Aren’t Business Processes Always Social Processes?

I get asked quite often about Social BPM, probably because of all the hype around it at the moment. I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw Keith’s post  “Anti-Social BPM”, and I decided to chime in with my two cents.

Work is (and has always been) a social activity – you really can’t do any interesting end-to-end business process without people being involved. Even if you are doing straight through processing (the minority of actual business processes) – there are always some humans at the endpoints – and usually quite a few humans in the middle. So why is Social Business Process Management the new buzzword du’jour? Mainly because most BPM technologies (or BPMS’s) played down the roles of the humans involved and focused on the automatable part of the process. At best the humans were part of the process as secondary agents (I know that is a bit harsh, but for the most part true). BPMS technology ignored (and continues to ignore) the basic constructs of any real end-to-end business process – conversation and negotiation (Max wrote a post on this a while back – Process is Conversation, or ‘Did you hear the PIN drop?’ ). So if every business process is social – why are we only hearing now about social BPM and what does it mean?

Social BPM seems to have taken on two separate meanings (Scott has posted on this too – Process for the People ) – the first as a way to enable (and encourage) collaboration during the process of building the model of a process . BPMS vendors have started to add social technologies as part of their platform for the modeling community. This is useful, but not interesting. The reason I claim that it is not interesting – is that the process modeling process effects very few people in the organization, and it seems to be missing the point – why not enable the unstructured social aspects for every process? What makes process modeling unique?

The second meaning of social BPM makes more sense to me – acknowledging that most business processes are people processes, and enabling the management of those unstructured, unpredictable people processes. I don’t think anyone would be surprised that this is how we see the world at ActionBase – but would be surprised at how hard it is for mainstream BPMS vendors to accept this view. In discussing this with one large BPMS vendor they told me that it makes sense, but it really isn’t something they can do since it requires selling to the business, instead of IT (something that they don’t how to do).  Another reaction I get from “standard” BPMS vendors is a blank stare – since the notion of an ad-hoc, unstructured process just doesn’t fit with their notion of a business process.

So social business process (management) isn’t new – it is how business really gets done. Social BPM is new – only because BPM has become synonymous with BPMS technology and lost its true meaning of “business process management”.

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