On the IT|Redux blog, Ismael blogs about Enabling Complex Workflows with Office 2.0. Here he presents his experience of connecting a series of standalone online applications, to provide a useful end to end business process.
The aim of Ismael's process was to automate the "lead to cash" process for conference sponsorships through the use of purely online services. As Ismael says himself, this isn't the most complex workflow he has seen, but has enough complexity to make it a useful illustration of what may people would just try and do manually because of the effort of trying to set it up with a traditional BPMS.
I'm impressed with what Ismael has working. For this level of complexity what he has done is probably more effective and appropriate than modeling and enforcing the process in Excel as would be done by most organizations. At the same time, by plugging components together end to end without a central point of orchestration or tracking makes the implementation feels brittle. This is not a reflection of the individual tools, more that I prefer to see automated business processes being coordinated from a central point. In any mashup where loosely coupled components pass messages from one to the next, if one component breaks or fails to pass on a message successfully to the next component, the process will not be completed, is unlikely to be recoverable and this will not be noticed unless a human goes back to check everything end to end.
I strongly believe in the importance of approaches that enable non-business users to implement business processes, and with the added complexity of integrating multiple components this is a challenge. Selecting the right tool for the job is important. In this case I might have chosen a system that incorporated more of the components that Ismael needed in a single package, to reduce the need for mashing up so much stuff. By using a system that already had seamless Forms, Process Management and Email, you could produce a less brittle system, hopefully with less effort. There are no Office 2.0 tools out there to do this at the moment, but there are vendors that offer Case Management tools, targeted at rapidly implementing just this type of business process.
It sounds like Ismael put this together partly to prove a point, and in doing so he has demonstrated that online Office 2.0 tools offer a decent approach to automating processes that others would have just run in Excel. That is a great step forward!