Mobile, Social and BPM – Working together for fundamental change?



Dan Morris
11/21/2012

Second of a two part column looking at the impact of mobile technology and social media in BPM

In part 1 of this two part column, columnist Dan Morris set the stage for questioning the use of emerging mobility technology, concepts and social movements in looking at business transformation. In this second column he carries this further and looks at mobile, social, and BPM in driving operational redesign.

Many companies have discovered digital technology and the use of social media to improve customer interaction and move ahead of their competition. Initially, the use of these tools and approaches to drive changes in our globalizing society were low key and experimental. Today the experiments continue, but the foundation is clearly in place for an explosion of both technology enablement and a fundamental rethinking of the way companies operate and interact with their customers.

A lot of information is available on digital based innovation. What is somewhat missing from the discussion is how this technology and the changes in society and social media can be used to go beyond customer interaction aids and can be used to reconsider how you will operate your business. Looking inside your walls instead of outside, we see that the way you have operated really doesn’t need to be carried into the future – in fact remaining consistent with what has always been done may become a constraint.

The need to rethink the fundamental way we look at our business operations

To start, everyone needs to recognize we are in the midst of a tremendous change in our technology, our approaches to business, and the way our society is evolving. We have entered the age of mobility and unparalleled social communication. Our phone/texting, and other bills are a testimonial to the time spent using these types of tools and capabilities.

People of all ages and most cultures have discovered a new enabled way to live and it is becoming ingrained into our personal and professional lives. We are all surrounded by a new type of connection to everyone else and we are learning to use rapidly changing technical capabilities as they change the way we live and interact. The fact is that we are all evolving with the new technology. The question now is – how will these advances change the way we work?

A new computer, mobile device, computer system, or web app are only enablers. It takes creative people who can turn these things into the fundamental change we are seeing in the way we live. In BPM, this presents a new opportunity to rethink what our companies do and how they do it. In the past, we have used this new mobile technology and cultural change to help redesign the customer focused side and look for ways to create and deliver expectations of easy interaction. But we have not often looked at how we could apply this new technology internally in our companies to revolutionize the way we all work.

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Customer Focus is a good thing, but it is not the only thing

There I go again – being purposely controversial. But it is still a true statement.

Mobile technology, social media, cloud computing, big data, and whatever will be announced in the next month or two have the power to revolutionize companies and the way they work internally. But that power will only be realized if we apply it to everything we improve or transform in our companies. Yes that means we must collaborate with IT and we must build the case together to adopt a broad vision of change and the way these tools and concepts can be integrated into our evolution strategy and our portfolio of capabilities.

Today, there is a lot of noise and a lot of interest in mobile computing and social media. Early adopters are getting a lot of press and attention by customers and by managers.

But, as with all things, there is a big difference between what you could do, what you may want to do, and what you may be allowed to do. This is where the issues of risk, cost, disruption, aversion to change, and other factors come in. These issues are very real and must be considered in any strategy to leverage this "digital" technology and design a flexible operation that can now spread across the globe using the internet to connect everyone.

While a virtually limitless grouping of possible operating design models is possible, governance will now take on a new importance as the company creates their digital strategy and their vision for the future. This area now carries more importance than ever before. Aside from the obvious issues related to distribution of work to a geographically dispersed workforce, the new business designer must now also look at customer expectations in accessing the company and merging information.

These facts underlay any expansion of this technology to redesign internal operations. So the business process designers will now need to consider legacy issues as well as emerging security, expectation, and internal change acceptance issues.

While examples abound, the simple fact is that each company now must consider how its customer base has changed and how it is continuing to evolve as mobile devices and social media offer new options. But I believe that customer interaction is only half of the strategy picture related to these technologies and changing knowledge patterns.

While customer focused interaction changes are being considered, there is an opportunity to add in what will be needed to support the internal evolution that these new technologies can support. So I urge you to consider the internal use of these technologies in creating an operating vision of the future and the approach that will be taken in evolving the company’s IT infrastructure and technology security.

Why BPM? How did that get into this conversation?

Once a "digital" strategy that includes both external and internal use is accepted, and once the innovative use of this technology and the associated capabilities shifts the approach that will be taken in evolving the business operation, it will be time to build new mobile based processes and workflows. This evolution of the business operation’s ability to execute is the realm of BPM and BPMS.

And, to be true to our craft, we need to always be looking for tools, techniques, trends, ideas, and approaches that will help us go beyond improvement and reach transformation. Digital mobile technology, social media, cloud computing, big data, and global technology use are among the things we must now understand and leverage.

But, with anything new, each company will need to create its own understanding of how to apply this technology and other changes that will come. This will require an ability to test changes and ideas without harming the business or spending too much time and money in trial and error type projects.

One of the key improvements that BPM offers in this space is the ability to simulate and iterate to try multiple new operating designs and then critically evaluate each design to see which one provides the operation needed to meet your KPIs. The modeling and capture of information needed to do this and the simulation capabilities of many products are the clear strength of BPMS technology. The freedom to evaluate and redesign by rapidly iterating, simulating and then testing, are the foundation of BPM. It is also the key to limiting and controlling business change risk.

However, this rapid iteration and the use of emerging technology such as digital devices and social media to deliver true, low cost collaboration, requires a new approach to managing application, business operation, and people changes. Clearly any adoption of digital technology and concepts to change the business will require new skills, a different understanding of technical capabilities, and the creation of ways to promote acceptance in the workforce – even for people who are gurus’ with their iPhones and iPads. So it will be important to build in ways to deal with the human capital side of any operational changes driven by this technology or emerging ideas, concepts and approaches.

OK, but how do we leverage digital technology and social media to rethink our business operations?

The place to start is with a comprehensive, detailed understanding of the capabilities that are now available. My teams and I are starting from scratch in our questioning. When we look at business transformation or a large scale improvement, we are asking new questions, "What capabilities are needed to support strategy?" "What is needed to deliver these capabilities?"

Then we look at how their workforce could provide the activity needed to deliver these capabilities. For this we start by asking "Why would your staff need an office?" "When do you need to have workers be together and when can they be separated and work remotely?" "What technical support will they need?" "Should you provide mobile devices or should you expect/pay them to have their own?" "What can you expect staff and candidates in a given geography to already know?" "How can we leverage mobility technology and social media concepts to change the way business is done?" "How can we mix this new technology and associated approaches with legacy applications and both application development and application generation from a BPMS?" And, the list goes on.

These are questions no one was able to ask before. But as the supporting technology changes what is possible, the questions we ask must also evolve.

We can set up any process to monitor work and we can design in activities to audit work remotely and spot check in real time against given values, KPIs, and other milestone based approaches. We can even make certain that people are given test cases on a random frequency to check against a known answer or result.

Of course security is given a new level of importance and difficulty in this type of environment, but that can be dealt with – many global companies are dealing with it every day. The result is a new flexibility and a new set of questions that we can ask in considering the best way to redesign a business area or a process.

Today, what difference does it make if our workers are in the US, Europe, South America, or Asia? In some cases it does make a difference and in some cases it doesn’t. But we now should ask the question. Most people today can certainly collaborate through email, instant messaging, Skype, and more. They can use web based sessions to share files and to work in groups from all over the world. So why and under what conditions do they need to be together?

To round this out, the data and applications can still be controlled and security maintained. Why not use the cloud and why not rethink IT support to deal with any technical issues as they learn and find ways to deliver more for less?

The simple fact is that because of changes in society, buyer expectation, and operational possibilities, any improvement or transformation (especially any transformation) that fails to look at leveraging emerging technologies and new ideas are really unnecessarily limiting the type and level of improvement that is possible.

The starting point in moving to these game changing capabilities is collaboration between IT and the business managers and the creation of an internal mixed committee to consider emerging technology and operational concepts and monitor their use – both in the marketplace and within a company. Based on this understanding, the committee will be able to identify the best digital and evolution strategy, the right benefit, the right governance for the company as a whole, and then create the right roadmap to move forward.

Realistically, this is not easy. It requires the intentional breaking of old barriers between business silos and between the business and IT. It also requires the acceptance of new leading edge technology approaches and operational improvement concepts. But, the rewards can be great – real business optimization, change flexibility and cost reduction. I believe that those who succeed at doing this can gain a serious competitive advantage.

As always I hope this column makes you think about new possibilities.

A special thanks to Andy Parr who provided the following answer to the question in my last column on why towers appear to bend in when photographed. Andy wrote:

"In answer to your question as to why the towers lean in on your photograph, it is due to the lens on the camera used. Not wishing to get too technical, a 50mm lens produces as near a vertical image as possible, an image as the eye sees it. Most digital cameras have a lens with a wider angle – less than 50 mm, and usually anywhere between 28mm and 49mm. The wider the angle the more images are squeezed and the perspective shortened so it looks like tall structures are leaning.

There are now more ways than ever to work with your BPM. Social media is definitely a key aspect and in this constantly modernising world you need to make sure you are up to date. PEX network’s BPM open house is a free online event which gives advice on how to create new and efficient procedures.

It is an effect that allows you to get the whole structure in the photograph whereas with a longer lens you’d not get the whole tower in. For example, the top would be cropped off the photo. Wikipedia gives a more technical answer about the effect of perspective distortion as it is called. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perspective_distortion_(photography)"

For further reading see: Mobile, Social and BPM – do they really fit together?