January 08, 2013, 2:55 PM — Social media is everywhere today. But what does social really mean? If you're just sharing the latest news about who you are dating or a great recipe you just tried for Thanksgiving, then social networking is just about sharing with friends and family. In an organizational context, though, social becomes much more, enhancing and changing the very definition of "work."
"Right now, BPM [business process management] seems like its own industry and enterprise social seems like its own, but they are both going to be [made] obsolete by this merger it's so powerful," says Matt Calkins, founder, president, and CEO of BPM provider Appian, a company that has reinvented its offering around bringing these two worlds together.
Getting Social BPM Right May Mean Redefining 'Work'
If you define work as a group of people striving towards a common goal, whether it's building a car, designing a toaster or running a hotel, then what you are really talking about is a group of people collaborating to get something done. For this group, being social isn't about sharing who they are; it's about sharing what they do and how they do it. In other words, being social means coming together to achieve a common end.
In a business, these activities are defined and, more importantly for the sake of this discussion, bounded by processes. This is where the idea of social business process management comes in. BPM is all about modeling and automating workflows to make them more efficient and effective. When you integrate social-or, in this case, collaboration-capabilities into these platforms, you can dramatically affect how well people perform their jobs.
"Software features do not do that. They are not the catalyst for doing that," says Michael Krigsman, president of Asuret, a technology change and IT project consultancy. "What's necessary is to change the behavior of people, to change how people interact with one another, how they share information and how they communicate, whether it's on projects or across departments or what have you."
Wolfram Yost, CTO of German BPM provider Software AG, agrees. Technology in and of itself solves few problems, but technology coupled with stakeholder buy-in and adoption does.
"Order to cash, for example, is order to cash, but the point is how innovative, how efficient, how effective is this process?" Yost asks. "To have a desktop application and then to mobile-enable it is technology. But if I have now mobile capability how [does this] improve the processes? If I do it the same way, what is the benefit of having a mobile device?"
Familiar App Help Employees Work Better
This question of benefits can best be answered by looking at the case of a property and casualty insurer. When a natural disaster such as Hurricane Sandy hits, the firm must, on very short notice, send out a small army of claims adjusters, clean-up crews and construction contractors who have no previous interactions with the firm, its business processes or its mission-critical legacy back-office systems. Called into the field within hours and carrying their own devices, these contract employees have little time to learn a complicated home-grown application interface or business process on the fly.
This example brings together a number of trends and problems-outsourcing, BYOD, mobile devices, mobile employees and social, not to mention physical disaster recovery. Fortunately, all can be ameliorated by social.
What if, for example, these contractors could download the firm's new integrated front end modeled on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn from an app store? They could be up and running in minutes, thanks to a front-end based on an intuitive, familiar and interactive social interface.
This social layer, loosely defined by Yost as a time-sorted list of events, could integrate into the firm's legacy apps via robust, mature and secure APIs. Now, when an adjuster or contractor needs help with a decision that falls outside standard procedures, he can reach the people he needs to reach in real-time using an interface he uses all the time in his personal life.