Social BPM: Yes! But Socialist BPM Won’t Work

‘Social BPM’ seems to have achieved a lift off. In the mainstream, it’s moving from concept into product. Which is fine and necessary – but it’s important to recognize that ‘Social BPM’ is not in itself sufficient to enable sustainable business transformation.

Pitching Blueworks Live at BPM 2010 last month, Phil Gilbert, IBM’s new VP of BPM, talked about the democratization of process, about BPM being on every desktop, about this creating new kinds of enterprises over the coming decade. [it’s a great presentation, a breath of fresh air in a BPM world that had become very technical and inward-looking].

It’s true that enterprises that tap into the creativity of their entire workforce, and can harness their energies to continually improve, will prosper. Their people will be more involved and connected. And everyone will be playing a part in continual improvement – in Phil Gilbert’s phrase: ‘No-one is obliged to be a genius, but everyone is obliged to participate’.

So no way am I pouring cold water over ‘Social BPM’. Indeed, it’s at the heart of the Nimbus mission of ‘making work easier, faster and more valuable for millions of people’.

But let’s not get carried away. ‘Social BPM’ solves one third of the problem. It gets end users engaged with process. It helps to make process ‘the way we do things around here’.

But the common ownership of processes – what I suppose we should term ‘Socialist BPM’ – simply won’t work.

Organizations coming to me usually have no shortage of processes mapped – often they have tens of thousands of them. Sometimes they are in one format – more often they are a hotch-potch of Visio and ARIS and Word. And they aren’t joined-up or integrated. There is no holistic ‘live’ business process framework. So processes can overlap, duplicate, have clear gaps, and even contradict one another. And because they are owned locally, they may be out-of-date as well. As a framework for risk management and compliance, and for driving operational efficiency, it’s hopeless.

‘Social BPM’ engages the end user. But sustainable business transformation and continuous improvement – and surely that’s really what it’s all about – demands as well a process management framework that:

  • provides a platform for enterprise governance – the efficient delivery of risk management and compliance across the business
  • enables effective collaboration on continuous improvement – engaging all the process stakeholders in a way that is efficient, structured and auditable.

I have to fess up here that, in my youth, I was briefly a member of the Socialist Party of Great Britain (and would seriously tell my dear parents that the solution was to abolish money – luckily they never listened to me). So it’s a huge irony that here I am using socialist as a derogatory term. Ah, hindsight… ;-)

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Mike Gammage is VP and Principal Consultant at Nimbus Partners. Mike has worked in performance improvement consulting, and more recently the BPM space, for more than two decades. He is particularly interested in the overlap between two very dynamic worlds: BPM and perfomance improvement (the drive across all industries to standardise, improve and automate) and sourcing and the virtualisation of the enterprise (the drive to create more flexible and lower-cost service solutions through outsourcing, offshoring and shared services). In either case, Mike believes the enterprise needs a single source of truth about its end-to-end business processes, as well as a framework for the design and implementation of change. It also needs to connect the end-user and all other stakeholders to ensure the adoption of change. These are the keys to sustainable transformation and continuous improvement.