After a break for refreshment (archaeology in the Levant) I am back to face further questioning in the Court of Industry Opinion, and particularly from the colleague who recalled a paper written in 2009 as an Outsell CEO Topic: “Workflow: Information’s New Field of Dreams” and argued that the industry had moved so quickly in the past two years that this did not represent any sort of summation of where we were today. She was right, and a little research shows how I underjudged the real position two years ago, and how the iterated aspiration that lies at the root of workflow as an information services model is now maturing rapidly. Worse, I had underestimated how much the new world was beholden to the old. In the new edition of this report, labelled Version 2.0 and published yesterday (http://www.outsellinc.com/store/products/993), I have retraced my steps and looked again at the importance of metadata and its long history, of taxonomic control and semantic search  as contributors to our dream of creating living models of streams of working activity, involving deeply different parts of the workforce. And I am sure that I shall revisit and develop this area in Version 3.0, should I  ever get that far, and that we shall find that much of the XML-based technology which has been so useful in creating the agile publishing environments of today (MarkLogic would be the market leader with particular resonance here) will be even more useful as we restructure content to fit the shapes required in different workflow roles.

And then something else happened today. Thomson Reuters, whose work in creating a Governance, Risk and Compliance (GRC) Division I have covered here in detail, launched their Accelus Suite (http://thomsonreuters.com/content/news_ideas/articles/legal/4292965), a rebranding of the 40 or so products and services they bought (Complinet) or borrowed from other parts of the group into 12 solutions areas. I have covered this in detail today in an Outsell Insight (https://clients.outsellinc.com/insights/index.php?p=11468) and do not wish to repeat that here, but it is important to remind ourselves of some key issues. This work has taught us, for example, that the outstanding work done by Lexis Nexis in putting together Seisint and Choicepoint to create a risk assessment workflow engine for the insurance industry is a “vertical” model for the industry. Thomson Reuters Accelus Suite is a “horizontal” model, and while its first targets are financial services players, the elements of the Suite (a Governance, Transactions and Legal Risk set, a Compliance and Regulatory Risk set and an Audit and Internal Control set) are common to all businesses of any scale. In addition, all of these elements require elements of training and education, risk mapping and assessment, audit and accountability, and communication of audited results – upwards, for example, via this Division’s Boardlink environment, a communication tool for risk-responsible directors.

Hang on a minute. There is one problem in all of this. As the Accelus Survey, published with this launch as the first in a regular series reminds us, the one thing we know about corporate life is that the legal department, financial control, the auditors, the compliance officer, the tax advisor and the people who do risk assessment and management all, literally, speak different languages. The Survey points out that 94% of the 2000 respondents saw this as a major issue, and it is surely here that the metadata and taxonomic control elements take centre stage. We will not improve risk management generically unless all of these different people can talk fluently and with precision to each other and to outside agencies, and the GRC Accelus Suite, if it is to succeed, must address that core issue. It is the contention of its leaders that this has been done, and while we all know that “done” is a way of saying iterative development is in train, one assurance lies in the size of the industry sample so far engaged. The Accelus Suite platform now claims more than 100,000 users, from each of the job segments in the workflow, providing a community whose feedback should give drive and direction to fitness for purpose. In this environment, the applications must grow to meet the needs (unlike my new shoes, where the foot must change, painfully, to fit the format!).

So what will these workflow environments grow to become in the industry as a whole? Thomson Reuters position Accelus Suite as a brand and line of business as large in stature and importance as Westlaw or Eikon. This is big. When I spoke earlier in the cycle of building a new business in the interstices between Thomson Reuters’ two well established branded businesses in law and financial services this was no exaggeration. And there is another very striking feature of this launch. Have a look at Regulatory Risk Mapper within the Accelus Suite and you will see an old industry trait  – discovery – and a new one – visualization. The point of the Mapper is to detect change (Thomson Reuters recorded 12500 important regulatory rewrites last year) and map it onto policy. Then it can be flagged and dealt with at a variety of different levels and many different ways. And it is what distinguishes an information solutions business from an information research business. And makes Dreams re-iterate.


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  1. Phil Cotter on April 26, 2011 10:33

    Great strides are undoubtedly being made by a wide range of information service providers to deliver their solutions in a way that they can be used to drive decision making and workflow within the customer’s organisation.

    However, decision making in even the simplest of businesses is a complex process. A wide range of factors, ranging from regulation and compliance issues, through internal policies to practical considerations such as multiple channel delivery make the challenge of mapping workflow processes and decision trees a daunting task for even the largest organisations.

    Here in lies one of the obstacles to the nirvana that workflow solutions, potentially promise. To be truly effective a business needs to codify it’s internal rules and processes and be able to integrate them into the workflow systems it uses, not only does this require significant human resources but it also requires workflow solutions that allow users to build and maintain the business processes and decision trees for their business. Within this environment they must be able to test new processes and validate the outcomes and be able to run the processes as executable code within their own environment, in many cases integrating with legacy systems.

    Undoubtedly big strides are being made but Nirvana remains a distant point on the horizon.