – your product out-the-box. And they have hundreds of thousands of clients and millions of users, so they can afford to have the best infrastructure, the best security, develop bleeding edge technology. This way, we get to keep our focus solely on Xpeditor functionality, and users can be assured that they have the power of salesforce.com to ensure availability, performance, scalability – the list is long. And Xpeditor gets to take immediate advantage of the continual stream of enhancements made to the platform by Salesforce.
So this means you get social, mobile, cloud & big data and other modern technical advantages, but you are stuck if you are not a Salesforce client already?
Every Xpeditor user requires a Salesforce license of some kind – like CRM, platform, community, Chatter. But organizations that don’t already use Salesforce can purchase a version of Xpeditor that includes an embedded Salesforce license. So the product is absolutely not restricted to companies using Salesforce.
Sounds good in theory. Who’s using it?
One of our early clients is one of the world’s largest clinical research organizations. They run drug trials across the globe. They have literally hundreds of projects running concurrently. The projects are based on processes that include hundreds of steps and many levels of flows within flows. The steps are executed over multiple years by a mixture of employees, vendors, partners and contractors, and a change in one project can impact many other projects. In this kind of environment, it is very difficult to get complete visibility over all projects, and know, in real-time, who is doing what when. This makes it extremely difficult to identify critical changes and their impact across the projects. Xpeditor is providing them with this kind of capability for the first time.