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Combining BPM and Social Software: Contradiction or Chance?

As I near completion of my Masters of Business Process Management at Queensland University of Technology, I have undertaken to write a literature review on how Business Process Management could be supported by Social Software (web 2.0 – wikis, blogs, twitter etc).

The following are just my workings as I go through this process over the next couple of months…please excuse my initial rough drafts!!
Of course, any feedback is appreciated.

Combining BPM and Social Software: Contradiction or Chance?

Selim Erol, Vienna University of Economics and Business, Vienna, Austria
Michael Granitzer, Know-Center Graz, Austria
Simone Happ, T-Systems Multimedia Solutions GmbH, Dresden, Germany
Sami Jantunen, Lappeenranta University of Technology, Finland
Ben Jennings, University College London, London, UK
Paul Johannesson, Department of Computer and Systems Sciences, SU/KTH, Stockholm, Sweden
Agnes Koschmider, Institute of Applied Informatics and Formal Description Methods
University Karlsruhe (TH), Germany
Selmin Nurcan1,2, 1
CRI, University Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne
2 IAE de Paris, Sorbonne Graduate Business School, France
Davide Rossi, Dipartimento di Scienze dell’Informazione Università di Bologna – Italy
Rainer Schmidt, HTW-Aalen,
Anton-Huber-Str. 25
73430 Aalen, Germany

Key terms: Social software; Business process; social production; trust; reputation; folksonomy; adoption


This paper extends upon the article BPM and Social Software written by Schmidt and Nurcan (2009). The author’s belief is that “social software provides a better integration of all stakeholders into the business process life-cycle and offers new possibilities for a more effective and flexible design of business processes” (Erol et al, 2008). Key benefits from incorporating social technologies include the integration of process knowledge from all Stakeholders; continuous process improvement opportunities due to community intelligence; workflow support; and stakeholder digital identity & reputation (Erol et al, 2008).

Typically, social technologies are self-organising with a bottom-up approach to process modelling, supported by the collective intelligence of the user community in an egalitarian manner (Erol et al, 2008). This content is visible to the contributors and open to continuous improvement by the community, which overcomes some of the openness issues of social software (Viegas et al, 2007). This issue of information reliability remains but is in part addressed based on the trust between and reputation of stakeholders in the process community (Erol et al, 2008).

The authors discuss the use of tags, links or bookmarks to capture the context of information. This context could be annotation used to locate objects; reputation for information validity; or social links to display social network connections between individuals (Erol et al, 2008). Also discussed is the concept of Enterprise 2.0 and how this supports multidirectional communication patterns between the Organisation and its Customers.

In their paper, Erol et al (2008) outline some emerging concerns that have been discussed at conferences and workshops about the future of Business Process Management.
1. Model-Reality Divide: The Authors define this as the “divide between the abstract process models and the executed processes” where employees do not follow the defined business process models but implement their own processes.
2. Lost innovation: According to the Authors, there often exists Organisational knowledge that could be used for process improvement but it is unknown to the process owner and therefore not applied.
3. Information pass-on threshold: This exists where process improvement ideas are not passed on to the responsible individuals due to the amount of effort involved (regulations/restrictions), the benefits are not apparent or success is considered unlikely Erol et al (2008). The Authors consider this to be another reason why implemented processes may differ from best practice -> the model-reality divide.
4. Lack of information fusion: Seen as the cause of the model-reality divide and lost innovation factors. Thresholds such as organisational hierarchies or process modelling knowledge may inhibit model adoption as model users are only viewed as uninvolved “consumers”.

Erol et al (2008) believe that social technologies can be used to address these issues and their paper discusses combining these social computing concepts with Business Process Management to:
* Present new opportunities
* Discuss the benefits of incorporating social software in the business process lifecycle
* Discuss digital identity & reputation.

The Erol et al (2008) paper is broken into the following sections –
1. How social software can be used to support business process design.
To contrast the conventional Business Process Management approach with social software, the Authors use the metaphor of an assembly line process versus a workstation. On an assembly line, an artefact is moved between participants; communication is minimal & uses the workflow to coordinate activity. By contrast, a workstation is fixed, modifications are made by workers according to demand & communication is frequent & spontaneous.
Social software provides a number of tools that should be taken into consideration when designing a business process (Erol et al 2008) :
* Self identification – Actors identify themselves as competent
* Transparency – results are visible to the community
* Signing – the user performing the activity is identified
* Open modification – users can modify contributions of others
* Logging – all activities are logged
* Discussion – comments & discussions can be linked to artefacts
* Banning – inappropriate users may be banned

Erol et al (2008) also suggest a methodology to follow to incorporate these tools:
• Avoid the use of control flows
• Embed processes in a social context – give users a view into the wider context of the process & other potential contributors
• Design low activity threshold – reduce the activity threshold to increase user participation
• Use honour points for rewards
The Authors believe that “”The benefit of introducing social software in the design is most beneficial when business processes concern production of non-standardised goods and services” Erol et al (2008). Processes that require a high degree of communication and collaboration will also benefit from this approach.
The Authors discuss the use of a recommendation-based modelling support system to utilise the process modeller’s context and the modelling history of the user community. This view encourages trust and participation amongst these social networks. Erol et al (2008) also outline several drawbacks that may arise through the use of social technologies:
• Information quality tends to decrease whilst data quantity increases
• Users have to be encouraged to participate to achieve future benefits

2. Social software concepts that can be applied to business process deployment and enactment
Erol et al (2008) discuss process flexibility and consider that social software can assist via the intent of transparency and participation. This is demonstrated by the description of a wiki collaboration system and a fictitious example of using a forum for a photo contest.
3. A dimensional view of Organisational social software utilisation
Erol et al (2008) demonstrate the organisational influence of social technologies specifically the improved communication channels between industry partners and customers.
4. Digital identity & reputation considerations

SS assists with
* the integration of process knowledge from stakeholders
* collection of process improvement information from the user community
* workflow support

As discussed by Schmidt and Nurcan, “social software supports interaction and social production and raises the level and scope of interaction facilitated by computers & computer networks”.
The concept that ss is self-organised and driven from the bottom-up where interaction is coordinated by the “collective intelligence” of the user community is evidenced in it’s egalitarian approach to decision making. “Terms are developed collaboratively and not imposed by experts”. – presumes motivated participants….incentives may be necessary.

Ss support the continuous assessment approach to process improvement.

Trust & reputation is crucial though the reliability (quality) of information may be an issue.
Ss can define both content (text/documents/multi-media) & context (tags/links/bookmarks).
Reputation & social links to provide connections between individuals & create social networks.

Model-Reality divide: “divide between abstract process models and the executed processes”
Lost innovation: organisational knowledge that could improve business processes is unknown to the process owner & therefore not applied
Information pass-on threshold: as discussed by Schmidt and Nurcan, process improvement ideas arte not passed on as too difficult/not transparent/considered improbable – may occur due to restrictions in the change submissions process. Consequence is that potential improvements are unrealised & a model-reality divide is generated.
Lack of information fusion: process users are only “consumers” forced to accept processes due to organisational boundaries or lack of modelling knowledge.

The authors believe that ss could provide a solution to the above by
* making it easier to participate in process design.
* no complex process change procedure
* all changes & history are transparent to all users
* supports the group construction of common terminology & frames of reference
* exclusion via organisational hierarchies may be avoided
* supports user participation due to lack of formal modelling tools/knowledge

A metaphor is provided which contrasts BPMS with ss as the assembly line and the workstation.

Social software over the top of a BPM repository provides the following capabilities:
* self identification
* transparency
* signing
* open modification
* logging
* discussion
* banning

Suggested guidelines for use ->
* avoid the use of control flows
* embed processes in a social context – provide information about other users & process history
* design low activity threshold – increases user participation
* use honour points for rewards or incentive system to persuade employees to contribute

According to the authors “The benefit of introducing social software in the design is most beneficial when business processes concern production of non-standardised goods & services”. – also advantages where the process requires a high degree of communication/collaboration.

The paper also discusses drawbacks & pitfalls to the use of social software in business process design –
* data quality tends to be lower
* data quantity increases
* expert users still reqd to quality assure

“Social software has proved to be particularly promising in supporting ill-defined (often knowledge intensive) processes which tend to require rich human collaboration”. ..solution must be attractive for participation…

According to Burt (A note on Social Capital and network content, 1997), “For an enterprise to integrate social software into business processes there is a need for both reputation, trust and an authoritative voice”.

Through the application of “collective intelligence”, “instead of pre-defining the inputs of all participants in a top down manner, all stakeholders are encouraged to provide their inputs without the existence of an overall plan in a bottom up manner”

The question remains – “How is quality & trust ensured?”

Themes:Model-Reality divide; Social production; lost innovation; Information pass-on threshold; information fusion; recommendation based modelling support system; digital identity

Categories: BPM, Enterprise 2.0, web 2.0
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