Posted by: Adam Deane | 02/08/2011

Social BPM

Social BPMIt’s a common rule in BPM, that everyone has at least two opinions on every subject, three solutions to solve it, four methodologies to support it, and five customers that will swear that it transformed their organisation into the great success it is today.

Social BPM is no different.

So I decided to add my 20 pence to the “Social” debate.

What is Social BPM?

I see “Social BPM” as the new look and feel that BPM vendors are developing for their BPM Suites. A user interface, like Twitter, Facebook, Google+
When I talk of “Social BPM”, I’m referring to the social user interfaces BPM vendors have been adding to their products: IBM Blueworks, Tibco Tibbr, Appian Tempo, SoftwareAG ArisAlign, SAP’s Streamwork and others..

Is it hype?
End users expect the same level of user friendliness and functionality from their work tools, as they have in their personal tools
Tasklists and email won’t disappear, but the way people are communicating is slowly changing.
There is a good dose of marketing around the topic, and anything labelled “Social” nowadays is seen as marketing mumble jumble, but discussions around “Social BPM” are the same discussions we had when BPM vendors changed their desktop interfaces into web interfaces. It’s not hype, but it’s not the new messiah either.

Will it change BPM?
I do not see it being used (yet) in process design, only as a user runtime execution interface (what the end-user uses)
But if it changes the way people in the organisation communicate, changes the way people do their tasks, bypasses emails – it will change the way we “do” BPM.

Is it a new methodology?
I don’t see it as a new methodology. It’s a new feature, not a new methodology.
We won’t be changing the way we design processes, nor simulate, monitor or optimise them. BPM best practices will not change, disciplines won’t change.

Is Social BPM the new collaboration platform?
People won’t suddenly collaborate more with it, but it will change the way users interact with BPM systems.
People were communicating before. This just a new communication channel.
People like using different communication channels: brainstoming meetings, online meetings, emails, phone calls, water cooler discussions..
Collaboration and communication will not improve due to social tools. It will be just cooler to use them.

So why am I promoting “Social BPM”
Anything innovative in BPM should be encouraged.
“Social BPM”, “Mobile BPM”, “BPM in the Cloud”, “Search BPM”, “Virtual BPM”
In the software world, if you are not moving forward – you are slipping backwards
Try Quick, Fail Fast.. [insert additional motivation babble here]

I’ll give an example from our ECM neighbours
No one had ever heard of ECM a few years ago. Content management? Record Management? Such a boring subject.
One day SharePoint comes along, and bang! Microsoft brings in the great marketing bulldozer. Suddenly ECM is a household name.
Now the other ECM vendors might not see SharePoint as a real ECM tool, there are better tools… (and they’re probably right), but a change in the user interface, some marketing and voilla! ECM leaps ahead.

Same with “Social BPM”. If it helps BPM go mainstream in organisations – I’m all for it.


  1. Damn, I notice it is kind of boring when I have to agree with you all the way …

    • I will have to rewrite it then… 🙂

  2. Fully agree as well Adam.

    If we think about the end users coming into organisations to work over the past 3 years or so, and the users coming in from now, they are the generation of users who know nothing different other than facebook, twitter, IM apps (including text messaging … sorry txt messaging).

    If we want to implement ways of working that encourage slicker more efficient and productive processes then we have to use the concept of “social media”.

    It’s exciting when we think of the possibilities, but scary when im talking about a “new generation of end users” … I am 29!!! The pace of change in interfaces will only continue to grow I feel.

  3. When companies started buying water-coolers and setting them up on every floor it was because their employees were thirsty. The water cooler conversations that ensued were a happy coincidence, something that noone anticipated and more importantly something that no water cooler company could market or sell as a value added feature (imagine a water cooler that comes with a retractable whiteboard just in case those congregating around them feel all of the sudden inspired).

    I don’t think any of us in the Social BPM realm (whatever that means) truly and fully understand what are the possibilities of marrying social and BPM. We all have our theories (yes, people are fed up with emails) but at the same time the “transformation” stories we see in our customers are for the most part happy coincidences that span from someone discovering that a department half way across the company in a different geography has conquered a process problem similar to what they are experiencing – and this only because they and the other department are both solving BPM challenges in the same environment through the same process stream. These happy coincidences are extremely powerful.

    • Hi Mihnea,

      That’s an excellent point of view, one that I didn’t think of.
      The coincidence element is never taken into consideration.
      And I agree with your remark that none of us truly and fully understand what are the possibilities of marrying social and BPM


      • I believe we call that happenstance 🙂

  4. Hi Adam,

    Great post, but as everyone else is agreeing I feel it my duty to do the opposite. Six months ago I would have heartily agreed, today I think Social BPM has the potential to offer a lot more than what you describe.

    In fact I believe there is a potential Social BPM ‘approach’ out there. I’ve been fascinated, and excited, by the Adaptive Case Management discussions but I believe that will be a big step for many organizations. I also think there is a shared space between traditional BPM and ACM and somewhere between these two ends of the spectrum companies will gradually start to move from one to the other.

    Where I do agree with you is the current state of the market and if the term helps BPM be better understood (and improved) and adopted then it has to be a good thing.

    • Thanks Craig,

      Does it have potential – absolutely
      But I wouldn’t mix the topic of Social BPM with the topic of ACM.
      Max Pucher has a great quote about Social and ACM:

      Social BPM and ACM are both technology enablement. BPMS won’t happen without governance, but Social and ACM need rather guidance and have to be employed by a business with the right management culture. Social simply provides the technology and hopes that emergence will do the rest. …
      Both Social and ACM require that the business can deal with the related management styles. Company culture more than anything will decide whether BPM, ACM or Social will be a success or not.
      If you install an ACM platform and apply too much governance, you get BPM. If you don’t govern at all, you get Social and it might not be adopted.


      • Great quote, but I can’t help feeling some people have closed the door on BPM. There seems to be an assumption that it is what it is and it will never change/evolve. As your post, and others, suggests, even if social is just a bolt-on, it is changing BPM.

        And what if one day BPM became ACM in everything but name? I’m sure Max wouldn’t mind! 🙂

        Perhaps it may be easier to change BPM than to create something new…



  5. I think “Social BPM” is a lot like “The Cloud.” Most people are uncertain about how to define “The Cloud” and that the whole concept has become more confusing over time rather than clearer as it has become an overused marketing concept claiming anything that runs outside the firewall. As Adam so rightly points out, the same phenomenon has occurred with “Social BPM.”

    The truth of the matter is, just like “The Cloud”, organizations are already using “Social BPM” in one form or another whether they realize it or not. From process wikis to collaborative project management tools, I see many of my clients embracing these “social” tools to bring a more diverse set of business users and in some cases customers into process improvement efforts. Time and again, I have experienced firsthand how introducing “social” tools to BPM initiatives accelerate Time to Market and produce a better quality solution that is readily adapted by the user community.

    There is no doubt that “Social BPM” will continue to mature beyond these tools to platforms that create a “Social BPM” layer for the enterprise. This layer will support BPM through the concept of “design by doing” processes. There are already a few such platforms out there. One that is gaining a lot of traction is IBM’s Business Process Manager (formerly Lombardi.)
    This is clearly a very exciting time in the realm of BPM and in particular the explosive growth and adoption of Social Media principles and tools.

    My prediction is those who fail to embrace Social Media will find themselves extinct.

    • Hi Esther,

      I agree “Social BPM” will continue to mature and create a “Social BPM” layer for the enterprise.
      Although I’m not an expert on IBM products, I think IBM Blueworks Live is more of a Social BPM tool than Business Process Manager.

      It will take time for organisations to embrace social, but it is the future.
      I will follow up on your prediction.. 🙂


      • Hi Adam,

        Thanks for your reply. As for IBM, you know they have away for changing names as the “blue wash” their acquisitions. So what was once Lombardi, then Webshpere Lombardi Edition is now Business Process Manager. This BPM platform offers tooling and run-time for process design, execution, monitoring and optimization, as well as basic system-integration support. It Integrates with online social business platforms such as Blueworks Live.


  6. Adam,
    I couldn’t agree more about your assessment of “Social BPM”, but I think it is caused by vendors taking various social technologies and willy-nilly tacking them on to their BPMS – rather than the actual impact social technologies could have on BPM. The technologies and paradigm of “social” needs to be built into the very fabric of a BPMS – not just tacked on.

    Just take governance as an example – social technologies could enable a very different type of governance than BPM – social governance. Using social conventions as a way to govern is a very powerful notion – one which BPMS’ just ignore. BPM tries to “lock down” governance making it impossible for people to do the wrong thing – which of course makes for a rigid, stifling environment. I see that akin to to making every building a vault to ensure that no one can steal. Most buildings don’t need that level of security and it would make for very unpleasant habitats.

    Of course in the real world most buildings aren’t vaults – they have regular doors and windows, and just enough security to keep out casual thiefs. For the most part they focus more on making life pleasant for the inhabitants, rather than completely safe. They rely on social norms that most people don’t steal either because it is morally wrong, or they fear being caught. I see most real world processes as more ACM like than BPM like.

    That is where I see ACM having the most impact on BPM – thinking about the social aspects right from the start, leveraging the power of social technology and norms to make for more flexible, people friendly process management tools – maybe then BPM\ACM could actually replace email for business interactions.

    • Hi Jacob,

      I still think ACM vendors missed a terrific opportunity when social rolled out. They should have been the leaders….

      That said, I agree ACM will have an impact on BPM (it already is…).
      BPM vendors have understood the need for more flexible, people friendly process management tools, but it will take time to see a real change…


  7. I love seeing the number of responses here and dissenting opinions, too! Northrop Grumman sees the collaboration occuring very early in the BPM cycle, at design time, when the old ways of doing business need to be thrown out and teh best ideas pulled from as many bright minds as possible. They consider this to be the only way to avoid becoming irrelevant in pursuing contracts for the most cutting edge aircraft, ships and satellites. The as-is for them is the as-was (yeah, I know, I just made that up) before they begin and see social technologies as high-speed collaboration around process design.

  8. Adam,
    I agree with you that this is the current implementation status of Social BPM and this is what vendors are trying to convince customers to buy (because it’s easy to implement in their platforms and it’s easy to sell).
    However, I see a much broader potential in Social BPM than simply painting a social presentation over old BPM concepts and tools.
    I think we should push for getting the best from the Social part here: the purpose should really be to consider the two worlds of communities (social) and organizations/teams (BPM) and get the best from both to increase the value. I think that if Social BPM will not achieve this, we can consider it a failure.

    • Hi Marco,

      I don’t disagree with you.
      I think there is great potential, I just have not seen it yet. Social is in its early days. It will take a bit of time to see it embraced or seen as a fad.

      I don’t know how much pushing we can do. I think it will come naturally, as the trend grows.


  9. Adam,

    Great post as always and I agree with your assessment of the current state of Social BPM.

    I also see Social BPM as those steps in processes where we are currently bypassing the rigid process flows with email, chat, telephone call etc. and where part of the process execution trail gets lost in this circumvention of the “happy” path that we spent so many hours modeling and putting into place.

    Social BPM should give us the opportunity to use “social features” as part of the normal process transaction and it should allow the flexibility that we need to be effective without losing critical process information. One of the metrics that we’ve been looking at is the number of “social” interactions in a BPMS-based transaction and also who are the “social” role players that may have a significant impact on the process, but that we can’t pick up in the normal process intelligence or reporting of the processes.

    I’m quite excited about the impact that this type of collaborative work can have on BPM as we know it.

    • Thanks Pieter,

      Interesting point of view with the interaction metrics and social role players. Its a perspective that hasn’t been studied yet.

      I too share the excitement on the impact that this type of collaborative work can have on BPM as we know it.


  10. Adam,

    I enjoy your healthy dose of scepticism about the capability of Social BPM to make meaningful changes to the BPM landscape. Of course you are right that people have always communicated so to an extent this is just a different channel. But as others have said, there is more to it than that. The possibility of empowering the workforce with de-centralised and delegated models of process definition, handling and, yes, governance will IMO be key in taking BPM to the next level of robustness and flexibility.

    The other aspect of Social BPM that I did not see anyone mention here yet is ‘gamification’. It’s a simple yet powerful idea that plays on the fact that we all want to be recognised for our efforts. Various gamification techniques help us satisfy that. And if that all feels a bit fluffy for management maybe the ‘goal-setting’ and ‘badges’ aspects of gamification will appeal more. Goal-setting allows line managers to integrate their team appraisals with the business process and let the BPM system track and report them. Badges can be awarded by the system and provide an automatic skills or experts database.

    Tim Stephenson

    Disclaimer: I left my role as a Director of Product Development in one of the mentioned BPM vendors to found specifically to pursue this ‘social by design’ approach to BPM.

    • Hi Tim,

      I agree with Gamification. I think it is a trend that will seen more of in the next couple of years, and I think goal setting will be part of it.

      I’m not sure process definition will be part of the first wave of Social BPM, but time will tell…


  11. […] you haven’t already read it take a look at Adam Deane’s take on Social BPM. As he points out, current vendors have added social capability to traditional BPM products and now […]

  12. […] Social BPM blog by Adam Dean […]

  13. When you align the Social BPM toolset with the Social BPM methodology and way of networking the enterprise then it’ll really take off, on it’s own and remaining mutually exclusive nothing is going to change, they are catalysts of change that when mixed will create something of a big bang.

    Perhaps reading something like ‘Reality is broken’ could give a new slant on how goal-setting and human interaction could be brought into the enterprise along side Social BPM (the tool).

    I disagree that it’s not a new methodology, it is, you’re redesigning how processes will communicate without the typical hierarchical boundaries (when you apply Spcial BPM in it’s purest form). It’s a shame that vendors are still only seeing this as a glossy front-end to ‘Like’ a process or ‘Retweet’ an authorisation status…..don’t you guys have Professional Services arms that should be developing new ways to change the operating models of organisations that compliment Social BPM (the tool) ?

    Shame on you if you don’t…..

    (FYI ArisAlign didn’t go anywhere….)

    • I agree with you Theo, I’ve started to explore Social BPM, and what it means to me, here:

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