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April 14, 2009

ActionBase on message with email workflows

System provides controls for ad hoc business processes

By CBR Staff Writer

McKinsey once estimated that over 40% of office work involves the processing of unstructured data in so-called ‘tacit interactions’ and business processes that generate an outcome that is heavily dependent on interactions between people.

It is something that early-stage software house ActionBase has moved to address with software which automates some of unstructured processes involved in tacit interactions. 

The company claims to have 100 or so customers, including the likes of Coca-Cola, Texas Instruments and Orange among its marquee accounts in Europe, for its ActionBase in Office plug-in for Microsoft Outlook and Word.

Currently, most of the tacit processes in business are executed using standard productivity tools like email, or simply held in plain documents or spreadsheets. The problem is that follow-up becomes an impossible task.

All you get is overload of emails and documents, the company said. Existing workflow systems are too rigid and project management systems are considered over-kill.

Jacob Ukelson, CTO of ActionBase told us that because unstructured, tacit interactions trigger different sets of responses and drive different outcomes depending on the context, and so they have proven difficult to support with automation.

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“Think of how the minutes of a board meeting are handled. It is a document of record, which for some partcipants also becomes an action list.” 

He said the company had worked to develop its line in ‘human process management’ systems to provide some controls to these unstructured business processes. 

The company’s software manages action lists, it provides visibility and transparency along action chains, and supports documentation and an audit trail of any action taken.

The system plugs into Outlook and produces collaborative emails called ActionMails, which track what actions are assigned to who and aggregates any action information. “The system can be used to create emails whose status is constantly monitored and tracked and which kicks off a set of processes with an audit trail” he explained.

Full price for an entry level system is around $50,000 for the server including 20 seats. After that additional seats will cost around $300.

Ukelson said that the company was mostly competing against standard email systems and that while SharePoint was probably the nearest thing in the market to its software, both Microsoft and ActionBase view them as complementary rather that competitive products.

Backed by Vertex Venture Capital, Giza and the eXeed Technology investment group, the business has its headquarters in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Ukelson told us the company is preparing the launch of a new version of its core software for release by the end of the month, and is ready to start marketing a product add-on known as ProcessBridge.

As the name suggests, that tool is intended to reset process collaboration boundaries by letting users connect and collaborate with anyone who is part of the process.

The system connects to standard email systems, so that ActionBase can be extended further than clients of the installed base. The external participant receives what looks like a regular email, but ActionBase keeps that email and all its responses in the appropriate process context.

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