The Role of Social Media in BPM Initiatives

Organizations are increasingly embracing process as the critical link in translating business strategy into execution. The concept, which we call value-driven business process management (BPM), establishes the right focus for initiatives based on the strategic imperatives of an organization and converts business processes into real assets that provide competitive advantage. The key to obtaining support for value-driven BPM—as is true for many transformational initiatives—is communication, and nowadays communication is completely intertwined with social media. In fact, social media can help drive all of the values of BPM, both for what we call the "process of process management" and the actual operational processes targeted for improvement.

Blogs and other online communities support transparency, the central ingredient for the success of any process-driven organization, by encouraging informal discussions that are often highly pertinent to a specific process but are not normally captured by other systems or technology. Ideally, these blogs are free and open forums, with frequent visits and posts from process leaders. These online conversations give managers the chance to identify pain points and clear up confusion, with advice coming directly from the process leader.

Social BPM also supports efficiency, by facilitating stakeholder conversations and allowing participants to communicate in a cost-effective manner. Through blogs or shareable, real-time platforms, an organization can avoid the time and expense of at least some travel and face-to-face meetings and supply a context-rich, engaging, and recordable experience. Organizations also can use social BPM to drive quality improvement, scanning data from public social media and customer conversations on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter as they relate to a specific product to target high-value customers who post frequently with special offers. Alternatively, an internal Twitter feed could be used to alert quality-control officers to a problem on a production line.

Social media provides immediate feedback, which helps promote agility in business process management. People taking advantage of a free and open forum for exchanging ideas—and for making those ideas immediately transparent and available to others—can help an organization become much more responsive to change. This immediacy and transparency, however, can pose problems. Since social media offers a dynamic, open environment that is difficult to control, organizations may have concerns about compliance and related issues. Good governance is an essential component of value-driven BPM, defining and communicating standards and guidelines to address such issues.

With proper input from executive stakeholders, the increased transparency provided by social media can provide a public forum for clarifying policies and supporting initiatives. While this helps promote change, the openness of social media can also support those monitoring compliance, enabling faster action to address violations or other potential problems.

Many other uses exist for social media in the BPM environment, including bridging the gap between external networking and internal integration. An IT department could use social media to communicate with the engineering department working on new products, creating a tighter feedback loop. Similarly, the R&D department of a life sciences company could collaborate with academic research institutions using a joint community page.

Social BPM is becoming an increasingly important component of the "people-focused" methods and tools used to achieve a process improvement. Social media tools used include SalesForce Chatter, Yammer, Jive, and the social aspects of SharePoint and external social media, such as LinkedIn or Xing for recruiting and hiring, or Facebook as a basis for marketing campaigns.

With the rise of YouTube, video also has become a popular vector of user-generated content in the commercial realm. In fact, YouTube can serve as a critical tool for change management and introducing new processes to the whole enterprise. Short instructional videos can be much more engaging than written documentation. The YouTube environment can also be used to exchange process models and to promote new and/or best practices. With proper controls, video doesn't have to be limited to top-down communications; end users can post their own videos to demonstrate successful process interventions or to suggest new ideas.

Social media reinforces communities of knowledge and action related to BPM through smart search, crowdsourcing, and knowledge communities. Examples include:

  • Social media that learns from user-supplied search terms, new analyst reports, news stories, and press releases can be delivered to practitioners, allowing them to more easily stay current on the latest trends and technology.
  • The ARIS business process modeling software online community already numbers more than 100,000 and comprises heads of business architecture and repository management. Each day, thousands of posts are made in this community, each of which has the potential to become a new part of a company's process management.
  • Recruitment processes can be enriched through social media. While LinkedIn is increasingly becoming part of the hiring process, companies that develop software might look to recruit those most involved in forums or developing apps based on the company's API. Blogs can highlight talent in particular areas as well.

Social media can play important roles in many aspects of BPM, including marketing, customer service, research and development, and operational processes. Process-driven organizations that embrace social BPM can enhance both their process capabilities and their ability to adapt rapidly and effectively to changing business conditions.

Mathias Kirchmer is the executive director for business process management at Accenture, a global management consulting, technology services, and outsourcing company. He is the coauthor of the book Value-Driven Business Process Management: The Value-Switch for Lasting Competitive Advantage.


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