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In little more than three years, Twitter, the free, real-time, short-messaging service (up to 140 characters, so called tweets), has become one of the dominant communication tools in an increasingly Internet-dependent world. Like other social networking tools, it has quickly monopolised a specific form of interaction, in this case micro-blogging. Twitter gained popularity through its capacity to be the first point of dissemination of information for events such as the emergency landing of a US Airways flight in the Hudson river, the Victorian bushfires and the Iranian presidential election earlier this year.

However, at this stage it seems that the potential of Twitter for the BPM community is (still) under-utilised. This short paper presents three scenarios exploring how Twitter could be employed in the context of process modelling and process execution.

Follow your processes

Currently, Twitter exclusively concentrates on the ‘people following people’ principle. However, there is no obvious reason why Twitter should be limited to people as the only type of resource that can be followed. In principle, it is possible to use Twitter to follow any corporate asset, as long as it has some important status changes and can create input that feeds the 140-character limited Twitter entry field. A business process could represent such a traceable corporate asset. For example, it might be of interest to managers to receive information in their Twitter feed every time a relevant change occurs to one of their processes. A related Twitter screen could look like the mock-up screen in the figure below. It shows three processes and changes, such as new role assignments, updated time attributes or new business rules. The benefit is that manager will receive short, sharp updates about processes in very much the same way they are updated about staff-related changes.

In addition to having updates appear on a Twitter webpage, tweets can also be managed through a whole raft of third party sites such as Facebook, FriendFeed, MySpace & iGoogle, and more importantly mobile devices such as IPhones and Blackberrys. This is especially important for travelling managers, or field-placed workforces, such as couriers, journalists, police, paramedics, and so on.

From a technical viewpoint, this will require process modelling tools to generate Twitter API calls, or alternately RSS feeds piped through middleware sites such as feedmytwitter.com, that are triggered by relevant changes to the process model. In order to avoid inflationary spam-like notifications, a sound ‘Twitter governance’ has to be setup. This could mean, for example, that notifications are only sent out when the process model undergoes a major version change.

Business process management using Twitter

Processes follow you

While the ‘follow your processes’ scenario may seem obvious, the other way around might be less intuitive. However, a relevant scenario is when a manager will be absent for a number of weeks. The tweet to that effect might be generated manually (by the manager) or automatically (by the HR system as part of a leave request process). Unlike existing proxy-solutions in Business Process Management Systems (BPMS), this scenario is relevant when the implications of the absence of the manager are less mechanistic. For example, a process owner assigned to a process might want to submit a process change request to this manager before he leaves. Alternatively, a process modelling tool could identify the roles that this manager takes in a process, and request substitutes for this duration. In addition to ‘process follow people’, processes could potentially follow any item that is aligned to a process (e.g., data, resources, applications, risk) as long as these are recognisable constructs in tweets. The integration challenges of this scenario are more difficult as it will require modelling tools that can receive and interpret tweets.

Use Twitter within a Process

The generation of a tweet as part of the execution of a process can be useful in three main scenarios. First, Twitter could be an additional inbox for heavy Twitter users. In this case, the BPMS would generate a notification item to the users associated with the role of the next activity. A link in the tweet would take the user to the executable workflow task. Second, process status updates and milestones can be ‘tweeted’. As part of our research at QUT, we have already implemented this interface for the workflow solution YAWL. Third, a tweet could be sent to a much wider community as part of a highly creative task, and thus facilitate embedded and convenient ‘crowd sourcing/solving’ as part of a process. Various Twitter communities allow the channelling of such tweets to an appropriate audience.

Acknowledgement

I am very grateful to valuable comments from Dr. Michael Adams, QUT, to a previous version of this paper.

About the Author

Dr. Michael Rosemann is Professor at Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Brisbane, Australia, and Co-Leader of QUT’s Business Process Management Group (Twitter @QUTBPMGroup). The best way to contact Michael is via email (m.rosemann-AT-qut.edu.au). You can also follow Michael on Twitter @ismiro.

Tags: BPM