The Human Touch - InformationWeek

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3/23/2004
01:06 PM
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The Human Touch

Contrary to what some might think, automation will likely increase the frequency with which humans must interact with business processes. How can you make this essential connection efficient and effective? Business process coordination offers a smart way to address the challenges.

Large-scale business processes — even those now automated to a great extent — still call for human involvement at pivotal points. Frequently, activities streamlined by business process automation (BPA) will not be completely automated; they will be coordinated. Coordinating the entire business process will not eliminate human involvement. However, it will increase overall process efficiency by enabling activities to be routed, escalated, and monitored.

This article discusses how to utilize semistructured communication to augment a business process. It briefly describes three major trends: more extensible and flexible business process technology, programmable communications servers, and the ability to categorize and analyze data more efficiently. We contend that together, these three trends will enable greater business process coordination (BPC).

Relevant Processes

Most large-scale business processes presuppose human involvement of some kind in various phases along the way. Decision points, for example, often call for human assistance. Two primary initiators of manual intervention are critical decisions that involve large sums of money and exceptions that necessitate that transactions be overridden and processed in a nonstandard way. In this article, we will discuss a returns process, which offers a good demonstration of human interaction at different phases of a business process.

Seamless interaction between human and computer resources participating in a business process requires consideration of the differences between human communication and communication as computer systems perform it. The main difference, of course, is that the messages exchanged between computer resources must follow strict, predefined semantics for the computer resources to understand each other. Humans can communicate in a more informal manner and often make sense of each other even if the message contents are partially formed at best.

The inevitable interaction between human and computer resources should be designed so that these fundamental differences have as little effect on the interaction as possible. The best solutions presuppose behavior modifications by both the human users and the computer systems. Human participants have to allocate an extra few seconds every time they interact with the system in order to categorize their messages. And computer systems have to become intelligent enough to understand the semistructured messages created by humans.

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