There's plenty being said and written about social networking.

And there's plenty being said and written about business process management, or BPM.

Social networking is a feel-good, reach-out-and-and-touch-somebody world that has potential to morph into a powerful information channel when and if properly harnessed.

BPM is a scientific, methodological approach to assembling and measuring workflows that demands skillful management and discipline.

So, at first glance, it appears as though the two have about as much in common as a punk rocker and a marine sergeant. Or a disc jockey and a nuclear physicist. You get the picture.

But Clay Richardson, analyst with Forrester Research and highly regarded BPM expert, says social networking and BPM could go together very nicely, and create a whole new approach to collaboration across organizations. I recently had the opportunity to join Richardson in a recent Webcast, in which he made the case for bringing social networking approaches to BPM projects.

Richardson points out that BPM efforts usually start out with the best of hopes, but the hope is usually ground down by organizational politics and inertia. Users start to wonder why BPM projects are taking so long. The right process skills can be hard to come by. People stop communicating. Bringing teams together from multiple functional areas could take months, only to result in participants complaining, “this how the process works in my world, and this is how it works in their world.” In the end, business end-users resent the changes pushed down at them by the BPM or IT departments, and figure out ways to get around the new rules.

Applying a social networking approach—via wikis, blogs, and even Twitter-style messaging between team members and other parts of the organization—can open up the BPM process, and in doing so, gain more engagement from business process owners.

Richardson pointed out that he has already been working with a leading financial services firm on a social BPM approach, with very impressive results.

“They were already very sophisticated with BPM—they were pretty advanced, with multiple BPM tools in-house,” he relates. “But they were really trying to increase end-user involvement—to get the end users to provide feedback, so when they rolled out business processes, they didn't have this slow or low adoption of business processes.”

Despite the relative sophistication of the financial services firm's existing BPM assets and methodologies, a low-tech social networking solution seemed to help clear things up, he continued. “Using wikis combined with the BPM suite, which also allows users to tag, and provide feedback, they set up an electronic water cooler It was a very simple thing to do but definitely brings more voices in.”

As a result of this electronic water cooler, the firm was able to “improve the adoption rate across processes,” Richardson says. An important aspect is the added capability of users to “change the process as the process is executing” a form of “real-time feedback” that was never possible before. This accomplished new initiatives far faster than “tracking someone down in a hall, or waiting for the next rev,” he adds.

Next time you see a BPM effort getting bogged down or being off-target to what the business needs, maybe it's time to ask if there's a better way to open up interaction between the people building the processes, and those that will implement them. Social networking may hold the key.

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