BPM: Buy social or be social?


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Social BPM is the topic which currently seems to dominate discussions in the business process community.

Recent tweetjams on process management had ‘social’ as the most often used buzzword, vendors are actively putting the social sticker on their BPM products, analysts are calling customer integration the do-or-die challenge and everyone is suddenly feeling very good about it all. And yes, a pat on the back is indicated: let us not forget that not so long ago many companies had a policy not to allow messaging systems connected to the outside world and using social networks during office time could lead to severe repercussions for employees.

But are we really on the road to social processes? It’s easy to say yes when you only provide an obscure definition of ‘social’ or just refer to examples. Does including a Tweet button make a product ‘social’? Is a company Wiki ‘social’? Personally I’d say no, but the way a Wiki is fed and used might be.

The make or break argument for me has always been how much room we allow for the customer in our processes. This is less of a technology issue – in fact it runs contrary to fixed functionality technology – and more a question of changing the mindset. And regardless of how much talk there is about social BPM, very few companies are actually addressing the mindset change.

They are missing out on the all-important WHY and just sticking to the HOW.

Here are some examples of what we see on a regular basis at the Process TestLab and what you might like to check at your own company:

  • Take a survey among process managers and ask them to list the customers of their processes. Chances are they will give you a blank stare or guess at some internal recipient of his process results.
  • Ask them to point out the customer role in their process models and most likely you will see them right at the start and (hopefully) at the end of the process.

Spontaneous, dynamic or even erratic customers are no part of our approach to processes. Taking a purely internal view makes it so much easier to predefine our processes and put the customer in his place. Reality of course is different: If your customer doesn’t like or accept the provided process he will cease to be your customer.

So maybe it’s time to rattle the cages. We have recently started to include customers at our validation runs – with surprising results. What usually happens is that every participant is assigned a process role (e.g. sales rep., clearance team member etc.). Our validation system then generates process instances and the server routes the instances from participant to participant, following the logic as described in the process design. The participants can work on the assigned tasks, enter data, in fact they can do everything necessary to evaluate the process logic. The objective is to validate processes in a situation as realistic as possible without our clients having to implement the process first.

To make this even more realistic, we – even though we’re only the facilitators – take over the role of the customer in the process and start to behave as customers do: sometimes sticking to our assigned roles, sometimes providing only half the data, sometimes asking for shortcuts … in short, we try to inject our own input into the process. As a rough estimate, around 80% of our clients were unable to deal with these variations in customer behaviour even though they had a standard process in place. In most cases they even felt unable to define ad-hoc solutions to deal with the customer requirements.

It’s at this stage that companies begin to realize that they have a choice: Either become ‘social’ by enabling employees to become solution providers for their clients or to stick to predefined processes with predefined actions and ‘standardized’ customers.

My prediction is that companies clinging to the second option are the ones most likely to buy social and become even more ‘unsocial’ because they continue to ignore the customer while companies going for the first option will be social – though they’ll have a lot of mindset change activities on their plate.


Republished with author's permission from original post.


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