Social Media + Business Process Management – Irreconcilable Opposites or the Killer Combo?

There is a lot of chatter these days about how the Social Media Frenzy affects Business Process Management and BPM Software Tools in general.  The topic comes up at every BPM Software meeting or conference I go to.  At these conferences, pundits tend to produce lots of white papers filled with plenty of confusing acronyms.  So, where does Social Media fit into the big BPM picture?

Let me be blunt –

It Doesn’t

Ok, so as we will see the answer isn’t quite so cut and dry.  But don’t be fooled, social media and BPM tend to be on opposite sides of the spectrum in just about every sense.  Anyone writing a white paper to say differently is either teaching at an obscure university somewhere or writing about how their kids are using Facebook and Twitter instead of using these themselves.

So, let’s examine the differences.  First, let’s look at business process management.  Here is a classic BPMN diagram when drawn out by BPMN Software:

Process Diagram BPMN

And the process designers and process optimizers that are using the business process management software tend to look something like these two guys:

BPM System Buyers, Sallers and Users

On the other hand, a social media “conversation” (that’s right – there are no “diagrams”) would look something like this if drawn out as a diagram:


Oh, and let’s not forget what the Social Media user looks like compared to the BPM Software user:

Social Media Users

Are you getting the picture here?  Can I be any clearer?

Business Process Management Software and it’s users/followers tend to be a boring, greying, tie wearing crowd.  BPM Software is all about following rules, improving efficiency, and getting large, bureaucratic organizations to operate the same way every time for a given process.  There is a word for that – CONFORMITY.

Now, before the BPMers in the crowd start throwing stones at me – remember I am one of you!  Granted, we at ProcessMaker tend are a much hipper (and hippier) variety thanks to our Open Source Software roots.

Social Media on the other hand is cool.  There is no other way to put it.  It isn’t worried about being efficient.  It is led by leftist leaning, che guevarra t-shirt wearing, flip-flop using, 20 somethings that are out to change the world.  While Business Process Management and Business Process Management Software is about modeling business processes and simulating them until we can make them more efficient, Social Media is about changing the very rules of business and social interaction.  Ironically some of the vocabulary crosses over – both will tell you they are eliminating silos.  But look a little more closely and BPM is moving structured data and Social Media is getting touchy feely so that everyone can share more information.

This is not to say that Social Media has no place in the enterprise.  On the contrary, a little touchy feely goes a long way.  How do you think Casual Friday came about anyway?  Sharing is good and good creates good karma, and good karma is good business without a doubt.

One of the coolest approaches to social collaboration in the enterprise on the market today is being done by a company called Mindtouch.  MindTouch is the open source leader in enterprise Collaborative Networks and powers next generation intranets, extranets and knowledge bases.  They are are two steps ahead of the curve of how social collaboration can, should, and will happen in the enterprise.

So, now that I’ve just explained why Social Media and Social Media Software is incompatible with BPM – let me tell you how despite the differences the two can and should co-exist intimately.  Everything I’ve written about above is true – the two are on opposite sides of the spectrum.  But what ties the two together is that business needs both.  And when we talk about software residing in an enterprise, then we’ve got to talk about how they can and should interact.  The great thing about being the leading open source workflow and bpm company is that we don’t have to figure it all out ourselves – our fanatical bpm community usually beats us to the punch.  And speaking about Mindtouch – we are getting some clues from their users as well.  Have a look at this post in the Mindtouch Forums – not the first user to call for a mashup between ProcessMaker and Mindtouch – BPM + Social Enterprise.

BPM Software is all about enforcing structure.  And large enterprises crave structure so that they can insure that their processes are performed in a consistent manner across divisions or at least from one employee to the next and one iteration to the next.  All of of this translates into producing a repeatable product or service.  Social media is all about an informal transmission of knowledge and methods.  So imagine a healthy organization having an ongoing conversation across systems and media and topics, but knowing when and how those informal conversations trigger a) the start of formal processes and b) the updating of information about the running of those processes and c) an  interactive way for group think to improve those processes over time.  Sound interesting?

For ProcessMaker we are imagining our BPM Software running inside software like Mindtouch where users can collaborate and share but also execute, improve, and repeat.  In other words, imagine a collaborative internet where you can see your process tasks, get real-time information about best practices contributed by your colleagues and customers, and allow real-time social networked feedback to influence the way the process adapts and learns over time.  We are calling this the birth of the “socially aware process” and it is a process paradigm shift that we believe touches the very unique juncture between BPM and Social Media.

So stay tuned or better yet join the PM forums and help us figure it out.  And in the process, we are definitely going to make BPM just a bit cooler  🙂

About This Author

  • Hola Brian, muy bueno tu blog. Me dí cuenta que las imágenes a las que haces referencia no están disponibles. Sería bueno actualizarlas.

    Felicidades por tu blog, me ha servido de mucho.

  • rubencito

    Ed, thank you very much by observation

  • a good piece to read….

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