It has been said many times, that for social business to succeed to create the evolution towards Enterprise 2.0, we need to put this social activity directly into the flow of how people work. In that light, we spent quite some time at the recent Enterprise 2.0 Summit in Paris, discussing how to integrate social business activity into enterprise processes, and in particular from the view of process modeling.

Figure 1: A First step to integrating social business activity with business processes (source: Rawn Shah)

In one conference breakout session in particular, Franky Redant, an independent consultant from Belgium, suggested the model in Figure 1 that illustrates social activity as something that occurs outside the process, where each process step may have an associated space for social interaction activity. My interpretation is that in this model, the social activity occurs outside the process step as an ancillary activity that the process step itself is unchanged but there is a documented link to the activity elsewhere. This activity space can also be accessed from the enterprise social layer directly as well. You can go to the enterprise social environment and find the associated activity space either by searching, link from your own social identity, or other indexing method.

I suggested a second model based on an example I have seen in place which was to take the input to a process step and redirect the actual task into a social business activity space (in this case IBM Connections). This was used to in a product development process, particularly to document several steps of the overall project management of a product being developed.

Figure 2: A Second model
Figure 2: A Second model (Source: Rawn Shah)

In this case, the process step itself is entirely replaced from the traditional approach to the task being carried out inside a social activity. The result from the social activity task is then placed back into expected output points of the enterprise process. As Figure 2 suggests it may replace one, two or more process steps at a time, with the results being posted in the expected output points.

This example was intentionally not an attempt to replace the product development process for the entire enterprise. Instead, it was the model used by one product development manager in particular while the other product managers continued to use the process as always. By sharing this model, the product manager was able to show their peers how to simplify the number of tools and the amount of time they needed to get it done. Soon other product managers started taking up the approach. Not everyone, but the enterprise process itself remains as is, so individual product managers could choose their particular approach.

Figure 3: A Third model

A third approach that I have seen was to go the next step and rather than keep a separate social activity space, to actually embed that space inside the process. For example, say you have an employee e-commerce site with several web pages for someone to browse a catalog and then order a new chair for their office (as is the case in more and more integrated procurement and supply chain partnerships these days). To add social activity into this process, you could embed a discussion in a space directly on the page itself. This isn’t new by itself, but for the most part, these discussion threads (the social business activity space) have been standalone, isolated from the overall enterprise itself, and perhaps linked only by a user login account.

The change here, as shown in Figure 3, is to allow not just the embedding of the space, but essentially have that space exists in both the process step, as well as the enterprise social layer. The difference here makes it possible for an enterprise user to refer to or incorporate other social objects in the enterprise social environment, such as related files, videos, other discussions, into this space.

How is that useful? Take another example of a Business Intelligence tool to analyze how a company is performing in sales across multiple territories. A sales executive examining the current report may want to ask questions on what is occurring in one territory. The territory manager may respond in text describing the situation, but it may be so much easier and more illustrative to be able to look up and embed other types of information (e.g., other charts, supporting documentation, other conversations, etc.) to explain the situation. This is where the power of a social activity space starts to come to life; the result is that information can be accessed or seen immediately, making it simpler and faster to make business decisions.

I have seen both such examples of this third model implemented; the first in a demonstration of IBM Smarter Commerce, and the second in their Cognos Business Intelligence suite.  The difference here is that the social activity occurs within the boundaries of the enterprise process, in one process step, or in multiple as needed to carry the conversation forth across the process.

Figure 4: A Fourth model
Figure 4: A Fourth model (source: Rawn Shah)

There is a fourth possibility (see Figure 4) which I described in an earlier article about embedding the workflow of the process directly within the social activity in the example from Podio. Here the enterprise social environment is the space in which the processes exist entirely. The difficulty with this model is in that the enterprise process needs to be developed or grown from scratch within the social environment. Organizations with a lot invested in these processes may find that a more difficult proposition, but in many ways this is a very elegant implementation. In particular, it allows people to interact as they normally do in the social environment, and process steps simply appear as another interaction type, and can be done in the flow of their day.

The concept of working in the flow here in the third and fourth model is different. In the third model, the enterprise process exists as is and people have to go to it to perform these tasks. It sets and focuses the context on what they are doing (e.g., entirely focused on e-commerce activity). In the fourth model, the process appears in their stream of activities as individual process steps. Here, they may be doing several different things from time to time, and when they see the process step appear, they (mentally or practically) switch their context to working on the step, and then return to their other daily tasks.

In the long run, the transition to integrate social business activity with enterprise processes will be one of migration, perhaps slowly. This means having transitional models like the first and second where they do not interfere with the enterprise process as it is. The more evolved models shown in the third and fourth scenarios are where we need to be.

Source: Forbes

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