Adaptive Work Patterns in SAP Jam

A couple of people alerted me to this announcement by SAP last Monday about their new capability to support work patterns because it parallels in many ways to the message about adaptive case management.

What They Say

They position the offering specifically for sales and there are two clear advantages:  sales are important to management in every organization, and sales is an area where real knowledge work is needed.  In the video it says:

every deal is different, and requires different skills and expertise

This is the essence of knowledge work.  The position is diametrically away from the idea that work is simply doing the same thing every time. Everyone can think of a situation where a good salesman has come up with a creative way to put things together to win a deal, and the great thing about those success stories is that everyone wins: the customer and the vendor.  It is really great to see a serious effort to move beyond the idea of an office as a machine.

The emphasis is on unique work:

you spend a lot of time connecting the dots …  your job is difficult  …  you need to bring people and information together when and where you need it

These are very empowering messages and they acknowledge the principle that Peter Drucker emphasized: “a knowledge worker is a person who knows more about his or her job than anyone else in the organization.”

They talk about “work patterns” which are not quite the same as a business process.  They seem to be both more than a process in some ways, as well as much less than a process in other ways.  Sameer Patel sites these three qualities:

  • Centered around you:  they avoid the ‘omniscient viewpoint’ that a business process often takes, and does not attempt to isolate the process from the players.  Instead, embrace the uniqueness of every person’s needs, and attempt to use that to enhance their personal work from their personal working patterns.
  • Repeatable: this is idea from ACM that you build over time “reusable templates.”  It seem to me that this is not a formal definition of a template, but instead some easy way to reuse what you have done in the past, which is really what we originally meant by templates.
  • Flexible: Recognizing that nothing is fixed. You do not try to find the “one best way” but rather the change will never end, so don’t nail anything down.  Every aspect can be tweaked by the knowledge worker directly without the need for a process expert.

Clearly the goal is not to spend time designing processes in advance, but instead on the idea of designing by doing.  There is no hint of a separation between design time and run time.  You just do the work, and when it works well, you leverage the ability to repeat it.

I particularly like the emphasis on “just in time information” which again emphasizes the lack of pre-defining what you need.  Don’t plan in advance, but instead access the information just at the time that you need it.

What I don’t understand is that there is a list of 13 work patterns built in.  It is not clear how these patterns are relevant.

What They Don’t Say

Speaking louder than words are the standard phrases that they do not say.

  • Predefine a Business Process – at no point in the message do they say that you need a defined process before you do the work.
  • Discover the Process – similarly they never say you need to spend time to discover the process that you are using.
  • Best Practice – there is no implication that there is a single best way to do things, and that you or your organization need to find that best way and repeat it (although Sameer does mention a personal best practice at some point).
  • Design time / run time – there is no mention of someone designing things for use later.  I don’t actually know the product, so this might be nothing more than clever positioning, but what is important is that they position it this way.
  • BPMN – or any other graphical notation.
  • Business Analyst – there is no talk of a specialist doing this work. The focus is exclusively on individual work enhancement.

Conclusions

Disclaimer: I have not seen the actual product itself and can not know its flaws.  I may clarify a bit after I get a chance to investigate more.

I can comment on the positioning of the message, and that is clearly targeted at knowledge workers who need to get unpredictable work done.  They have a picked the domain of sales, and focused on spelling out the benefits of that kind of knowledge worker.  It is a very smart approach, and worth watching closely.  They are the latest big company (after Oracle recently) to announce an adaptive system for knowledge workers.

References

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2 Responses to Adaptive Work Patterns in SAP Jam

  1. Hi Keith, thanks for covering this as it is relevant to the ACM concept as you say. Cleverly SAP stays away from any discussion of BPM to not disrupt their current major offerings in these areas. What they do sounds more like case management than ACM, but it seems better suited than Oracle’s ad-hoc task approach.

    Nevertheless, it does seem to lack what at least I consider as very relevant for adaptive work patterns and that is goal- orientation, context awareness and content integration. There won’t be many work patterns that can be simply handled without that functionality.

    But yes, everyone should finally see that the idea of tying businesses down with flow-chart straightjackets was an aberration. The two largest vendors of business-driven transaction and process management systems have at least seen the light. I wonder when the analyst and BPM-expert community will finally wake up.

  2. Keith and Max, thanks. We were not targeting ACM specifically – we wanted to holistically look at what set of primary patterns exist for each user in an organization and model around this. However, we accounted for the fact that we cannot generalize this and that there needs to be customization flexibility to allow for individual preferences and expression as well as administrative settings. Context and Content awareness and integration is infact built in – SAP Jam knows what data its pulling from back end systems and assumes its hierarchy as well as the original access control. And finally, any lack of mention of things like BPM are absolutely coincidental.

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