Who is Socializing in Social BPM?

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 Managementthat 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.


24 thoughts on “Who is Socializing in Social BPM?

  1. There are already good software tools for incorporating “social” media into your business. Socialware, tweetriver, cotweet, etc. The APIs for things like twitter are pretty simple.

    businesses (even business processes) will increasingly incorporate “social” in their processes – especially customer service processes – but I think it is too early to state definitively what it will look like. Right now, the current crop of BPM vendors are behind the curve except in using social platforms as a way to get the word out, or in some cases, using social platforms for process design collaboration (the part you were disappointed with). I wonder if new software companies will capture this space and become new points of integration to more normalized (internal) business processes, or more denormalized case management if you prefer.

    I think its easy in 2010 to look at the state of what people are calling “social bpm” and be disappointed- but a year ago – only a year ago – people were saying that these kinds of collaborative design features were dangerous or a waste of time, or both – and that products like blueprint and blueworks and alignspace were a waste of time and doomed to failure.

    I can recall thinking that twitter wasn’t worth my time at one point – my tech-savvy wife convinced me to give it a second try, and it has been well worth it. In hindsight it seems obvious. I think a year from now we’ll look back and the answers will look obvious – but right now, the outcomes are still a bit fog-shrouded to me.

  2. In case it was not clear, I have no doubt that business will adopt social software very quickly. I also have no doubt that it will transform the way they progress their processes.

    I too hope that customers and vendors will be visionary enough to see that this is not just a mechanism to make the BPM lifecycle faster, but a chance to completely re-think process support altogether.

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  4. Keith,
    Couldn’t agree with you more – the analyst take on Social BPM seems to be more on use of Social Software for BPM professionals than the use of Social Software for the general management of unstructured, unpredictable process. I don’t get why they don’t see the model design process as just a special case of a knowledge worker process. Solving the more general problem is where the real business impact is to be had…

    I posted on the subject a while back – http://blog.actionbase.com/isnt-social-bpm-just-another-example-of-an-unstructured-ad-hoc-human-process

  5. Keith, the important element is the change in the DESIGN paradigm that is mostly missed by various ‘social’ proponents. It is neither simply socializing during the BPM design phase, not is it adding social communication/collaboration to a pre-designed process. The social aspect is what we defined in ACM as ‘moving the process creation into the execution.’

    The main problem with typical ‘social’ aspects is the 1-9-90 distribution of participants. Only 1 in a 100 is actively creative, 9 are commenting, and 90% are just browsing. The same is true in a business. So typical social network activity will do nothing to improve processes. I had to hire an editor to get our internal WIKI system filled with usable information.

    Clearly, the social aspect is overrated. What does work is to drop the rigid STEP&FLOW BPM model, enable the ACTORS to create/modify the process transparently at any time by adding DATA/CONTENT, with GOALS being the targets, RULES being the constraints, and actors defining the PRESENTATION to their needs. If all of that can flow back into the template then the whole becomes ADAPTIVE. Social networking tools do not enable any of the above, so I really don’t understand why someone would think they can be used to manage unstructured, unpredictable processes/cases.

  6. Max, excellent points.
    I think the 1-9-90 distribution you mentioned is one reason why focusing “social” or collaborative aspects during design has made sense for pure play BPM vendors – because the distribution is a bit better when you’re already selecting for people who’s job it is to be “editor of the wiki” so to speak already.

    I think the last part of your post is not what I would call social at all, per se (I think that’s in agreement with what you wrote).

    On the other hand, the access to the information in social media can enable business activities that were previously difficult to engage with – for example, handling customer service issues proactively when you see issues surfaced on twitter. So social media features can make businesses more responsive by opening up their ears… but it doesn’t by itself add run-time editing of the process by the users of the process 🙂

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  9. Hi Keith,

    Really good blog post. I’m happy to see the conversation around social BPM evolve and think it will take on different perspectives. Over time we expect organizations to adopt social BPM at different levels of maturity – some companies will only use it for communication, others will use it to accelerate delivery, and yet others will use it for transformation. I don’t see it as one-size-fits all – i.e., it can only be used for transformation.


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  11. This is exactly the conversations we need. Thanks for the well thought out points. Let’s continue to evolve this concept. It’s got to start somewhere…

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  14. Hi Keith – great post. I’m also disappointed with the “bolt on” approach BPM vendors have taken with collaboration. Social platforms are shaking up how organizations manage themselves and manage process – as a result – we need to take a hard look at previous assumptions.

    I’m running the Social BPM strategy at salesforce.com – which is still a work in progress and I’m keenly interested in how vendors respond to the new challenges.

    For now, I am hanging on to the “social BPM” tag – though perhaps we need a new one! What I’m hoping to produce is NOT a traditional BPM product with collaboration bolted on!

    • Hi Steve,

      I read your three articles on your blog… very interesting. It links to the global “social” strategy at salesforce. I also went to the website to learn about your product (visual process manager?). I may use it. Would you call this approach a BPMS approach? It seems to me that it is very human centric at their desk fitting quite well things like call center in sales or services. I would see that more as an application generation based on a simple process design?

      • Glad you like the blog. I’m trying to post about once a month (too many day jobs these days). Yes, that’s part of my product: Visual Process Manager (soon to be Force.com Flow).

        To your question. Is Force.com Flow a BPMS? No, not really – not in the technical definition sense. Is Force.com Flow a BPMS from a business value sense? Yes, absolutely.

        The idea with Flow is simple: deliver business value quickly and iteratively; create a shared language between the business and IT – and manage that communication carefully and respectfully; embrace social collaboration deeply – embrace the “Facebook Imperative” in a very real way.

        So v1 of Force.com Flow is basically the acquired technology from my company (previously Informavores). V2 will be to bring the visual mapping to all process technologies on the platform (which I own also: workflow, approvals).

        So a question might be: how do we deliver business value more quickly than traditional BPMS? The answer is simple – it’s a process. We decided that process automation should not be bogged down by integration – step one is about access and enablement. I.e. how does the business get access to an early stage business process and derive value from it? Simple: allow them to follow the process as a “wizard”. If multiple systems are required – they can “swivel chair” to them. That’s OK – this is the beginning. As the process matures and we learn more about the systems and data – from real user experience – and measure results, we can optimize. As we optimize, we can automate – based on the evolution of the process. If you like, we start removing screens and adding integrations in their place. Ultimately, as the process matures, it goes from a high user interaction process, to a zero user interaction process (maybe – it may involve user interaction for all time – but you get the idea!).

        Ultimately, we’re removing the up-front integration requirements – but – keeping the automation benefits. So, you can dip your toe into business process automation, without betting your farm on it!

        Hope that makes sense. I haven’t mentioned the collaboration angle, but this is also a huge driver in the product.

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