Integrating connected objects, the new process actors

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According to Gartner, there will be nearly 26 billion devices on the “Internet of Things” by 2020. But the term “Things” encompasses a wide range of devices that are very different from each other in both nature and function, from connected armband to autonomous robots with embedded intelligence. How to integrate them in business processes? […]

According to Gartner, there will be nearly 26 billion devices on the “Internet of Things” by 2020. But the term “Things” encompasses a wide range of devices that are very different from each other in both nature and function, from connected armband to autonomous robots with embedded intelligence. How to integrate them in business processes?
 
Process actors have evolved over time
 
From humans manually processing tasks following the flow of physical products or cases, value chains are now more often driven and traced in workflows facilitated by BPM suites, ERPs or other case management systems.
 
This digitization of processes has opened for further automation of manual work by orchestrating organisations´ business capabilities nested in its IT systems. In the meantime, the human interface with the process is shifted to an application on a computer, and now increasingly to mobile devices with the generalization of smartphones and tablets and their new related usages.
 
Connected objects find naturally their place as new level of automation with device to process interaction, without any human intermediation. The objects behave as decentralised systems in addition to the process orchestrator and interfaces with other IT applications. But practically, they will play different roles in processes depending on their capabilities. 
 
Connected objects that can tell
 
Sensors are “things” that provides information but won´t perform any action.
 
Smart meters are a typical example of those devices which outputs can be included in processes to provide hard facts influencing behaviours and supporting better decisions. In the home area, the internet connected thermostats and fire alarms Nest recently acquired by Google may trigger alerts instantiating preventive intervention processes.
 
These new sources of information can even transform business models such as car insurance: Folksam through its “grönt ljus” (green light) initiative and car-embedded device is on the way to propose advance pay-as-you-drive models depending on respect of speed limits or environmentally friendly driving behaviour.
 
Integration in business processes is critical for a successful transformation of these opportunities. The information collected by sensors can typically materialize as an event that would trigger a new case (fire detection) or make an existing case progress (arrival of a towing car at the place of an accident). Those events may be related to one sensor or insights combining information from many sources as described in one of my previous posts.
 
Connected objects that can also interact
 
More complex and interactive objects may be able to perform actions, provide information about its results and even perform autonomous analysis.
 
From a business process point of view, they just need to be considered as proper process actors, just like humans. And as any actor, they would have their own “swim lanes” and tasks to perform in traditional process flowcharts.
 
Provided the integration of new actors is fairly intuitive and model-based (which is the case in most of BPM Suites) rather than deeply nested in complex coding, the addition of these intelligent objects can go smooth. It would be just a single interface with the new connected system or service, that then will be able perform automated tasks wherever needed in processes. And this, accomplished with quick time-to-market.
 
Here again, the burden of legacy systems can be an obstacle that BPM solutions would help to overcome not to be stuck in endless system-to-system integrations.
 
Do you feel your business processes and IT landscape have all the right prerequisites to easily integrate new machine actors and leverage the “Internet of the Things” in your business processes? Make it happen, think BPM!

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