Often the problem with widespread adoption of anything is ‘what is it called’ and ‘what will it do for me’.

Social software in the enterprise and particularly when related to BPM, coined SocialBPM is in this camp.

Nimbus does not sell a social software platform, but has implemented a 3rd party application internally and is actively looking at the market requirements for SocialBPM. So this is  my  perspective rather than a thinly veiled sales pitch. So, please read on.

SocialBPM was explained by Elise Olding in a recent research paper, which sadly is only available to Gartner clients, called “Social BPM: Design by Doing”. She did a great job of starting to explain what SocialBPM by highlighting 2 very different perspectives, to which I have added a 3rd, which I have described below with some of the issues I see.

1. Social by Design: Collaboration around process improvement

Example: The process for getting a client case study developed and signed off.

This is the discussion between people about how to improve a particular step or related content in a process flow. The initial discovery of processes is often in workshops, but once deployed and executed, then it is critical that there is a feedback mechanism so those actually using the processes can identify issues or suggest improvements. Typically this is ‘send the process owner an email’.

With SocialBPM the discussion is all linked to the automated or manual process step, related document, form, system, metric or compliance statement. Feedback could be simply a rating, or it could be suggesting improvements. To make it work, the collaboration needs this structure, and the recent Harvard Business Review article Want Value From Social? Add Structure echoes the point. The structure is the connection to a process or process related content. Also, this should be as simple and intuitive as using Facebook. After all 750 millions users can’t be wrong.

Simply starting a discussion topic called “How do I get a case study written’ and hoping that people will pitch in or ‘swarm’ may help to get the case study written, but is not the best use of valuable resources. Someone may suggest the correct way of doing it, or perhaps sidestep some critical governance steps. But it certainly won’t improve the overall collective intelligence of the organization or help others who have the same problem in the future.

This was at the heart of my article Social technology is lipstick on a pig. So until the “Yammer crowd*” (Yammer, Jive Software, SocialText, CubeTree, …. ) genre of social software, which is ‘standalone social technology’, is tightly integrated into BPM modeling and execution software it is making life worse not better in the long term. Although for some end users it feels like short term pain relief. But for others it is yet another place to check for messages.

*I have used Yammer as an example as they have managed to raise their profile very effectively as “Twitter for the enterprise”, but there a large number of software vendors with social functionality with Jive Software leading the pack in terms of revenue according to Gartner’s research paper “Magic Quadrant for Social Software in the Workplace” which lists the top 40 vendors.

2. Design by Doing; Collaboration around ‘getting a job done’

For example: The team working to get the case study for a client, Novartis, created and signed off.

This is not about improvement, but getting a number of people together to get a particular problem solved – ie a specific instance of a process. It may be the desperate, ad-hoc fire fighting to get a problem fixed or it may be the normal step in an orderly process which requires a collaborative effort. In both cases social technology can reduce the friction, but also include what might be described as the “unexpected experts”. The person whose role, job spec, position in the organisation and biography does not suggest their expertise and the value that they can give. This is the hidden value that social networking software can uncover, provided it is instrumented correctly i.e. the right metrics are being collected for later analysis. But there is another important aspect to this form of collaboration.

These discussions are more than just discussions or chatter  – they are on-line meetings – with decisions and actions. So any social networking software needs the capability to create, assign or track actions. Otherwise these critical discussions are no better than the quick coffee machine or corridor conversations. Interesting, but they don’t move the game on. Again the current software offerings are still evolving and many still don’t have the full range of capabilities to really be effective.

This is the area where I am seeing most implementations and the business case for “social is the new way of working – forget processes”. Which sounds so refreshing unless you are in a regulated industry or have compliance requirements. So that excludes food, pharma, oil & gas, financial services and any US quoted company with Sarbanes Oxley demands. Ouch!!

3. Social Network: Social networking within the organization

For example: The Wednesday evening mountain biking club in the UK office

This is using social software to enable better social connections within the organization, but it also has a business benefit. We are all now subjected to internal email spam. Distribution lists and inconsiderate use of CC means that we are included on emails that have no relevance.

In the example, I may be a member of the UK office, but actually work from home most days and have no interest in mountain biking, but still get the email each Wednesday afternoon telling me where they are going and when they are meeting. I don’t care. It is not relevant. But I don’t want to be taken off the “All-UK-employees” distribution list. Our own internal implementation of social media eliminated 7% of email in the first month.

I have heard suggestions of “no email Fridays” to get people into the habit of posting to the social media app rather then turning to email. Now this is one area where the “Yammer crowd” do have the functionality, but it is hard to make a business case for a global rollout on the basis of better social interaction at work.

Unformed and uninformed

The challenge is that this market is unformed and uninformed. There are case studies and business cases which show how the benefits of social software in the enterprise. But few of these cover the SocialBPM angles described above, or if they do they are short term fixes masking longer term problems. What is clear is that cloud based social software is being “brought into” (ie being setup and used) organisations by stealth by business users, with the CIO unaware until a problem occurs or a license fee is required to get control of the data.

So, organisations need to start defining what they are trying to achieve and therefore what they need from a social software solution before they pile in with a ‘limited trial’ that suddenly becomes the defacto standard, running roughshod over formal process and procedure. Now I am not a process bigot. I welcome innovation, but also understand that governed process has a vital part to play in driving up the effectiveness and performance of companies.

Social technology has a vital part to play, but needs to be dovetailed into the fabric of the organization and ‘implemented’ correctly. Not another bolt-on fad.


One thought on “Understanding Social BPM (or at least setting some context) #socbiz #social #bpm

  1. Ian,
    Thanks for detailing some of the use-cases around Social BPM. They are great starting points for a C-level discussion on social technology within the enterprise. I had written a simple case study around a scenario captured by the #1: Social by Design perspective. The other perspectives are truly worth exploring further.

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