Editor’s Note: In this Q & A, ebizQ’s Peter Schooff speaks with well-known industry analyst Neil Ward-Dutton about trends and best practices in social networking and collaboration for dynamic case management (DCM). Ward-Dutton, another frequent contributor to the ebizQ Forum, is co-founder of and research director for MWD Advisors. This interview has been edited for length, clarity and editorial style.

ebizQ: Everyone is talking about case management. How do you think collaboration and social networking can help with that?
Ward-Dutton:
Something I’ve noticed happening a lot in the last 18 months to two years is things that we used to see as being very separate silos of technology and practice are starting to be kind of smashed together in organizations.

Many of them have to do with the super-competitive nature that exists within many industries. [In addition], the need to really deliver great customer experiences is forcing people to think about how to improve the way work gets done. It’s forcing people to step out of those silos—not only silos for an organizational point of view, in terms of getting people to work together, but also technology silos.

[Meanwhile,] you also are seeing social and collaboration technologies diving into the mix as well. That’s not only interesting in its own right; it's also blurring the whole question of BPM versus case management.

One way of looking at the impact of this social/collaboration technology is as a kind of layer. I hate the word "user,” but I’m going to use it anyway: It's kind of a layer of user-centered computing that is about reducing friction between people and systems.

Because of the constraints of technology, we've had to force people to change the way they work to fit around technology. And now we can change the way technology works to fit around the way people naturally interact with each other.

For me, social/collaboration technology is that kind of layer of technology—that kind of sheen, if you like—that can cross existing systems and contexts and smooth the way that systems present themselves to people. It enables people to work in much more natural ways through that layer—either with each other or with systems. It’s [about being] more able to be reactive in changing environments.

So rather than having very prescriptive ways of getting work done, when you inject social/collaboration into the picture, you enable organizations to take potentially quite rigid systems and add flexibility. You make it make it easier to share knowledge, to get guidance on confusing issues in a work situation—for example, to understand when policies can be overwritten, to reach out to people, to get problems resolved in real time. That [capability] can be super-important when you have more rigid systems, or systems that are undergoing a lot of change in the background. [You can] create a more seamless experience, particularly when you're in situations that are less predictable.

That brings us back to what I was talking about at the beginning: being more focused on improving customer service and improving the customer experience. It all plays into the real business focus that we're seeing right now.

ebizQ: For this sheen, this layer: What type of tools for social networking and collaboration work best?
Ward-Dutton:
A lot of it really depends on the organization, because now we're into the realm of change management and the way that people work and, actually, the organizational psychology, the organizational dynamics. It's very difficult to [recommend] one direction or one solution for every company because different companies have very, very different cultures.

The one thing that’s fair to say is that email still has a role to play. But it falls short for many scenarios of the kind we're talking about, where you need to bring systems and knowledge and people together at the right time with the right information to serve a particular need—[for example,] to fulfill a customer's issue. So you really need environments that have some degree of instantaneous communication.

[In some situations,] that might just be a simple kind of instant-messaging capability; in others, it’s a micro-blogging capability. Or it may be a more sophisticated kind of activity-streams technology, with lots of integrated feeds from systems. Or it may be more of a team-collaboration-workspace kind of functionality that’s resolved around a business-intelligence or content-management platform. It's difficult to generalize too much; it’s dependent on the particular company and the particular scenarios.

ebizQ: Definitely, and I think it's still under development as well. Now, what are some best practices for utilizing social networking and collaboration?
Ward-Dutton:
It really comes down to design and to thinking about the big picture regarding culture. [Starting in reverse,] the cultural aspect is super-important because what we find is that you can put any tool in you like, but unless you try to train people and enable people to work together, [unless you have] the right culture, you're not going to get anywhere.

The design piece is about using techniques to flesh out the role that a general-purpose kind of collaboration platform will play in the context of broader work-improvement kinds of technology. If you’ve got a BPM platform and you've got a rules engines and you've got some document management capability and you’ve got social software, one of the key things to get right—at a very high level, at least—is working out which technologies need to fit in which boxes. Architecturally, how do all those things need to fit together to support the goals that the business is trying to deliver?

So if you look at the overall goal, in terms of improving the work, how much of that and which parts of that should be given over to social/collaboration technologies where you provide that kind of general-purpose capability for people to connect and share information? How much of it needs to be tied into the other resources you have: document management, structured workflow and so on? Architecting the overall experience from all those ingredients is a real skill, and it's important to really spend a lot of time thinking about that.



About the Author

Peter Schooff is a former contributing editor for ebizQ, where he also managed the ebizQ Forum for several years. Previously, Peter managed the database operations for a major cigar company, served as writer/editor of an early Internet entertainment site and developed a computer accounting system for several retail stores. Peter can be reached at pschooff@techtarget.com.

More by Peter Schooff

About ebizQ

ebizQ is the insider’s guide to next-generation business process management. We offer a growing collection of independent editorial articles on BPM trends, issues, challenges and solutions, all targeted to business and IT BPM professionals.

We cover BPM standards, governance, technology and continuous process improvement, as well as process discovery, modeling, simulation and optimization, among many other areas. We follow case management, decision management, business rules management, operational intelligence, complex event processing and other related topics. We closely track important trends such as the rise of social BPM, mobile BPM and BPM in the cloud. We also explore BPM’s use in functional areas, such as supply chain and customer management, and in key verticals, such as financial services, health care, insurance and government.

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