Why "Social" is a Process Improvement Strategy

Is social media something that your PR and marketing teams "do" or is it an overall strategy for your business? Here's why process practitioners should also "do" social media.

"If the customer can go out and choose [their supplier] they are going to pick the company that understands them better, that has a better relationship with them or has the capability to have a better relationship with them," says Sandy Kemsley, independent BPM analyst and systems architect, in this PEX Network interview. That’s where "social BPM" comes in.

You can tell which companies have their external social media efforts connected with their internal processes, Kemsley adds, because they update the way the interact and the offers they send. Companies without this connection are those where "people inside have their static business processes - they always do [things] the same way they have done it before."

In this PEX Network interview, Kemsley discusses why she believes that "social BPM" is going to fundamentally change the way that companies do business. She also discuses some of the mistakes companies often make when getting started with BPM, recommends how to avoid the pitfalls, and discusses what she sees as key trends in the year ahead including the convergence of tools/methodologies, adaptive case management, and more intelligent processes.

Editor’s note: this is an edited transcript of a PEX Network video recorded earlier this year. To watch the full interview please see BPM Convergence? Tips and Trends

PEX Network: How Can People Get Started with BPM?

Sandy Kemsley: It depends on what stage they are at. In some cases - and this happens in an alarming number of cases - a company will go out and will buy a BPM system. They will spend a lot of money to buy this system but they really don’t know what they are going to do with it. This sounds kind of funny but it really does happen. So I will get called in and they will say "well we just bought this great piece of software but we don’t really know what we want to do with it, can you help us figure out what processes we should be looking at?" For example, if it’s an insurance company, they may know they want to do something in their claims area but they don’t really know what that will look like. In these types of cases, they haven’t thought about their business processes, they haven’t thought about who would be involved, or any of that sort of thing.

If we are starting from this standpoint then usually I will back them up and take a look at the processes that they want to improve. A little bit of analysis of what is there already but without spending too much detail going into the "as is" process, let’s get at what you want to do with the to-do process. We really try to drive them towards the thing that they want to achieve.

Sometimes the things we want to achieve are transformational, sometimes just incremental, sometimes it is just improving a process that is done badly now that you would like to have a little bit of improvement - it’s not always a "big bang" sort of thing. Sometimes it is getting just a little bit of help along the way, so it is finding the processes where you can really get some value in this and then start to look at how the technology can be applied in that sort of area. They have already decided they are using technology and they have decided kind of the area.

We then need to look at a number of other things. One is how much customisation are you going to do with the technology. One of the key pitfalls you see is that companies will do too much customisation - they will let the users run away with requirements so that these hugely over-constrained environments get created. There will be very large requirements documents that will say specifically the button has to be blue and it has to be on the left side of the screen, which has really nothing to do with how well the process works. It is amazing how tied up with things that they can get because that is how their systems used to work and that is how their whole development process used to work.

So we need to look at getting the business involved as early as possible in the BPM development, have them understand what the system does out of the box. It’s not like you just want to say well you have to do exactly what the system does, but there is some value to saying if you do something really close to what the system does out of the box then you can get it a lot sooner. There is much less customisation, there is much less cost and then in the future it is much more maintainable because you don’t have code that is written all around the BPM system that has to be changed and tested and everything else as you further develop. There are a number of elements involved there and certainly from a technology standpoint it is not over constraining the solution and not over developing what you might have there.

PEX Network: What do you think is behind the traditional IT and Business divide?

Sandy Kemsley: There are a variety of reasons that it exists. For example, when purchasing a BPM system, IT will look at it, they might be very involved in actually buying the system and they will say "oh look at this amazing application development environment". To them it is an application development environment: it is their tool that they own and don’t see any reason why the business should have their hands on it. That is a bit of an extreme but that happens is that they really see this is being their tool that they should be using and the business is involved in writing the requirements but in really the same old way. They end up back in the same waterfall development environment that they had where the business writes requirements probably in Word documents and maybe some Visio diagrams and then it comes over to them and then they will write it, develop something in what they see as application development. That is what happens when you have IT be the one primarily responsible for buying the BPM system.

If you have the business primarily responsible then you can end up with something where IT doesn’t want to support it because they didn’t choose it. There can always be these problems of who is the one responsible for it and who gets to actually put their hands on the system. Now the best possible situation is when you have a BPM system that has, what is usually referred to as prospectus or views for both the business side and for the technology people. You will have somebody on the business side, such as a business analyst use a fairly high level tool for drawing out the business processes and specifying things like roles and some of the business rules and so on and then the developers will have a more technical view of that same model. So it’s not like you are just exporting out of one and into another but in this same shared model be able to see more of the underpinnings of what is going on, so connect things up with web services and all of the other stuff that has to happen to turn these into executable processes that are integrating systems. You need to have tools for both of them in the process management suite in order to really break down those barriers between them.

PEX Network: Are we seeing a convergence of tools and methodologies within BPM and other disciplines like Lean Six Sigma?

Sandy Kemsley: There is very definitely convergence of a number of different technologies and also a number of different management views about companies. One example is "social": many companies have taken social software as something that their marketing and PR departments do. They go out and they "do" Twitter, Facebook or whatever but those activities have no impact on their internal processes. If they are going to make their efforts successful then they need to connect up their external social media presence together with their internal business processes.

Now we see social and BPM all together in a single environment and certainly from a customer standpoint that means the customer benefits because they have a different view of the company as a more social being that is typically more transparent, but also the company has a different view of their customer because they are able to consume the social media with which their customers interact and have that help to form their view of the customer rather than just "oh here’s the things I have on your customer information record". They have all the other things that might come through social media or other channels that they know about. That customer helps to develop that relationship. It definitely comes back to the customer centricity and the customer relationship, but we are seeing a number of different technologies that all have to be plugged together to make this stuff work.

PEX Network: What is Social BPM?

Sandy Kemsley: Social BPM is really about bringing about collaboration and social interaction into BPMS. This manifests in a number of different ways. When processes are being designed this is usually visible through things like collaborative process design. Someone will be working on a process model and they will be working in an environment that will be shared very easily with other people who might be stakeholders in the process model. They are taking that whole process of process design and making it social because they are allowing multiple people to collaborate. They might be inside the organisation or outside the organisation.

The thing that I find much more exciting is run time collaboration. This is when the processes are executing. They may be defined ahead of time, or not, but the idea that someone in the process can decide that they need to collaborate, either with somebody in the organisation or somebody outside the organisation in order to achieve the goals of that particular process then it may never have been something that was defined in the process originally.

You might just decide hey I know this person can help me solve this problem because this is a very unusual situation here and being able to just include them into the process and do that kind of collaboration. A lot of it is around dynamic collaboration that can happen at run time, either inside or outside the organisation.

PEX Network: Do you think Social BPM is going to change the way we do business?

Sandy Kemsley: It is already changing it. What I find really interesting is that things have to come together. You have to have this atmosphere of internal collaboration, this sort of internal social network. That has to be really entrenched inside an organisation or you are not going to be successful with the customer facing social aspects of it because if you can’t be social and collaborate internally you are never going to figure out how to deal with your customers. You will see this happen with organisations and as a consumer I deal with a lot of organisations and I don’t know which ones have a good link between their external facing social media and their internal business processes, but I can make some really good guesses because you can find some who will interact with you on social media and then that will have a result in something you do as a customer. They might send you a special offer or they might give you a discount or something like that. Other ones where those are completely disconnected, where the people inside have their static business processes, they always do it the same way they have done it before and this social stuff is like some new-fangled thing that they just don’t want to deal with.

We are definitely seeing some changing environments and some changing atmospheres and we are also seeing that the customers will choose who they want to do business with. A customer will go somewhere else if they have a choice, whether it’s telecoms or banks or another type of company. If the customer can go out and choose they are going to pick the company that understands them better, that has a better relationship with them or has the capability to have a better relationship with them and also it exhibits greater transparency. Those are both things that come out when you have that social interaction inside the business and then it expands outside to how they interact with their customers.

PEX Network: What do you see as the key BPM Trends?

Sandy Kemsley: Certainly social BPM is one so we are seeing a lot of that already and I don’t think there are many vendors left on the market who aren’t doing some sort of social BPM in their offering, or at least calling it social BPM.

The second thing is adaptive case management. A lot of people put adaptive case management under the same category as social BPM but it’s not really so much about social BPM as it is about dynamic processes. It’s about being able to define processes on the fly, having, if you think about a typical case will be an insurance claim where a claims adjustor doesn’t know what they are going to do with a claim before they get that claim. They have to get the content, they have to take a look at it, and they have to decide what they are going to do. They might decide to collaborate with other people but in many cases it is just activities that they are doing themselves. But the idea is they decide which tasks, which processes are going to be executed for a claim on the fly as they see what content is there and as they get the feedback, as they request something information comes in and then they make the next decision about what needs to be done. That is adaptive case management; it is getting a lot of traction. These have traditionally not been part of BPM systems but we’re really starting to see that spectrum be defined from very structured processes to very dynamic processes in case management and a wide variety of things in between.

We have these semi-structured processes that might have some case management for exception processes, for example. Or we might have mostly unstructured processes that have some structured snippets that need to be added so things like the claim situation where you might have issuing a cheque would be a very standard process where they could just say oh and go run that issue a cheque process and they don’t have to define all of what that is. You get this whole spectrum of things that are completely defined ahead of time and those that are not defined at all and that is what we are seeing is this range between the adaptive case management and the traditional structured BPM. That is the second trend.

The third one that I’m seeing is around more intelligent processes and we are certainly seeing this. There will be a new report that Gartner is doing later this year. They are taking their whole magic quadrant and renaming it the intelligent BPMS quadrant. This is now looking at other capabilities, not just the ability to manage workflow and roles and do some system integration but also a number of things around having more intelligent process. This brings in predictive analytics, process mining, complex event processing, a number of different things where you can gather information about what is going on in the environment and then feed that into the process either for process discovery or to help provide information to the process as it is executed. For example, gathering information from the social media streams to feed into your information you have about your customer and the relationship you have with the customer at that point. These things are interrelated to some degree but those are the three major trends.

Watch the full interview BPM Convergence? Tips and Trends