Conclusion: Business process management and enterprise collaboration tools are converging into a new form of enterprise capability termed Social BPM. This new approach harnesses the viral power of social networking into enabling real-time user-developed collaborative business processes within the enterprise. This convergence may deliver the transformational value promised, but never realised, by either technology in isolation. Organisations should watch this trend carefully and have a combined strategy for enterprise collaboration and business process management to be in a position to exploit the amplified value that social BPM promises.
Observations: Business process management and enterprise collaboration have long been two prominent themes for organisations seeking to improve efficiency and productivity through IT innovation. IBRS experience with Australian and New Zealand organisations has found the return from investments into these areas to be underwhelming.
Business process management has tended to focus on centralised business process modelling and attempts at process re-engineering. There are many challenges in doing this. The common model has been for a team of dedicated business process modellers to study the organisation from an almost anthropological perspective, capturing imperfect business processes from the field and seeking to create an optimised future state. However, the resulting models are often ineffectual in driving real change in the organisation, succumbing to the ivory tower syndrome of being disconnected from the “real world”.
At the same time enterprise collaboration and more recently enterprise social networks have been seen as a way of improving communication and interaction within the enterprise. Generally this has meant the implementation of browser-based content and document management systems, along with the ubiquitous (and often token) “blogs and wikis”. While centralised, well-structured searchable corporate knowledge is a tremendous asset, it tends to reflect static policy and operational documentation, not real-time system and stakeholder behaviour.
The over-trumpeted “Web 2.0” technologies do provide a degree of democratisation of content and freshness of information but are most commonly seen at the periphery of core business activities. Social networking tools are emerging within the enterprise but the enduring business value of “James just made a cheese toastie in the marketing kitchen” status updates are viewed with scepticism.
Social business process management. A new class of information management tools is emerging. These web-based tools allow business processes to be defined and implemented in a decentralised fashion using “Facebook-style” social networking tools. These tools leverage the creativity and intelligence of human participants in work processes to deliver productivity and efficiency benefits. The fundamental shift in perspective is to acknowledge that a business process is a fluid activity performed by a group of people acting co-operatively, rather than a rigid set of flowcharts imposed by an aloof systems bureaucracy.
With social BPM the participants in a business process are responsible for defining it. Once a business process is operational, the participants can use an array of social technologies including social networking, status updates and comments, RSS/twitter feeds, blogs/wikis to augment the process with contextualised support. Supporting IT systems feed important updates into the social stream to provide events that can trigger support from the underlying network of interested parties.
This is a novel concept and an example will help illustrate how it works in practice.
A fictitious manufacturing company has a range of people supporting the enquiry-to-sale business process. With a social BPM tool, a stream of relevant events underpinning the business process is made available to users. A range of people in the company may have subscribed to receive events from a particular customer. These events are notified across web, mobile and email channels. In the web channel these updates may appear in a similar fashion to a Facebook page.
An event is posted from the CRM system indicating a particular customer’s contract will expire in two weeks.
A comment is left by a salesperson saying he is planning to visit them next week and will organise a renewal.
Another comment from a legal person provides a link to the new contract template that must be used for future transactions.
An engineer posts a comment that they have an active support call open which needs to be finalised if they choose not to review the contract.
A salesman who has been assigned to a different account chooses not to be notified about this customer and removes them from his subscription feed.
After the contract is renewed the SAP system posts an automatic hyperlink to the invoice which was generated for this client.
A marketing expert notes that this process could be improved by having a customer satisfaction report being completed for each contract renewal and modifies the defined business process to automatically post a link to the client satisfaction survey system after each renewal for a client is completed.
This example shows have a user-driven real-time business process emerges that uses collaboration technologies across a variety of channels to improve productivity, increase quality and improve client service. Key to this process is the feeding of events from both human and system participants in the process. It is the integration of important system events into the social media stream that distinguishes Social BPM from the established enterprise collaboration or unified communications models.
While a number of CRM and ERP systems may offer social features, these are often limited to within the confines of a particular software system and cannot span across the enterprise. Vendors of broad-spectrum social BPM tools include Appian Tempo, Salesforce Chatter, IBM Blueworks Live, Oracle BPM Suite 11g and PegaSystems.
Social BPM embeds the responsibility and power for business process design and management into the hands of the people responsible for delivering in the real world. It also connects the raft of collaboration tools directly into the nervous system of business process execution. While this devolved model of organisational management may run counter to the traditional command-and-control mentality of some large organisations, it opens up a new model for democratic empowerment of business users.
Take stock of the value gained from enterprise collaboration and/or business process management investments within the organisation – are real benefits being realised from these investments?
Conduct a trial of a social BPM tool within the organisation with a passionate and curious user base. With a web-based SaaS social BPM tool this can be achieved at little cost, risk or commitment. The user driven philosophy also means this can be achieved with little corporate support.
Evaluate the findings of social BPM usage against traditional methods. Decide whether it suits the culture of the organisation and is sustainable as a long-term business platform. If so reframe the business process management and enterprise collaboration strategy to embrace social BPM as a core strategic objective.
Ensure appropriate governance, risk and policy controls are in place to guide social BPM as a platform for business execution.