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The Future of Wiki Books and The Business Process Community: Talking with SAP

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What follows is my discussion with Marco ten Vaanholt, the head of SAP's Business Process Expert Community, and Dan Woods from Evolved Media. Dan is the author of SAP's NetWeaver for Dummies as well as Wiki's for Dummies, and in this podcast we discuss the book Process First: The Evolution of the Business Process Expert, where we delve into the very interesting story in how the book was developed, and what lessons they've learned for future Wiki books.

Listen to or download the 13:37 podcast below:



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---TRANSCRIPT FOLLOWS---

PS: Now, so the title of the book is Process First: The Evolution of the Business Process Expert. Tell me what the book is about and why is it relevant right now?

MtV: That's an excellent question Peter. I think that it's very relevant if you really look at the current economic situation. A lot of companies are looking at process optimization to a) figure out how they can deal with cost savings and b) how they can deal with this ever-changing, faster changing world.

So what will we did with the community a while back, we baptized a new role which is called the Business Process Expert role or in short BPX. And what we realized is for Service Oriented Architectures to work and Service Oriented Architectures are predominately used to actually help in these changing agile dynamic worlds for businesses to really adapt to that type of world.

How do you marry both Business Process Management with technology and architecture? And inside the book we try to explain what we call the business process perspective and how the world has changed, and the world of technology is changing, and how the business process expert role can help companies guide themselves through these situations.

The other thing that the book tries to do is kind of tie the technology side with the organizational change management side with the environment in which business process expert could succeed. It also explains the patterns of success so some of the early patterns of success of implementing this business process expert role.

So it all tries to come past the things that need to happen to a) implement the business process expert role and what environment to BPXer could ideally work, and how you can use Service Oriented Architectures as well as the BPX role to succeed in this dynamic role. Dan anything else to add?

DW: No, I think that you've summed it really quite well. I think the other thing to really add about the book is that it contains the experience of probably 50, 60 maybe even 80 or 90 people who contributed their thoughts and the lessons they've learned from being business process experts to the book so it's a book that's very close to what people are doing in the field right now.

PS: Great. And I think that it sounds very interesting how the book was developed. Could you tell me a little bit more about that process?

DW: Certainly Peter. The book was developed in a unique way because the business process expert idea was developed in a unique way. The business process expert idea started both as a community and as an idea of how people should work in companies to optimize their business processes at the same time.

In a way, the community and the business process expert idea, kind of grew up together. And the reason the book needed to be written is that the idea and the way people have acted as business process experts had evolved to such a state that it was important to capture what people were doing.

Now luckily, because there was a community of people talking about what they were doing and writing notes to each other, answering questions, putting up blog entries, it made it very easy to for us to use that community in the book writing process.

What we did was we wrote an initial draft of the book based on a series of interviews with people in Marco's network, all of them experts in the in the Business Process Expert Community. We then put that first version up and invited people to comment on it. It turned out that we got a reception from people who were really interested in contributing and over time more and more people found out about the project.

The reason that they could comment on it, is we put the book on a wiki which is an editable form of website where basically its a web page anybody can edit and also each page has an area that allow you to make comments about that page. Some people then looked at the content, they made comments on it, and we then interviewed some of the people who made comments, after we got comments on the first draft, we realized that we had missed some major points that were added by the community.

We then created a second draft and put that up and got even more feedback. So by the time we declared victory, and had our final version, the book was loaded with comments from people and input from people all over the world who have played various roles as business process experts in companies large and small. So the canonical form, the master form of the book is actually a wiki.

We've also published the book as a physical book that you can get on Amazon.com or any of the other book distributors that offer the book. But the master form of the book is the wiki and that's where the book will continue to evolve.

PS: Very interesting. Do you think this is going to be with one of the main ways book are developed in the future?

DW: I think that we learned something in doing this book that will help us do a better job in the future. The one thing that we probably could've done better is to first ask the community what questions they wanted to answer in a book before we did the first draft. What we did instead was we confidently went forth and just wrote that first draft.

So some people in the community felt that the book was sort of inflicted on the community not that the book came out of the community. But we realized that and we've done a lot of outreach to people to make sure that we wanted them to understand the book is really owned by them. And frankly, I think that this model works for certain types of books where the goal is to capture knowledge in the field.

I think for a book that was basically about inventing a new --like a novel, for example, I don't think this technique would work very well, or for somebody working on a mathematical proof inventing the proof, I'm not sure it would work. I think it will work really good to try to tear down or debug the proof, or any other document. So for this technique, I think will be really important when you're trying to capture knowledge from a large group of people.

And the things that we've learned about it are that you need to basically market the idea that people really can contribute because a lot of people, they don't realize that even though they see the book on a wiki, they need to a little encouragement to actually take that leap and edit that page. And so there's a variety of things that have been learned by people in wiki's.

One of the things is you don't want to make the pages to neat and well formatted because that discourages people from actually editing them. You want to have the page perhaps may be seem a little unfinished so people feel a little more comfortable about going in and adding their two cents.

PS: Right. Now, so as you said, the book is published on Amazon.com so what if someone listening to it this right now still has something to say about business processing?

MtV: I think -- so the book on Amazon is basically the first version, right. So you can have many versions in its life of a book. And what we try to do is say, well, this is more or less finished for a first version but as the industry evolves, as the business process expert role itself evolves, as there are more patterns of success, on how certain companies implement this role as well of this new approach of Business Process Management, SOA and BPXers altogether in their companies, we strongly encourage our community members to continue to contribute to the book and it is an evolving document.

Like any wiki, it's an evolving living thing. And as we progress, our hopes and our ideas around it is to continue to invite a lot of our community members to share and to share more. So the book is a living, breathing example of the community itself and how they're experiencing patterns of success, and how they're experiencing evolution of technology that will help implement the role in an easier fashion.

So that's one of the things that our hopes are. The good thing is that, yes, of course, the book is on sale for Amazon, that's a hard copy but we also allow people to sign up with the BPX Community and download a softcopy if they first want to read it before they start contributing.

PS: There's a very interesting picture of a mural on the front of the book, so how did that come about?

MtV: That's a great question. I think that's also very fun story right. So we get together with our community members each year at what we call our TechEds. This is where business process experts and techies come together to learn more about SAP technology but also how to use tools in order to improve business process management approaches, etc.

And while we did one of our events in Las Vegas last year, we had a mural artist asking community members to explain what they were doing in their daily lives and how the business process expert role was evolving within their companies and what kind of struggles they underwent in a day-to-day basis inside their companies.

And the mural basically personifies what a lot of the people said during these short interviews with the mural artist and then the mural artist would create your own interpretation of what was being said. So throughout the conference about 3 1/2 days, we had the mural artist create a very large mural of probably 40 or 50 feet. And then after that, we digitized that and that became eventually the front of the book.

Again what we tried to personify is the notion of community coming together to write the book and this is just another example how the community came together to even help write the cover, basically. So it was a very fun exercise and as we progressed through it, we said, well, why don't we use this mural, it makes sense because both the wiki approach and the mural approach is a joint collaborative approach and that personifies the way we treat the BPX Community here at SAP.

PS: Cool. Now what is the future of SAP's Business Process Expert Community then?

MtV: So there are a lot of things on tap for the Business Process Expert Community. What we try to do with the community is create many communities under the business process expert umbrella. We have communities that focus on solution implementation. We have communities that focus on industry specific implementation.

What we're trying to do is create an online environment as well as an off-line environment where people can come together to talk about Business Process Management, to talk about how to develop solutions to apply to their businesses so that the businesses themselves can become more agile as well as can implement this business process expert role more proficiently.

The future of the BPX Community is that we continue to grow our critical mass, of course. We are almost reaching a 500,000 member tally right now so what we're trying to do is we're trying to increase the amount of people who contribute and collaborate on in the BPX Community for the greater good of sharing business process knowledge and sharing industry and solution knowledge.

Other things that we're trying to figure out is that we can have more specific events where people can meet in person together with what we call our SAP User Groups and non-SAP User Groups so we're doing a lot of work in the United States with Business Process Management gurus, etc. So we continue to build a lot of collateral and a lot of content that will serve our community members.

Becoming a BPX Community member is free. All you have to do is go to BPX at SAP.com and sign up and you'll see a lot of content that can be very beneficial for understanding either SAP solutions, partner solutions, or how to approach a certain process improvement that you are dealing with and perhaps another custom has dealt with in the past that might have already shared some of their knowledge inside the community.

So what we'll do is we'll continue to provide a very strong collaborative platform that allows people to collaborate in an online environment. And through that, also be very distinctive because there's no other large business process community in the world like we have so as we continue to grow, our hopes are that we continue to be the single repository for business process knowledge as we move forward.

PS: Well, that's very interesting and it sounds like the place for business process people to congregate.

MtV: Absolutely.

ebizQ’s expert blog team covers a broad range of BPM, business integration, business analytics/monitoring, collaboration, content and related issues.

Peter Schooff

Peter Schooff is Contributing Editor at ebizQ, and manager of the ebizQ Forum. Contact him at pschooff@techtarget.com

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