Does social technology change the As-Is versus To-Be debate?

In a previous post I discussed how Business Process Management can, and should, be a social experience even without modern social technology. One reader sent me the following message:

 I think [you are] refering to ‘to-be’ processes. Someone still may have to describe today’s reality and sometimes just a good BA and a few knowledgable SME’s gets this job done far quicker, accurately and without too much ‘socialising’.

I don’t wish to add too much to the As-Is versus To-Be debate here except to say that every situation is different and will require an appropriate approach.

I do believe, however, that modern social technology is changing the way we approach this debate. With the new crop of BPM tools available the line between As-Is and To-Be becomes somewhat blurred. When capturing As-Is process, using a simple goal driven approach, the deficiencies in the process are often painfully clear to those present. A good Social BPM product should allow the facilitator to instantly capture those issues, and improvement suggestions, against the point in the process where they were raised. This means, to some extent, that you are simultaneously capturing As-Is and To-Be at the same time. Even if you are proposing a radically new process you can capture potential issues and essential steps during the As-Is capture.

A team of knowledgeable Subject Matter Experts (SME) could undoubtedly capture today’s reality quicker without the interference of end users. But is this the best way? Firstly you are excluding the very people that have firsthand experience of the execution of the process. There are often issues experienced during the everyday execution but there is no forum in which to express these. And if these do exist they are disconnected from the context of the process.

Worker engagement is key to the adoption of any new or improved process. Clearly you cannot invite every worker to a workshop, although I have seen attempts to do this! But you can invite some key influencers and of course the platform should allow everyone to comment on the As-Is as well as being able to see the other comments captured during the workshop.

I would argue that the long term benefits of worker engagement in understanding and improving the process is worth more than a quick capture that ends up on an intranet and never looked at.

Making BPM Usable

This is where I believe social can have one of the biggest impacts on BPM. I’ve heard the following phrase, or variations thereof, many times recently. “Social network platforms have become so ubiquitous in our personal life that people now expect them in their work life.” While there are undoubtedly great benefits to adding this capability to the work place I believe there is more to it than that.

Donald Norman’s seminal work ‘The Design of Everyday Things’ was written over two decades ago and explains in very simple terms how life is made overly complicated by poor design. He advances some very simple principles that help designers create products that are easy to use. Yet many software vendors, especially of the enterprise variety, continue to create products that require advanced knowledge in order to complete simple tasks. There is a multi-billion dollar software training industry that exists to close the gap between poor interface design and helping workers complete tasks.

Products like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are easy to use. Some are better than others; each is a variance on a conceptual model which is becoming culturally recognisable to a larger and larger proportion of society. So when software vendors start to bring this type of technology into their own products they cannot, or rather should not, make them more difficult to use than what people have become used to. A majority of BPM vendors, that have released social enabled platforms, have taken care to preserve those ideas of usability and in many cases even begun to improve the underlying product.

This is a positive and constructive improvement to the industry at large. It will improve adoption by the end user community and help acceptance of BPM as a whole.To be ‘social’ BPM must become more inclusive, to be inclusive it must be accessible and that means better usability than most workers have traditionally had to endure.