What We Need is a Marriage of Business Process and Social Networking

by Jim Berkowitz on November 10, 2009

Here are several excerpts from a very insightful article by Bob Warfield, CEO of Helpstream, Why Process Barfs on Social:

Enterprise 2.0’s biggest problem is it lacks Business Process for the most part.

What we’re lacking is simply a harmonious marriage of these two (Business Process and Social Networking).  Social should be integrated into specific business processes, perhaps many if not most specific business processes.  When it isn’t, what we have is ad hoc.  We lose the advantages of process in terms of measurability, repeatability, and consistency.  We lose the support of those who cannot see value in anything but process.

This is a matter of where we are in the evolution of Social Business Software.  The 1.0 E2.0 products are tools, in some cases they want to be dignified as platforms, but they lack that process component, so they really shouldn’t  be dignified as platforms because they are too incomplete.

We see this evolution over and over in Enterprise Software.  First we get the tools.  This is the Silver Bullet stage.  Everyone expects magic.  But the tools lack specific process.  They do not solve specific problems.  They are not solutions, in short.  As such, the results one sees from them vary wildly.

Nobody seems to be able to put their finger on why things work sometimes and not others.  The answer is that without Process, they haven’t factored people properly into the equation.  Ironic when this happens to software whose whole purpose is to be Social!

In the Tool Stage, only organizations that have really talented and properly empowered people can implement Process on top of their Tools without any help from the Tool get the full benefit.

We’ve reached a point in the evolution where there is enough smoke that it’s time to bring out the fire.  We need to move from the Tool Stage to the Solution Stage. This is a time honored transformation that has happened before and spawned huge new markets like the ERP and Supply Chain areas I’ve already mentioned.  The requirements are pretty straightforward:

1.  Solve a Specific Business Problem: No touchy feely stuff allowed.  You can’t just be about making things “better” or “empowering people.”  Passion is great, but call your shot, and if the ball doesn’t go into that pocket, you’ve scratched and forfeit the game.

2.  Include Specific Out-of-the-box Business Processes that are Configurable: You can’t have a Business Process product that has no Process!  You can’t expect a Process to be one-size-fits-all.

3.  Map out how the Social Business Processes integrate with Existing Business Processes: This one is absolutely critical.  Too often the answer from the Tool Stage is, “We won’t need those existing processes any more because our silver bullet is that good.”  Baloney!  Your organization has some sort of Business Process, defacto or formal, for everything it does.  If you’re solving a Specific Business Problem of any worth, there will be quite a lot that needs to be thought through and integrated with.

4.  Be Able to Measure Success: For the Process world, if it isn’t measurable, it may not exist.  For most of the E2.0 world, measurement has either been beside the point or an after-the-fact nice-to-have that is done grudgingly when the Marketing Department needs a case study to sell more product.  If you’re doing #1, #2, and #3 correctly, your product should be able to measure its ROI continuously.  After all, you have an integrated end-to-end process solving real business problems.  Surely such a process is incomplete if you can’t measure whether the problems actually got solved or not, isn’t it?

Social and Process are not strange bedfellows.  They actually work together very nicely.  Process can never spell out every critical detail and exception.  Social is the most powerful tool yet devised to help empower people to fill in those gaps.  This is one of those rare cases where the whole is actually much greater than the sum of its parts.  Aren’t we ready to move to the Solution Stage?

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