BPM Voices: IBM Blueworks Live = IBM BPM BlueWorks + IBM BPM Blueprint + More!

This column describes some of the key features of IBM Blueworks Live, IBM's cloud-based community collaboration and business process management offering, launched in November, 2010. This content is part of the IBM Business Process Management Journal.

Wilfred Jamison, Ph.D., Senior Technical Manager, IBM

Dr. Wilfred C. JamisonDr. Wilfred C. Jamison has spent almost four years in the area of Business Process Management. He was a manager and a team lead for the WebSphere Business Monitor development team where he promoted the notion of BAM Everywhere. He was also active in the areas of BPM solutions for industry verticals. Dr. Jamison worked with the BPM BlueWorks development team as a performance architect and chief programmer. Most recently, he was involved in delivering the first release of Blueworks Live.



19 January 2011

In November 2010, IBM unveiled a new BPM cloud offering called IBM Blueworks Live, shown in Figure 1. Current users of IBM BPM Blueprint and IBM BPM BlueWorks now have a single place to go to experience BPM in the cloud. Blueworks Live combines the best of the previous offerings--the community aspect of BPM BlueWorks with the streaming features of Blueprint, and much more.

Figure 1. Blueworks Live inherits the familiar user experience and interface of BPM Blueprint
Blueworks Live

In this column, I want to introduce you to a few things everyone should know about Blueworks Live.

Community integration

By combining and enhancing the best features from IBM’s BPM Blueprint and BPM BlueWorks, Blueworks Live provides a greatly improved BPM SaaS offering. The social BPM aspect that I discussed in Get social with IBM and BPM is one of these features. Blueworks Live’s idea of public community includes BPM-related tweets accessible through public BPM streams (see Figure 2) and blogs by regular bloggers (see Figure 3). Business process templates created using Blueprint’s popular process editor are also available publicly. The public community is accessible by all users, registered and non-registered alike.

Figure 2. The public BPM stream is the center of the public community
The public BPM stream is the center of the public community

(See a larger version of Figure 2.)

It's readily apparent that the one feature that was given a lot of design consideration is the private community. A private community is created for every account in which innovative collaboration among users in the account takes place.

Figure 3. You can still find your favorite bloggers from BPM BlueWorks in IBM Blueworks Live
Favorite bloggers

(See a larger version of Figure 3.)

This notion existed in both BPM BlueWorks and Blueprint. But this time, the private streaming of activities that was available in Blueprint is enhanced, as shown in Figure 4. Notice that both private and public streams are visible to the user. Note also that only entries the logged-in user has the permission to see appear in the streams.

Figure 4. The private activity stream keeps everyone up to speed with the activities in the account
private activity stream

(See a larger version of Figure 4.)

Another new social feature worth mentioning is the ability to create posts in the private community. Other users can reply to these posts, enhancing the social interaction.

IBM BlueWorks also introduces the notion of creating "smaller communities" within the private community. These smaller communities are called spaces. Spaces are a way of managing the larger community in more logical sub-organizations. A possible scenario is creating a space for each department in a company account, such as Accounting, Purchasing, Engineering, and so on, as shown in Figure 5. Users have to be members of a space in order to access it. Users can be members of multiple spaces. Within a space, a user can author and review process documents, depending on the permissions given to him or her in that space. Users can have different permissions in different spaces. All assets that are created, such as process documents, must live in a space and can be shared among the space members.

Figure 5. Example of spaces within an account
Example of spaces within an account

A space also has its own stream for all activities happening within the space. Members can post to the stream and reply to posts, as shown in Figure 6. Entries in a space stream also appear in the private community stream, but only if the logged-in user has permission to see those entries.

Figure 6. Activities within a space can be monitored through the space's stream
Monitoring activities in a space via a stream

(See a larger version of Figure 6.)

The concept of community is so central to Blueworks Live that a new type of license is available called the community license. A user with this license can participate in Blueworks Live through its community features alone.


Doing business in the cloud

One of the greatest values provided by Blueworks Live is something that wasn't available in previous offerings: the ability to define simple business processes and execute them in the cloud. This feature is what sets Blueworks Live apart and offers a quick on-ramp to running business processes in the cloud.

There are two types of simple business process patterns that are supported in the initial release: simple workflow and checklist. A simple workflow is a sequence of tasks that need to be completed in a specified order. If any of the tasks cannot be completed, an option to cancel the work is provided. A task in a simple workflow may require human approval. A checklist, on the other hand, is just a set of tasks that needs to be completed regardless of the order. In other words, there are no dependencies among these tasks. As with a simple workflow, if any of the checklist tasks cannot be completed, an option to cancel the whole work is provided.

Blueworks Live calls this feature of defining and executing simple business processes process automation. While the process automation that is provided by Blueworks Live is still rudimentary, it's a big step in providing the foundation for the next iteration of more sophisticated process patterns.

As a simple illustration, you can easily automate a process with a click of a button and choose between the two process patterns or types, as shown in Figure 7, where the process Submit Purchase Requisition is a simple workflow.

Figure 7. Automating a process is as simple as clicking a button and filling out a form
Automating a process

The process automation definition that is created is called a Process App. The process app must also belong to a space. Every process app needs to be configured, which includes listing the tasks that comprise the workflow. In this example, we defined the workflow to have five discrete tasks, as shown in Figure 8. In a simple workflow, a task may require an approval. For example, the third task requires that somebody from the Accounting department approve the purchase requisition. Once configured, the process app is shared with participants in the account so that it can be used. A participant is a registered user in the account, who has the ability to launch process apps (that is, initiate and start) and execute tasks. This means that a participant with access to this process app can launch a specific work item that follows the workflow defined in the process app.

Figure 8. Configuring a process app requires listing the tasks that comprise the workflow
Listing workflow tasks

Before a user can launch a process app, he or she needs to assign the tasks to certain individuals in the account and specify their due dates, as shown in Figure 9. As soon the user clicks Launch, the first task assignee is notified of the task that he or she needs to accomplish. Since we have a sequential workflow, other assignees will only be notified after the task that immediately precedes their task is completed. If this was a checklist process, all task assignees would be notified at the same time since the checklist doesn't require an order or sequence in which the tasks must be completed. In Figure 9, Kevin is the first to be notified of a task that is assigned to him.

Figure 9. Launching a process app involves assigning owners and due dates for each task in the workflow
Launching a process app

When Kevin logs in to his account, he sees the list of outstanding tasks that are assigned to him in the Work tab. He also gets reminders for all tasks that are overdue. He can see the details of his task by simply clicking it. Figure 10 shows an example of what he sees. Comments and replies can be posted on this specific work item to facilitate communication among the people involved.

Blueworks Live also provides the flexibility to add new tasks when necessary. For example, Kevin may decide to create a task for Wil to review the specifications and submit a summary of the required flooring. When Kevin has completed this task, he can click Complete and the task goes to his list of completed tasks. Meanwhile, a task is created for Olivier, who owns the next task, and a notification is sent to him. This procedure continues until the last task is completed, at which time the work item is fulfilled and completed. Note that in situations when a task owner is unable to perform the task, it can easily be reassigned to another user.

Figure 10. Task Assignees have visibility of the whole workflow and can perform actions on their tasks
Task Assignees have visibility of the whole workflow and can perform actions on their tasks

This is a simple example of a business process that is easily executed and coordinated within Blueworks Live. A view of the different tasks, their assignees and the current status of the entire work item is available in the cloud. This is what we mean by BPM in the cloud!


Conclusion

Blueworks Live is the integration of the best features of BPM BlueWorks and BPM Blueprint, and more. The enhanced community features and the ability to automate simple processes in the cloud are just a taste of things to come!

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