Digitalization, the Web of Open Things and Process Management

With an understanding of the Web of Open Things (Woots), organizations identify potential scenarios for digitalization. Supported by process management, they furthermore enable their digital transformation.

"Woots" as the "glue" between strategy and implementation

The digital transformation in our society changes how we live, work, learn and communicate. Completing a list of all scenarios where digitalization triggers changes is virtually impossible. However, a recurring effect can be recognized: With upcoming change, it is difficult for organizations to transition from the digitalization strategy to the affected information systems. The strategy for new digital propositions, often defined by the management, is opposed to numerous technological options for its implementation.

But, considering the strategy and the technology alone is certainly not enough. There is nothing "glueing" generally abstract strategies with the technologies provided by various providers. For example, consider the introduction of smartphones and their impact on the relationship between companies and customers. The possibilities to implement new business ideas have increased immensely as a result of these small devices alone. Companies like Uber would not have been imaginable without this technology. However, the Californian business model cannot merely be explained by a clever strategy and new technologies. To understand the connection, the concrete derivation of the underlying business process is required. In the case of Uber, it is about providing a simple mobile process that connects independent service providers with potential passengers. Along this process chain of provider selection, physical delivery of the service - the actual journey - and billing of the service, digital technologies are used to provide customers with Uber's offer.

The digital business process is the "glue" between the strategic concept and the technology. It defines how digital strategy and technology can be brought together. This explains why an established concept from the 1980s is currently taking on new meaning: business process management. The ability to plan business processes flexibly and agilely is the central prerequisite for a successful digital transformation. Business Process Management is the starting point for fast digitization and optimization of business processes. But more importantly, it increases the agility as well as the ability of an organization to adapt to changing circumstances. In contrast, solely focusing on technological topics of digitalization can even reduce the chances for an organization to react to changing circumstances and lead to a "digital dead end". Avoiding this dead end is imperative if a company wants to react efficiently to changing market dynamics of digital offers.

Planning, introducing and operating technologies flexibly is the key competency that comprehensive business process management must support nowadays. It represents the "glue" that connects digital technologies and corporate strategy. A holistic view of strategies, technologies and the linking business process management, enables organizations to reliably evaluate new business ideas, make decisions and implement them on a sound basis. Business process management thus becomes the organizer and driver of digital change within the company. But how can it be pragmatically expanded into a design tool for digitization?

The concept of "smart things"

Surendra Reddy designs a corresponding concept of "Smart things that can think, act, learn and talk". He chose the name "woots" for these "smart things", an acronym for web of open things. Reddy considers new digital skills as having their own specific identity, intelligence, position and presence. Based on the internet, these "smart things" are capable of self-organization and communication with other things with or without human intervention. In order to control the flow of information and the associated activities, "woots" by his definition also embed a "tiny brain". It ensures context awareness, autonomy, business process intelligence and reactivity.

digital processes

An embedded memory stores a digital diary of an individual physical object, including its process experiences. This digital information is then shared with other devices, applications and its environment.* Sounds like science fiction. But it is not.

Think of the multitude of intelligent devices permanently connected to the internet that are spreading in our environment. From the digital electricity meter, the heating thermostat, to sensors embedded in our streets to intelligent surveillance cameras. It is impossible to predict which of these components will be combined in a future business model to create new digital solutions. However, it is certain that the task of designing digital solutions requires the combination of these "woots" and their technical implementation in a business process model. Only then will an overall picture be created, from the business-based to the technical solution.

In addition, the concept of "woots" is helpful when modeling digital business processes. A "woots" template is created for each activity within a business process. It contains a precise description of the future solution directly at the corresponding activtiy of the process. The resulting documentation helps to assign roles and responsibilites, prioritize requirements, plan quality, costs and times, analyze and evaluate risks, plan products and releases as well as select required technologies.

Thanks to predefined objects, implementing the "woots approach" with BIC Platform is uncomplicated and directly viable. The interconnection of strategic, infrastructural and integrating content is already provided within the meta-model of the BIC products. With reasonable effort, a process-based requirements list for the respective implementation of a digitization project is created.

Business Process Management and "smart things"

Underlying each "woots", there is a technical process as an executive unit. It is usually involved in the process flow. Various software components take over the actual execution of the business process in the background. The abstraction through modeling business processes with "Woots" enables a simple connection to the specialized application scenario. Additionally, specialized functional and non-functional requirements can be defined directly in the business process. The separation of these requirements form the executive units of the implementation results in a flexible and detached modeling. This procedure significantly simplifies the entire process of conceptual work around digitization. Subsequently, the modeled "smart things" are specified in a technical model for implementation. This includes the transfer of the process model into respective implementation models of individual technical solutions, as well as the design of comprehensive architectures and IT landscapes. The loose connection of the various modeling perspectives results in a valuable planning document which supports the implementation of digitization projects. Conclusively, business process management is a key component in this.

*) Reddy, Surendra (2015): Woots: Smart Things that Can Think, Act, Learn and Talk. In: Layna Fischer (Editor): BPM Everywhere (Lighthouse Point)

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