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The premise fueling the social enterprise is a powerful one: The collective intelligence of people can make an organization smarter and more efficient. Done right, social BPM can augment BPM with enhanced visibility, accountability and adaptability.

As many business and IT professionals are discovering, the keys to successful social BPM initiatives include timing, tools, strategies and best practices.

But that’s often easier said than done. While the buzz about social BPM has been swarming around for a few years, the term still means different things to different people. Put another way: Social BPM remains the subject of plenty of hype, and the industry surrounding it is still maturing.

That said, it’s not too early in the game to gain value from a social BPM implementation by drawing on industry wisdom about how to do the job well.

At its core, social BPM addresses how to monitor and contribute to conversations both inside and outside of the organization. Typically, the social approach brings many voices into the conversation up and down the value chain.

Although people sometimes use the terms “collaborative” and “social” interchangeably, and although the two are often used in tandem, they’re far from identical. Social tools are, by their nature, broadcast tools. In comparison, collaborative tools support a group of people working together, sharing the ownership of or involvement in that process or project. You might think of collaborative as a subset of social.

Experts say social BPM can force companies to rethink how work gets done. Elise Olding, a Gartner Inc. research director, attributes these benefits to social BPM:

* It enhances process visibility by adding important context.

* It supports collaboration, especially around decision-making, by boosting accountability.

* It supports adaptability by delivering insights in the context of the work.

“Social BPM can help companies address problems faster and more efficiently by harnessing resources and using the opportunity to crowd source,” Olding says.

The conduit for social BPM can be found in existing BPM suites (BPMSs) that have been enhanced with integrated social features such as event monitoring, tasks and actions, subscription feeds, real-time collaboration, communities, tagging, walls, wikis, instant messaging and crowd-sourcing application development (also known as “design by doing”), among others.

Organizations can also add a social component to their BPM efforts by running the standalone social tools that numerous vendors offer. However, industry experts say social BPM tends to be far more effective when it’s integrated into the work being done, rather than used as a bolted-on solution.

Following are four issues to consider in establishing social BPM:

1. Start by assessing where things stand. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to launching a social BPM initiative. Every organization needs to fully understand its own objectives for moving forward with social BPM.

To help companies get started, Forrester has devised a Social BPM Readiness Assessment designed to help BPM teams evaluate the potential benefits and risks of adopting social BPM approaches. The reason: BPM isn’t for everyone, and not all BPM teams are ready for social BPM, says Forrester Senior Analyst Clay Richardson.

The readiness assessment is based on best practices that Forrester has gathered from interviews with clients. It involves agreeing or disagreeing with a number of statements about organizational interactions, processes, personalities, skills, technology and governance. Based on an assessment score the organization can better understand the level of opportunity and potential benefit to implementing a social BPM initiative.

2. Determine the timing. When is a good time to go social?

Now, suggest BPM advisors. With tools still relatively adolescent and conversations about social BPM a bit fuzzy, companies can experiment with social BPM to learn more about it without making a big commitment.

Consider a tactical approach for your early adventures in social BPM. For example, share a process model. Or launch a social interaction about the next version of a new process. Or try to obtain feedback on what’s wrong with an existing process.

“In addition to face-to-face meetings, a company can create a website where stakeholders can contribute to events, post webinars or process models or artifacts, for example,” says Connie Moore, a Forrester vice president and principal analyst. At the same time, participants can gain skills, learn the social BPM lingo and see how people approach processes.

3. Choose tools. Social is about more than Facebook and Twitter; as mentioned previously, social tools involve a variety of other social and collaborative features.

BPM vendors are embracing social to varying degrees, so you may want to talk to your existing partners about their offerings. Many vendors offer social enterprise networking software, and some solutions are available as Software as a Service for easier implementation.

Forrester’s Richardson notes that there’s also high value to mining internal social networks, particularly in large, distributed organizations. Benefits include uncovering hidden knowledge, expertise or influence as well as gaining a better understanding of how work really gets done in the organization.

Social monitoring tools and analytic tools are two especially hot areas for social BPM. Social monitoring involves tracking social conversations and social sentiment. It can be used to capture issues about work or a process and then be used to make improvements.

Social analytic tools are used to gather unstructured data and measure sentiment providing insight as a basis for action. Companies can only manage, or better execute, what they can monitor and measure.

“BPM is quantitative, while social BPM is qualitative,” says Dion Hinchcliffe, executive vice president of strategy at the Dachis Group.

4. Establish governance. There don’t seem to be any hard and fast rules when it comes to social BPM and governance, except that some guidelines are needed.

At the same time, it’s important to recognize that social has the potential to create a governance minefield. Work to prevent your social networks from becoming megaphones for negative comments, personal attacks and other inappropriate commentary.

Experts recommend creating clear “do’s and don’ts” to make sure that social BPM activities remain business-like. “Understand the risk factors and get the legal department involved,” advises Olding.

What about regulatory and compliance requirements? Generally, many of the same rules applying to email also apply to social initiatives. Above all, users should be careful about what they say. Again, it’s wise to seek legal guidance.

Following is additional advice for smoothly and successfully getting into social BPM:

* Understand the objectives. Know exactly why the company wants to get into social BPM.

* Start small. Begin with a pilot project and use it to gain knowledge about and understanding of the social approach.

* Start selectively. Initially, look for areas offering the most opportunity for benefitting from social BPM--for instance, processes involving many exceptions or with communication-intensive workflows.

* Promote usage. Facilitate social interaction and encourage people to get involved.

* Take an integrated approach. Ideally, integrate social capability into BPM software so that users don’t have to go outside of a process model being discussed or have parallel systems running.

* Inject analytics into social approaches. Then take action accordingly. That’s where companies reap the true value of social BPM.

Experts recommend avoiding these common social BPM missteps:

* Failing to prepare the groundwork: Companies cannot expect that just because they’ve introduced social tools that BPM users will readily adopt them. It’s important to provide the right training and support to help users integrate social.

* Creating expectations that aren’t fulfilled: Social BPM that’s disconnected from action, or that doesn’t deliver what’s promised, will result in waning user participation. It’s also dangerous to let people believe that your organization will solve all its communication issues simply by adding social tools.

* Forgetting to monitor social BPM: It’s important to keep an eye on who’s saying what to prevent the circulation of inaccurate, negative or damaging information.

But the biggest pitfall may be avoiding social BPM entirely. Companies that hold back on trying social BPM risk missing out on a great opportunity to capture knowledge, enable collaboration and maximize resources that can ultimately provide serious business benefits.

READER FEEDBACK: Is your organization using social BPM? If so, what kinds of BPM projects benefit most from the approach? And if not, do you plan to try the social BPM at some point? ebizQ's editors would love to hear your take on the issue. Contact Site Editor Anne Stuart at editor@ebizq.net.

About the Author

Lynn Haber is a Boston-area freelance writer who specializes in writing about business and technology. Contact her at lthaber@comcast.net.

More by Lynn Haber, ebizQ Contributor



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