By Paul Liesenberg

I can’t believe it’s been 10 years since I wrote, blogged and presented the concept of Collaboration-Enabled Business Applications (see an example here). It’s fascinating to see that, while we’ve extended the range of integration between business process management and collaboration applications (as in voice, video, messaging and emailing), a more thorough integration that logs the complete set of data and knowledge worker communication that fuel digital, collaborative business processes remains elusive.

In another blog around that time, I wrote: “The problem with the work flow for knowledge workers is that, while it structures an activity and captures the documents we produce as part of that, it fails to capture what we could call collaboration metadata. And the latter is of vital importance to improve knowledge worker productivity.” And that shortfall still hampers collaborative business processes.

I have used the term “collaborative business process” twice, and while the term seems self-explanatory, it deserves to be defined: whether within a company or an ecosystem of partnering companies, we observe critical revenue generating business processes that depend on knowledge workers sharing information, communicating and reaching quick consensus to drive mutually beneficial outcomes.

The problem is that these collaborative business processes, which just happen to be the very lifeblood of the digital economy, remain fragmented: every participant keeps their own representation of the truth based on several sources, which may include:

• Data kept in a local repository that other participants in the business process have no visibility into other than when shared in a meeting or any other collaborative effort.

• Video, voice or email communication to exchange information, and which sometimes leads to business process participants to update their local data representing what they perceive to be the current consensus in the state/stage of the business process.

In a nutshell, there may be as many unreconciled versions of the state of the business process as there are participants, data repositories and collaboration tools. And each one is a multiplier when it comes to the number of resulting “ledgers” (ie sources of truth).

Unfortunately, from a business process architecture perspective, this creates several problems that can slow down and even cripple a collaborative business process. The fundamental issues include:

• Unsynchronized data ledgers: Each participant in the data process logs their personal interpretation of the business process in their very own, insulated data ledger.

• Uncorrelated data ledgers and collaborative events that drove the update of local data: the live meetings, the email exchanges and other communication that took place to drive the update of data is never correlated or kept track of as part of the business process.

• The drift that happens between locally kept data ledgers and individual interpretation of the collaborative exchanges very often leads to the participants’ local perception of the state of the business process to eventually state their disagreement with the updated state of the business process.

The combination of the 3 factors above costs the digital economy billions of dollars a year in lost productivity. As soon as locally kept ledgers diverge and the communication that led to that divergence can’t be tracked reliably (which is impossible to do unless you find a tool to integrate both data and collaborative elements of the business process), the collaborative business process comes to a screeching halt. And without a way to log every step and every exchange of the collaborative business process that lead to the current state of conflict, the business process will get reset to stage zero. And costly audits to reconcile the privately held ledgers will be needed. The overarching human communication that led to that state will simply be forgotten because it wasn’t tracked.

The fundamental problem is a lack of a secure, trusted infrastructure technology that all participants in a shared, collaborative business process can trust. Hence everybody maintains their own private ledger, and the reconciliation layer is human communication, which can be both inexact and open to interpretation.

But now a silver bullet to address the needs of collaborative business processes is making it into the mainstream: Blockchain technology.

With Blockchain technology, it is possible to immutably record every exchange that drove a data update. It is easy to give every participant 100% up-to-date visibility into the current state of the collaborative business process: every update of data and the rationale for it. Including, and this is key for Unified Communications integration into a business process blockchain, all related collaborative exchanges between the knowledge workers driving the business process, be it via voice, video, email, messaging or any other means.

The integration of business process systems and unified communication applications has been elusive until now. Blockchain provides the foundational technology to finally, securely, indelibly link the entire track that drives the collaborative business process. For example, every participant would be able to easily see a critical update to shared data and click on a link to see the exchange that drove that update.

That also means the business process never needs to reset to zero to reconcile it with a state of truth. The last, mutually agreed upon logged state of the business process will always be there, and the business process only needs to reset to the immediately previous state, saving every participant time and money.

The integration of business process data and the overarching collaborative tools that drive it is a very powerful tool in the digital era. It does represent a silver bullet for knowledge worker productivity as well as to ensure data integrity and compliance.

It is safe to predict that very soon you will witness how Blockchain technology becomes an integrating, record-keeping link between business process data and the various knowledge worker collaborative tools that drive that drive the updates to such data.