Social Media and Social Software are hot topics, and everyone seems to be pre-pending “social” to their favorite technology or methodology. So it is with Social BPM.
I must say, I was surprised and slightly disappointed when I learned what the major analysts really mean by Social BPM. It means simply that the BPM development lifecycle is supported by social software.
- Clay Richardson, in Nov 2009, defined Social BPM as: “Processes developed and improved through the use of social technologies and techniques” (see Forge Your Smart Work Game Plan)
- Gartner says: “Social BPM is a concept that describes collaboratively designed and iterated processes.” (See “Social BPM; Design By Doing” from Gartner)
- SAP community has a page called “Social BPM Players” that lists Alignspace, BluePrint, BlueWorks, ProcessWiki, and other tools for collaborative process design.
- Gartner mentions that BlueWorks, BluePrint, and Nokia’s Design by Community should be considered Social BPM.
- Clay Richardson says in a comment “Basically social capabilities are now assumed to be baked into BPM offerings.” (see Social BPM: Is It Social, or is It BPM?)
Ask yourself: who is it that does BPM? The developers (process analysts, programmers) are the ones doing BPM. We are not talking about the end-user doing BPM. The end user does business, not BPM. The BPM supports the user in doing this business, but those users are not doing BPM when they use a fully developed process application.
If you think of BPM as a kind of application development (i.e. develop process applications for use by business people) then using social software to help with the development of applications means that the developers (i.e. process analysts, programmers) are the ones using the social media to make them more effective. It is the developers who are socializing.
The Gartner publication shows the “BPM Lifecycle” and explains how social software is used to support the entire business process lifecycle. In other words, the applications are developed collaboratively.
Using social software for the BPM lifecycle makes sense because it will allow other people (managers, customers, executives) have input to the process design, but they will again be using the social software not to do their primary job, but instead to help the BPM lifecycle.
Design by Doing
This calls into question what Gartner means by “Design by Doing”. Doing what? Doing business? or doing BPM? Sometimes all Gartner means is to “Design your BPM processes by doing BPM”. Not what I thought it meant.
I though it meant that you would design your processes by doing business. If you were a teacher, you would design your process by teaching. If you were a banker, you would design your process by banking. Doing your primary job, without having to design the process ahead of time, without needing any process analyst, and without having to collaborate on the design of the process. You simply did the work, without iterations, without analysts.
Instead, however, Gartner talks about how “Design by Doing” supports iterations in the design, by “harnessing knowledge about how the process is experiences … using this to change the process”. I thought BPM was always supposed to measure outcome and use that to improve the process. That is really nothing new.
Not everyone agrees
I have been researching recently how social software will enhance the business work environment, and how process support might fit into a social environment. There are interesting effects on the way that you define a process that assigns tasks based on users connections, instead of globally administered roles. This might better be called Enterprise 2.0, or Social Case Management — that is use of social software directly in the managing of business cases.
For example, The 3rd Workshop on Business Process Management and Social Software (BPMS2’10) talks about: “Social software is a new paradigm… Therefore, more and more enterprises regard social software as a means for further improvement of their business processes and business models. For example, they integrate their customers into product development by using blogs to capture ideas for new products and features. Thus, business processes have to be adapted to new communication patterns between customers and the enterprise: for example, the communication with the customer is increasingly a bi-directional communication with the customer and among the customers. Social software also offers new possibilities to enhance business processes by improving the exchange of knowledge and information, to speed up decisions, etc. Social software is based on four principles: weak ties, social production, egalitarianism and mutual service provisioning.”
Note that this is not “design time” use of social software, but instead use of social software by the business people themselves, to actually conduct business, and how the business place is transformed by the use of social software.
To be fair, none of the analysts rule out the use of social software in business, but they tend to focus exclusively on using social software to improve the process … something only done by the BPM development team as a primary job function. Sure, it is everyone’s job to make the process better, so hopefully everyone can be involved, but the application of the social software is exclusively to iterative improvement of a defined process.
Instead, I see a Quantum Leap
Using social software for development of traditional BPM applications will certainly help improve those applications, and is important. But this is just an incremental improvement over traditional BPM. Thinking about social systems improving BPM application development is like thinking of using social software to to make the writing of newspapers more collaborative, or making the making the writing of books more collaborative. If you are still publishing newspapers and books int he same way, you have not yet experienced the real power of social software.
There is a quantum leap that might be experienced when business learns to use social software directly, and when they learn how to adapt their process templates directly, at run time, and in collaboration with the rest of the business.
Social systems don’t just make former patterns collaborative. They change the nature of things. For example, blogs don’t just make the writing of newspapers more collaborative, they completely change the nature of how information is spread. A wiki is not about getting people to collaboratively write books that are published in the traditional manner, but it is about eliminating the divide between the author and the reader.
The proper use of social software in the business will eliminate the need for process designers. Everyone will be a designer, in the way that everyone is a writer in the blogosphere, and in the way that everyone is a contributor to Wikipedia.
It is collaboration on the finished product, not the development of the product. Individual blog entries are written individually – not collaboratively. Blogging is not about collaborative writing of traditionally produced works, but instead about individuals collaborating through writing individually.
Similarly, proper use of social software will be about individuals producing, publishing and running their own processes. Not collaboration on the design phase, but designing individually, and collaborating with a completed process. This won’t just be the BPM lifecycle using social software, it will be the elimination of the BPM lifecycle, the elimination of a design phase, the elimination of the separation between designers and workers.
Call this Social Business Management, or Social Case Management, but please, this is not Social BPM.