Process Integration : putting Social into the Business flow

(photo : Mark Richards)

In all fairness, I am not such a big fan of the Social Business moniker.

I fully agree with Andrew McAfee statement whereby the social business thing has been here for ages. Dr McAfee would rather focus on the new tools to get things done perspective which makes more sense in a business environment. (Not to mention that Social Business already has a definition of his own which has nothing to do with the one everybody is using since 2010 Santa Clara conference)

Anyway, this post aims to discuss the issue of Process Integration using Social software as this looks like a great opportunity for both parties. Solving the Business Process Management equation thanks to Social Software agillity on one hand and putting Enterprise 2.0 into the flow of business processes.

Business Process Management

I’m not an expert in BPM (Sandy Kemsley is, you really want to follow her or check her blog if you have any interest in the topic) but what I understand from Wikipedia is that it aims to implement business processes through the orchestration of activities between people and systems (ERP, PLM, CRM, SCM, etc …) to create business value.

Now, that’s ambitious. Especially if you consider that these enterprise systems on their own already are extremely complicated to implement, let alone to integrate and have them collaborate.

Would Social be an opportunity to make BPM work ? Or BPM an opportunity for Social Software to fully integrate the enterprise ?

Bitter SOA

Historically, SOA (Service Oriented Architecture) has been the first technical solution envisaged to solve this BPM business issue. #hypertextual already has expressed his rants against SOA. In one short sentence : SOA is a creation of Astronauts Architects that joined to build accidental complexity as opposed to a proper solution.

SOA is based on gazillions of hyper sophisticated standards, languages etc … while XML-RPC or Resource Oriented Architecture (based on REST API) solve the same problems while sparing the bloatware and the enterprisey approach. I’ve attended BPM training in 2007 where the expert could not name a successful implementation of an Enterprise Service Bus (the backbone component of SOA). He conceded that the solution is not worth considering unless your target is above 500 users. Below that limit, you won’t get your money back.

BPM experts has turned bitter with SOA as, simply put, SOA didn’t deliver. They started wondering where would the technical solution come from to solve their business integration problems. Forrester Clay Richardson identified Social Software more than a year ago.

Looking at public internet solutions, it just makes sense : Flickr (since 2005), Facebook (2007) and Twitter (2007) have exposed their services into dead simple APIs that millions of developers around the world have used spontaneously to build new services integrating social processes from different applications. Bottom-line : when developers make API, there are millions of happy users. When it is astronaut architects, there are millions of dollars lost.

Enterprise Social Messaging

It has been very interesting lately to witness the activity with software vendors around the Process integration / Social Software love story.

Beyond Social BPM, with the likes of IBM acquiring Lombardi solution to offer such solution in the cloud (BlueWorks Live), we now see and a move towards Enterprise Social Messaging.

TIBCO the expert of Enterprise Application Integration has launched tibbr which allow to mix people, projects and systems activity streams on a micro-blogging platform. This is that very mix of type information streams (applications, subjects, people) that make tibbr a completely different animal from a mere enterprise microblogging solution such as Yammer or a SocialText Signals (no matter how good these are, I use Yammer on a daily basis and loves it).

On the open source front, there is no rest either : Apache has just promoted its Enterprise Social Messaging Engine (ESME) project fresh from incubator to Top Level project.

Looks like tibbr have adopted social software collaborative aptitudes and ease of integration to streamline process integration.

In the flow

Now that is very interesting because while doing so, this solution addresses one core question of the Enterprise 2.0 : how to put social software in the flow ? This is one subject the likes of  Bertrand Duperrin or Andrew McAfee (in his book) have been relentless about.

In other words, they don’t simply import the social toolkit from the internet behind the firewall in a holistic approach. Both tools aims to answer critical questions : how can we leverage social software best practices to streamline business processes ? And how can we integrate these tools into the daily routine of knowledge workers in order to contribute and generate business value ?

Even Denis Howlett, the official Enterprise 2.0 community naysayer, likes the tibrr concept. If even Denis likes it, then there REALLY must be something going on here …

Sandy asked the question on her blog a while back : Will social revive interest in BPM ? Will BPM make Social relevant ? In the light of the above I would tend to answer YES at the first question. As far as the second one is concerned, I blog because I’m a firm believer that social software is relevant in the enterprise context.

Knowledge Management, Innovation Management, people empowerment and now Business Process Management : it looks like Enterprise 2.0 is now tackling another critical domain of value creation in the Enterprise. What do you think ?

9 thoughts on “Process Integration : putting Social into the Business flow

  1. Nice post, Cecil! I agree that e2.0 is challenging us to look back and see what we did wrong in KM, BPM, IT in general, etc. In short I think e2.0 is showing us how important (and complex) human behavior is and how hard it is to support that by technology. E2.0 has made a good step towards human ways of working and thinking, but we still have big steps to go. I don’t imply process-thinking (and BPM) hasn’t got us anywhere. It has! But it’s not the way to go for all business (and businesses are built up out of humans). I wrote about this topic as well, e.g. http://info-architecture.blogspot.com/2010/05/is-your-organization-process-or-network.html

  2. I was responsible for doing exactly this at Target Corp. for the past 2 years. One of the biggest problems we always faced was the question “what business problem are we trying to solve?”. Its very difficult to get any type of funding unless there is a specific problem/business case.

    We were always a solution looking for a problem. We new the tools and processes would drive business value and efficiency, but couldn’t point to the specific ROI which would allow us to move forward more quickly. Baby steps, baby steps….that was the name of the game.

    All the discussions around theory are wonderful. Unless there is money/budget which can be had, implementing those solutions can be difficult.

  3. Hi Paul, thank you very much for your feedback this really gives a great perspective to the discussion.

    “a solution looking for a problem” is the main risk of a holistic approach of Enterprise 2.0.

    I guess we can surface problems this type of tools could solve by asking the users what stop them from being more productive in their daily work and monitoring the issues they are facing. This is what I try to do, anyway.

  4. It is great to see that more and more people are starting to think about what to actually do with this kind of solution and what business problem it solves.

    This is exactly what we are working on at Pega in partnership with Capgemini and Attensity.

    By applying intelligence and BPM automation to the virtual communities that appear on the web that are discussing companies products/reputation/practices, these companies can react faster, with greater agility, across multiple channels with a consistent message to not only maximise the opportunity but also deal with any negative ‘fear’ scenario far more efficiently. This allows organisations to become far more Proactive compared to their current Reactive position.

    Check out http://debate-tv.uk.capgemini.com/debate/Grapevine-Turning-Social-Insight-Into-Action-204 for more details on what we are working on.

  5. To echo Paul Novak’s point, sooner or later you’re going to be in front of a CFO asking for budget, and chances are she won’t know any of the buzz words du jour or what technology looks exciting.

    “what business problem are you going to solve and will it be cost effective?” is as old as business for good reason.

    Business Performance Management tends to be associated with specific mission critical processes and so is relatively easy to get budget for (“BPM will speed up getting the whiskey into the bottles and getting them onto the shelves more efficiently and quickly”).

    There’s a lot of big bang vendor social mumbo jumbo out there that is dangerously unconnected to hard business cases – tools that might be useful for attenuating and sorting a cacophony of digital consumer noises, or letting everyone share information around a digital watercooler, aren’t specific enough to get the cheque book out.

    Mapping to processes and demonstrating increased business performance is critical to arouse any sort of interest at all outside of the digital devotee world who can see the possibilities in new technologies…

    ..and as we all know even if you provide perfect incentives, workflows and tools it takes a lot to change overstretched people from perpetuating the familiar, comfortable ways they know to get things done…

  6. This is an interesting post, with great comments. What struck me as I was reading them is the idea that E2.0 initiatives shouldn’t be pitched as independent projects. Rather, as I discuss in Part 3 of the Social Media Primer I’m developing (http://tiny.cc/SMinOrgsPrimer3), they should be viewed as integral components of other high-priority initiatives. The new technologies are tools the can enhance the means by which goals are achieved, but they should not be goals in and of themselves. That’s a good reminder for all of us.

    Courtney Hunt
    Founder, Social Media in Organizations (SMinOrgs) Community

  7. Hi, thanks for the comment Courtney.

    I guess that the holistic (Social Business) approach can work with companies that are open minded enough. WIth companies with a more cautious and conservative approach it just can’t. So putting social tools into the flow is the best way to show how we can get more things done thanks to social tools. I agree with you : these tools are keys.

  8. Great post and suggestions in these comments. Especially useful are the practical reports from those actually experiencing E2.0 implementation like Paul up here.
    I would just like to point to another great set of posts on the same subject that surfaced a year ago: Social Process Reengineering? http://traction.tractionsoftware.com/traction?type=single&proj=Blog&rec=1326&rs=/link%20Blog1316%20%27Social%20Process%20Reengineering%3f%27 and Emergineering http://traction.tractionsoftware.com/traction/permalink/Blog1326.

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