A lot of talk about Social BPM recently but definitions vary widely. My post on “Who is Socializing in Social BPM?” shows that some see it as simply using social network features to accelerate traditional BPM (separation of thinkers and doers) while other (including myself) see the real benefit in how business is transformed by social software. To avoid controversy on terms, lets focus just on the “getting things done” aspect which is what case management is about, and less on the “process improvement cycle” which BPM is centered on.
I am not going to call it Social Case Management because while writing the book Mastering the Unpredictable we touched many times on how case manager would use social software features to accomplish work, and how an Adaptive Case Management (ACM) system would make best use of that.
What does it really mean to “adopt social features”? Does it mean you have to have “Poke” button? Is a “Wall” to write on a requirement? Good questions. If I sit down and look at the intersection of what social systems typically offer, and what might be useful in ACM, I can make a few statements about what such a system would have to include in order to be considered social, and that may give us a feeling for what it might look like.
- Self Registration: One of the hallmarks of a social network is that you sign yourself up, instead of being allocated an account by an administrator. This runs much deeper that simply a user interface feature: the system can not have any built in assumption that only authorized people will be using it.
- Self-Managed Relationships: The core of Linked-In is “linking”. The core of Facebook is “friends”. Linked-In calls it “Connections”. The core of any social system is the ability for individuals to set up and maintain relationships with other people on the system, instead of getting this from a directory server.
- Everyone is a Creator: The essence of Web 2.0 is that everyone can produce content that is shared and linked to everyone else. There is no fundamental divide between the producers and the consumers.
- Tasks Assignment by Relationship: based more on relationship and less on job titles. This will drive an ACM system to have a more elaborate set of relationships than just “friends”. People will maintain qualifications on certain connections as the “go to” person for various types of activities. BPM cpabilities like assignement to job titles or skills might still be available, but those things are centrally administered. The true social capabilities will be assignment of activities to fully distributed and individually maintained relationships.
- Flatter, less Hierarchical Organization: centrally planned processes tend to use the macro-structures of organizational units to help break a complex process into pieces which follow the lines of the organizational structure. Because each user maintains links directly to people who help them, regardless of position in the hierarchy, the processes will look flatter (but may in fact follow a more circuitous route).
- Resource Oriented: non-programmers naturally grasp a REST oriented approach where they can take a link to a resource, and attach that link to case. REST allows you to “see” a resource, and then attach it. This is opposed to a “data flow” approach that sends documents physically through processing channels.
- Strong but Decentralized Access Control: all controls for allowing access to resources is given out to the users. This is highly controversial and will be fought by those who believe that centralized policies must be maintained. Simply put, user A with access to a resource needs to have the means to give user B access to that resource, even if user A does NOT own or control the resource in any way, so that user A can assign a task to user B.
- Adaptive Processes: every person will have a unique set of relationships with other people, and that means that any given process needs to be able to be tweaked for the specifics. Some call this “mashup” or “mashable” but since they don’t just mean composing at the UI level, so I think the term adaptive fits much better. An adaptive process is one that is designed to be altered before running, and can be used for combining with other templates easily at run time.
- Personal Templates: since every person can define a process, every person will have a collection of process snippets and activity definitions that they have found useful in the past. They may even publish these templates. When starting a case, you might use “Sally’s Template XYZ” made available by Sally, not by some anonymous “official corporate” template library. The official ones will still be there, but probably vastly outnumbered by the personally shared ones.
- Richer User Profiles: The ability to have a space for your own stuff becomes more important. Facebook lets you upload personal photos and documents. Beyond sharing templates, you may want to share documents about how you handle cases and other supporting documents. This is roughly the same concepts a the “pages” that accompany a blog: a place where a user can publish some small amount of information relevant to their work.
- Personal Dashboard: The idea of a personally configurable dashboard for your own use is not unusual. This concept is about a user making a dashboard available to others as a way to publish the status of their projects. The user controls the content of the dashboard and who can see it, and may have parts that can only be seen by some people.
- Business Entities: focused more on business entities and data definitions than processes. Mastering the Unpredictable has a chapter on data modeling and business entities.
- Templates are Designed to be Changed: the processes will be focused more on the less repeatable, and more creative processes, created with a “Design by Doing” approach. Traditional BPM will continue to handle the routine processes, but because ACM can be modified to every situation it can handle unpredictable processes.
- Check Lists instead of BPMN: The typical office worker has no desire or need to learn a complex programming language like BPMN. Instead, these people will use check lists and Gantt charts to plan and track the progress of their cases.
- Tags: an essential tool for any social media system, and useful in managing work as well.
Is this just Enterprise 2.0? Maybe. You will see that all of these reflect the theme of “Unpredictability” and support for direct manipulation of the information as you work. Social systems are seen as something you just use, not seen as application platforms which you prepare things for and then launch them. There are, however, applications in the space, prepared by others that people can use. Facebook is in that sense an application platform. But of the 450 million facebook users, a tiny tiny tiny fraction of them develop applications.
I have put these out here as “requirements.” One might argue that an ACM system might omit one or more of these, but they are requirements in the sense that you really should have all of them.
I hope at the least, this serves as a checklist to compare systems.
- The 3rd Workshop on Business Process Management and Social Software (BPMS2’10)
- Theo Priestly on “Repeatability vs. Creativity: the difference between traditional and social BPM“
- The Economist: A World of Connections: A Special Report on Social Networking
- Peter Schooff forum question on “Is Social Media the Next Frontier for BPM Suites?“
- Jacob Ukelson on “Isn’t Social BPM Just Another Example of an Unstructured, Ad-hoc Human Process?“
- Max Pucher on “The Knowledge Between Your Ears“
- Boris Lublinsky on “Is There Social BPM?“
- Clay Richardson on “Is Social BPM A Methodology, A Technology, Or Just A Lot Of Hype?“
- Theo Priestley on “The Social BPM paradigm“
- Jacob Ukelson on “Is Adaptive Case Management a Generic Tool for Complex Project Management?“
- Sandy Kemsley on “Will Social Revive Interest In BPM? Will BPM Make Social Relevant?“
- Sandy Kemsley on “BPM, Collaboration and Social Networking“
- PwC’s view on the maturing of social networking into a business discipline