Social Actors


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Theres a flurry of social this & social that in the IT market space and marketing machines are running over speed. So much so that Geoffrey Moore & Stowe Boyd too debate on what to call the term Social Business Systems – Systems of Engagement or Work Media. I guess the marketeers would like Work Media while the technologists might love the Systems of Engagement. Either one works for me, but I have been struggling with yet another term – Social BPM.

In a previous post I have already mentioned about the collaboration aspect in modeling & execution of the business processes under this term. Let me share the working definition I have in my mind when I think about what could be called social BPM:

SBPM enables social actors to collaborate on modeling, executing & optimizing structured and unstructured business processes.

And I am now left with the unenviable task of explaining the concept of “social actors”, a term borrowed by systems folks from sociology, and both the uses of which are equally oblivious to the technologists, especially the BPMS configurators. Social actors are intentional actors with their own individual wants and desires; they also have relationship with other social actors. Thus though they have freedom to choose their own actions they are bound by these relationships. In most systems design which take a mechanistic view, actors are not intentional & nobody looks at how are they embedded in relationships with the other actors.

In sociology, social action refers to an act which takes into account the actions and reactions of individuals (or ‘agents’). According to Max Weber, “an Action is ‘social’ if the acting individual takes account of the behavior of others and is thereby oriented in its course” (Secher 1962). A social actor, in basic terms, is a conscious, thinking, individual who has the capacity to shape their world in a variety of ways by reflecting on their situation and the choices available to them at any given time.

And this is a huge head shift. Not easy to convince the BPMS configurators, near darn impossible to explain to the compliance & regulations folks. But hopefully easier to get across the point to those that deal with situations requiring decision making at the front line in the face of ambiguity, like say underwriting or handling payment exceptions (or any other kind of dispute resolution) or project management.

You can even consider the social customer as much a social actor as the employee facing that social customer. At least the employee better behave as a social actor for faster & more satisfactory response to the social customer. If the front line person facing the customer has certain decision making rights (within their ambit of responsibilities) this definitely could help resolving issues to the satisfaction of both the customer & the organization. Just like the Systems of Record allowed the centralization of business decisions (global view to the higher above from the central offices), Systems of Engagement can allow decentralization of decision making by taking it to the front line. Consistency & flexibility, both together. Paradoxical yet possible. (May be I have had too much of Situational Leadership model).

So, does it compute for you? How can I better explain this concept?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Prem Kumar Aparanji
SCRM Evangelist @ Cognizant. Additional knowledge in BPM, QA, Innovations, Solutions, Offshoring from previous roles as developer, tester, consultant, manager. Interested in FLOSS, Social Media, Social Networks & Rice Writing. Love SF&F books. Blessed with a loving wife & a curious kid. :)


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