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Social BPM: Finding the business value behind the buzzword

BPM experts bring social BPM into sharper focus and explain the business problems that might benefit from social solutions.

There is a debate over the meaning of the term "social BPM," as well as its role in the enterprise. Some say it is simply a new feature in vendor offerings. Others claim it is a business strategy, bringing people into more efficient conversation while consolidating social data for future analysis. As with any new buzzword, CIOs and architects will have to cut through the hype in order to determine whether or not social BPM -- and its accompanying technology suites -- really coincides with their business strategy.

There is real value to be gained from pairing social technologies with business process management, but only once the abstraction of "social BPM" is grounded in some concrete examples. Social tools can be used to organize and consolidate previously unstructured collaboration methods, such as instant messages. This framework for social collaboration can enhance both customer relationships and internal decision-making, according to BPM experts Malcolm Ross and Ajay Khanna. They bring the term "social BPM" into sharper focus and explain the business problems that might benefit from social solutions.

Social tools within BPM must align with the overall business strategy.

Ajay Khanna,
director of product marketing, Oracle

Social BPM by example

Social BPM is best defined through real-world scenarios. Take Amazon. When buyers shop on its website, their decisions are often influenced by product reviews, said Ross, product marketing vice president for Appian Software, a developer of business management tools. To him, social BPM is an opportunity for the enterprise to take advantage of the same resources that social provides the consumer market. "I don't think it's that great a leap to see that the same commentary can also enhance our decisioning inside the enterprise," he said.

In addition to showing other customers' views on a product, social BPM could help business-to-consumer companies handle customer relations, said Khanna, Oracle's director of product marketing. "Many customer-facing processes that require investigation or resolution would be a good candidate for social BPM," Khanna explained. "Typical processes would be dispute resolution, incident reporting and benefits eligibility verification."

Ross envisions yet another contribution that social tools could make to the enterprise: data consolidation. "It doesn't just allow people to collaborate with each other, it allows people to collaborate with context to information across the environment so that collaboration becomes additive to the data portfolio that supports future decisioning." For example, a support agent who has access to a customer's dialogue with a previous agent knows which products the customer has already turned down. As a result, the agent can give smarter suggestions, all while cutting down on redundancy.

Overcoming resistance

Resistance is the fundamental problem that companies run into whenever a change is made to business processes. "The technology usually isn't the issue. It's the organizational stuff. It's mixed up processes. It's corporate culture, resistance to change. These are the things that will sap value from a technology faster than anything else," explained Steve Weissman, consultant with the Holly Group. His advice was to get everyone involved early so that they can participate in the early stages of process change and, by extension, transition more organically into the new system.

Ross added that certain misconceptions about the word "social" would have to be addressed before moving forward with a new technology. "It's funny -- social BPM gives you two areas of resistance. Management resists the word 'social' and workers resist the word 'BPM,'" Ross said. Social is associated with consumer social: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest. Management takes this to mean more idle conversation and, as a result, less productivity. Employees resist the term "BPM" because they associate it with heightened management control and decreased autonomy. According to Ross, redefining "social" in the context of the enterprise is crucial for management and employees to embrace the new technology. "Social, to be really additive, has to be implemented in the context of the enterprise so that you not only have a collaboration, you can associate that collaboration with key company records. That way, it doesn't just become another detached collaboration medium."

This brings us to a question Weissman asks whenever he wants to see the value behind the hype: "What business problem are you trying to solve?" Indeed, social BPM is not necessarily the right solution for every business problem. In fact, Khanna insisted that the technology would only work, or even be relevant, if it were woven into a greater initiative. "If the methodology and governance is not in place, invariably there will be management issues. Social tools within BPM must align with the overall business strategy."

Cutting through the hype

Weissman advises those shopping around for BPM technologies to do so with a clear idea of the business process that needs changing or enhancing or replacing. "Most organizations don't know what their business processes are. It's just different depending on what your perspective is. Being able to take that conceptual step backwards is absolutely critical. It doesn't mean you'll pick a technology and you'll be throwing your money away. But generally speaking, it means you didn't get as much value from it as you could." In other words, before buying a shiny new BPM suite, complete with social features, ask yourself what social has to offer your organization.

Whether we call it "social BPM," "collaboration" or "data consolidation," this notion of better, more organized communication has the potential to add value to the workplace. In Khanna's words, "Buzzword or not, we are changing the way we do business and the way we interact with customers. Businesses and processes need to embrace multi-channel and collaborative working, and social enables that."

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Do you think Social BPM has business value?
Transparency in business processes, enriches communications and interactions among teams, provides awareness to all who participate on process, tools, governance and that content is relevant and readily accessible at all times.
A good point, khrstrategy. Consolidating and opening up a company's content has the added benefit of overall transparency. Definitely makes for more effective communication.
Social BPM can help to keep knowledge on how to resolve problem inside some business process. With all the babyboomers leaving for retirement we face this problem more than ever and its nearly to late to solve it. If that easy to adopt techonlogy had existed ten years ago we would have less problem with lost of knowledge due to retirement of those senior employees.
It improves collaboration. It gives platform to share ideas and bring in innovations into processes. However it should be moderated and must be used intelligently.
A good post.
I took part in a civil courts automation project. We wanted to integrate a .NET application with a J2EE EMC Documentum infrastructure and workflows, etc. It was a nightmare until we defined our business objectives. That's the point - the most important part. Afterwards, we needed the right tool-set that would give the agility you expect from BPM. We struggled there also (tried jBPM and IBM) We ended up with PNM's BPM suite ( we were very happy with since it gave us the ability to easily change stuff on the go and has all the fancy tool-set, social integration, etc.
Overall: if you know (1) your business objectives and (2) have the right tools - you can get it right and get enormous benefit for the organization