One of the sessions at the recent Nimbus Partners’ Inspiring Performance Conference that I was particularly interested to attend was on Social BPM. Craig Willis from Nimbus ran a two hour workshop session covering “what is the social enterprise?”, “what is social BPM?”, some examples of technologies to support “social BPM” and some thoughts on “where next”.
A key point made was that business is inherently “social”; people interact all the time to communicate, share, learn, solve problems and to innovate. So, there’s nothing new about “Social”. I wrote an article in my July 2011 Newsletter titled Social BPM: More IT fad-surfing? Some of the concerns I raised then were:
- Social BPM risks being something the IT vendors are offering as the latest silver bullet and it may become just another failed IT implementation, particularly if it’s driven by the IT geeks and not “real” business users
- The 90:9:1 rule applies in many situations where online collaboration tools are available:
- 90% of users are lurkers (i.e. read, but don’t contribute)
- 9% of users contribute from time to time, but other priorities dominate their time
- 1% of users participate a lot and account for most contributions: it can seem as if they don’t “have a life” because they devote so much time to posting content, however relevant it may or may not be
- It is usually claimed that 80% of “Knowledge Management” happens through human interaction and only 20% can sensibly be captured and codified using technology. So, it seems a bit unlikely that IT tools will really be the answer for Social BPM. This is, of course an interesting parallel with the Nimbus view that only 20% of processes are (or can be) automated and 80% of processes are dependent on people and human interaction.
One of the worries raised in the workshop was about governance and change control. If people are interacting and improving processes using social tools, how do you know that:
(a) the best ideas are being adopted (if less than 10% of users are using the technology)?
(b) they are not causing unforeseen problems in upstream or downstream processes?
(c) the vast majority of employees who don’t use the technology are going to adopt the new ways of working proposed by those using the social technology?
Clearly, there’s a real dilemma between empowering people to improve continuously and ensuring compliance, particularly in a regulated environment. That’s no different whether you have social IT tools or manual systems. They key, always, is to ensure staff know what they are “empowered to improve” and what they simply have to “comply with”.
I suppose it’s the 90:9:1 rule that worries me most. How big is the group of employees outside the 90:9:1 rule that aren’t even lurking? While I am happy to agree that the use of social IT is only likely to increase, I’m not convinced that giving staff a Twitter/Yammer/Chatter/Facebook/Google+ workplace is going to be the answer to life, the universe and everything.
Probably the most relevant comment made by one of the attendees at the Social BPM presentation was that “our people walk over to talk with each other”. Which neatly brings us back to Craig’s point that business is inherently social already.