Mobile, Social and BPM – do they really fit together?

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Dan Morris

Emerging mobile technology is literally changing the way we live, writes columnist Dan Morris. This is the first part of a two part column looking at the impact of mobile technology and social media in BPM.

Mobile technology is causing a revolution in both our global societies and in the way people expect to interact with companies. As will everything, there are early adopters and there will be those who come late to the party and try to focus on doing something better than the other party goers. They focus on fixing problems and improving things that were poorly delivered.

However, those who move first and adopt mobile technologies and leverage social media capabilities have an opportunity to affect consumer loyalty. Early adopters tend to be selling to people who they believe value new capabilities and less hassle. For these customers, buying is simply not focused on price; they will gladly pay more for trusted service and ease of interaction. They want the newest and the best packaged in a convenient and easy way. Here we take another of many lessons from Apple.

The fact is that many people are still willing to pay for convenience, trust, friendly problem resolution (many are conflict averse), a positive experience instead of frustration, and pleasant surroundings. Although some might disagree, the customer will also still pay for image, brand recognition and a boost to their egos. So, I believe that any business improvement consideration must include these factors.

And, that brings us to the point of this column – customer expectations are now changing. With the internet accessible from a plethora of hand held mobile devices and with a growing ability for anyone to ask the world about experiences with a product or company, shoppers are changing their approach to buying.

Today, within minutes of a bad experience, it is all over the net. Social customer relationship management (Social CRM) applications are now becoming more widely used to help companies keep their fingers on the pulse of consumer opinion and experience. Companies are even trying to use this to do damage control and get ahead of any negative backlash from a poor website, a practice that makes customers uncomfortable in interacting with the company and a great many other things.

Yep, that’s me in the middle with the wet shirt (monsoon season). I still don’t know why the towers slant inward in the picture, since they are really straight when you are there. Maybe a reader can send me a note – if I get an answer, I’ll include it in my next column.

It is common for people to pre-shop on the net to find a best price and then go to retail stores that "price match". Those retailers that don’t price match lose the business.

For example, I recently bought a new high end camera. All the stores I called had it for the same price. Most of the websites had it within a dollar or two of the same price. But I found a reputable (yes, there are disreputable web retailers) website retailer who offered the camera for about $100 less than the other retailers. I called a retail camera chain in my area and asked them if they price matched with internet prices and they said NO they do not.

Too bad for them.

I printed the web page and took it to my local big box retailer who had the camera in stock. They looked the website up and then matched the price. No shipping, no wait, and no fuss. And I was off to India and got some great shots of the Taj Mahal.

Still others I know carry their iPad and check prices as they are shopping. Some use their phones the same way and the number and type of devices with internet access is growing all the time. They then simply show the customer service department at their favorite retailer the website on the device and they are good to go –best price matched.

Then comes the really great part – changes in the way we live, communicate, and generally interact with the world. Since I was there on business, I was alone. But I could send the picture above to my wife and daughter before I left the Taj. I thought that was really neat – but I am from the picture film generation, where we had to wait until we got home to have pictures developed and then copied so we could send them out with a letter. So I don’t take these capabilities for granted.


Applying new technology and social trends at work

This is the new world. The fact is that emerging mobile technology is changing the way we do things and the way we look at things. It is literally changing the way we live. But is it changing the way we work?

We now have a few new variations on the "shopping" experience that must be considered. This is not simply a technology change. It started that way, but it has evolved into a social change in countries throughout the world.

The way we live is evolving rapidly. Creativity is coming from everywhere. But too often today, the advances in the outside world are jumping way ahead of the ability of companies to leverage the same technology and trends and then embrace the use of new and very different employee skills to innovate. We are simply growing out of sync - companies do provide new capabilities and some are innovative. They are driving a lot of the society based change. But few companies are really using this technology or capability to redesign their internal operations.

This must and will change. Once the investment is justified from individual gains or benefits, the internal operations of a business will also change to take advantage of mobile technology and social media concepts to make a very different low cost operating model available in the company. But like BPMS technology, it will probably be concentrated and narrowly focused.

The early adopters today often have little cohesion in the use of digital among different departments or groups in their companies.

Clearly, many ideas will be good, but not practical because they cannot be implemented or because they would cost too much to implement. However, if an idea is good, someone somewhere will find a way to implement it at a cost that management considers reasonable. But, that again takes a willingness to think about things from a very different perspective.

An example here is the digital watch which I understand was invented in Switzerland someplace. Company management didn’t think anything of the new technology and so they sold it to Japanese companies who had more flexibility and more vision and who now owns that market. So, the same will hold true for the possibilities that digital technology and its companion, social media, are bringing. That is why this example is important.

The early adopters today often have little cohesion in the use of digital among different departments or groups in their companies. The "digital strategies" are mostly technology strategies and often do not address the business use or the way the company can support innovation. If this is true for your company, assuming you have a digital strategy, the strategy should be seriously expanded and enhanced to provide business use enablement and enough control to avoid problems.

In addition to a strategy, I suggest you consider implementing a formal consistent set of terms and basic concepts on use. This is the base and I’d add a set of use standards and techniques to provide control over how different groups approach the use of the technology and how they look at social media. But (somehow there is always a "but") control should not stifle creativity or you will stop innovation dead in its tracks.

This is the old balancing act played out in security, methodology, approach, and a hundred other things every day.

The problem is that companies tend to move too far in one direction or the other – reaching the right mix is tough and is often based on experience and fear. If a manager has been hit by a certain type of problem, he or she will naturally do what they can to avoid it in the future – even if it is improbable. Yes, lightning does strike, but not often.

So the debate will continue. I do however urge that an approach to control your move to digital and social be tempered with an emphasis on probability. But that is your call as a manager.

A new look inside your old operation

I urge you to also consider geographical culture in all your moves into leveraging these new technologies and capabilities. Many are "touchy" and many others are oblivious to it.

Access to new markets is a two edged sword. You can reach them, but when you do, you don’t want to insult or in some way send people in different cultures away. This issue is growing in importance as globalization connects people and companies from vastly different cultures. Because of this, it is suggested that formal OCM and cultural specialist be added to a business design or redesign project.

The first question must now be "who is your target customer?" Yes, I know you have asked this before, but the answer may now be changing as new global markets open up for you through the internet. So do your customers differ by geography? Do they differ by culture? Do they differ by how they want to interact or by what they are looking for? And the list of questions goes on. The answer is clearly a driver for a comprehensive digital strategy.

But, in your innovation and use of these technologies and techniques, don’t stop at the customer facing activities. This is a critical consideration and a major point in this column. Look inside your business operation (the old back room activity). Ask yourself if there is there a chance for fundamental changes based on this new technology or through social media?

Before you say no, think about the work and what is required. For example, let’s look at the social media based "app" architecture. The digital media apps drive socialization of capabilities in today’s world. They are small and they are inexpensive to build. They are also limited in what they each do.

But, so what?

If I break a process into activities and then tasks, I can look at IT support very differently. I can essentially break the big million lines of code legacy applications with their overhead into functionally independent "apps" that each do one function and pass data to someplace we tell it to.

This supports a different app architecture and a very different approach – apps become small service modules that can be strung together to move work incrementally though a process’ steps until the final service or product are delivered. This reduces the need for large legacy type applications. Because many to most of these small apps can be generated by a BPMS, this approach delivers an ability to deliver rapid change.

The people simply do what they need to do and call the next app. So the process design involves single steps in an integrated process that execute one or a series of small apps that support what the business user wants to do.

I am not suggesting that the large high volume transaction applications should be replaced. They shouldn’t, but there is a whole layer of activity that is close to the customer and that make the customer’s interaction with the company easier. There are also no bounds on the way we can apply this and other digital technology and techniques to rethink the way we do work and the way the company is organize.

The implications are staggering – no limits as long as the rules governing activity complies with law. This means there is a new opportunity to redefine the concept of best practices.

I hope this discussion gets you thinking. I hope it starts you to look at how emerging technology and social change in the world can be leveraged – how can it make a difference in your business and the way it works? Next month, we will continue this discussion and look at creativity in using mobile technology, social media, and BPM.

Please let me know what you think.