Software AG Launches AlignSpace Social Network for BPM

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Software AG's business is helping applications talk to one another, but now it wants to get people talking -- about BPM (business process management).

The company is branching out from its existing businesses of legacy application integration, SOA (service-oriented architecture) governance and BPM to build a social network, It hopes enterprises will use the network to discover information about their business processes and then automate those processes effectively -- perhaps using Software AG's tools.

While it can be relatively easy for businesses to improve the processes used by a single team or department, one challenge in developing efficient processes across departments is that "Each department has a different language and a different way of thinking. It's even more complex across companies," said Software AG CEO Karl-Heinz Streibich in a news conference at the Cebit trade show in Hanover, Germany, on Monday.

To break down those linguistic and cultural barriers, Software AG decided to turn to social-networking systems, more often associated with teenagers than managers.

"Young people have more advanced technology at home than we do in the workplace. They have worldwide social networks, but companies still have IT silos at the scale of their own departments," said Streibich.

Software AG Chief Product Officer Peter Kürpick said the AlignSpace social network will give companies a way to overcome the first hurdles in modelling and improving their business processes.

"Our customers say 'I love BPM, but give me a way to open the very first door,'" said Kürpick.

The idea is that employees of an enterprise will create profiles on AlignSpace describing the projects and processes they are working on, and the skills they have, while the service will suggest colleagues with the right skills or process experience to help.

Existing business-oriented social networks already go some way to doing that, but Software AG wants to go further, incorporating tools into AlignSpace for exchanging documents and modelling processes.

"You can go all the way from taking notes to doing the initial level of modelling -- and then export it to whatever BPM tool you are using," Kürpick said.

AlignSpace will be compatible with Open Social specifications for social-networking services, he said, allowing members to log in or invite colleagues more easily, and perhaps later to import or exchange information to fill out their profiles.

The service is still in very early beta testing, and Software AG is showing only screen shots, not demonstrating the Web site at Cebit. The company plans to push out successive beta versions throughout the year as it recruits members to the community, releasing a more polished version next year.

The business model for the site is also at an early stage of development. The service will remain free at least through 2010 as Software AG builds the community. Beyond that, a per-user fee is unlikely, as this would present barriers to communication, but revenue could come from BPM consultants promoting their services within the site, from a marketplace for more advanced services, or from the creation of white-label or private BPM communities, Software AG executives said.

Software AG's branding on the site will be discreet -- probably more so when it's finished than in the beta version, said Mike Lees, senior director for BPM product marketing at Software AG. That's because the company hopes it will become an open platform attracting other BPM vendors too.

Finding a name for such a network is difficult, especially when it must be equally meaningful (or equally meaningless) in many languages, said Lees. For a project that's all about being together it's perhaps unfortunate that the company plumped for a name that sounds like "alleine," the German word for alone.

Cebit runs from Tuesday through Sunday at the Hanover Fairgrounds.

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