Is Social BPM an oxymoron?
Plug "social BPM" into Google and you get a plethora of pundits pontificating about the meaning of the term and technology vendors plugging the latest development in their business process management system.
Systems provider Oracle, for instance, announced back in June that they had their BPM suite "enable teams to collaborate on all the specific tasks in the BPM lifecycle." IBM, meanwhile, is trying to position itself as a key player in the space with its with its IBM BPM BlueWorks  and IBM BPM Blueprint cloud offerigs.
The jury is still out just what form Social BPM should take, but at the heart of the issue is how and whether new media technology should be incorporated into process excellence.
First, just what is social media?
We've all heard about the phenomenal rise of Facebook and many in the BPM professionals use LinkedIn extensively, but social media is more than just popular networking sites.
The collaboratively authored Wikipedia defines it as "media for social interaction, using highly accessible and scalable publishing techniques. Social media uses web-based technologies to turn communication into interactive dialogues." (Accessed November 4, 2010)
Included in this category are sites like blogs, wikis, internet forums, and Twitter, among others.
Anyone familiar with the time-wasting potential of Facebook, (your present author is herself guilty of occassionally whiling away too much time looking at the inanities of her friends' lives) may wonder how this technology could be productivity enhancing.
Forrester’s Clay Richardson, the researcher who is often credited with coining the term "social BPM", argues that there are several ways that social media can be incorporated into BPM initiatives. "Social media principles" he wrote on his blog in May can be incorporated to bring "more diverse voices into process improvement activities", "accelerate time-to-value and adoption of BPM projects", and facilitate "bi-directional communicaton for process improvement".
He says that the blogosphere is divided into two camps on precisely what form that should take - those who believe it's all about the technology and those who see social media facilitating a critical transformation in organisations and their processes.
Keith Swenson, Vice President of Research and Development at Fujitsu America Inc., for instance, is likely within the latter camp. Writing on his blog "On Collaborative Planning" earlier this year he wrote that he was disappointed in some definitions of Social BPM, which seemed limited to "the BPM development lifecycle [being] supported by social software."
"Proper use of social software will be about individuals producing, publishing and running their own processes," he writes. "Not collaboration on the design phase, but designing individually, and collaborating with a completed process. This won’t just be the BPM lifecycle using social software, it will be the elimination of the BPM lifecycle, the elimination of a design phase, the elimination of the separation between designers and workers."
Brian Reale, founder of solutions provider Colosa, argues that what social media represents is the antithesis of everything Business Process Management represents but that the two can work successfully.
"Business Process Management Software," he writes on his blog, "is all about following rules, improving efficiency, and getting large, bureaucratic organizations to operate the same way every time for a given process."
Put simply, process must be formal, repeatable, and consistant. Social media is, by its nature, informal and spontaneous, and fleeting.
But, Reale argues, the business needs both and he imagines Social BPM as a collaborative internet where "you can see your process tasks, get real-time information about best practices contributed by your colleagues and customers, and allow real-time social networked feedback to influence the way the process adapts and learns over time."
Tell us what you think! Is "Social BPM" the way of the future or just the latest flavour of the month? Is it merely a part of the technology infrastructure or will it revolutionise the way that busines process initiatives are run? How is your company using social media?