Giving employees more input -- via wikis, social networks, blogs and the like -- into the way workflows are structured and executed should make them more invested, and thus more efficient, in their work. Unfortunately, without flexible BPM tools, this is not always the case.

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about the concept of “Social BPM,” which Gartner defines as “a concept that describes collaboratively designed and iterated processes.” For organizations that are looking to maximize the efficiency of their processes, the move toward a more social -- or collaborative --BPM methodology is all to the good.

According to a recent survey conducted by The Economist Intelligence Unit, 80% of the organizations that have implemented formal initiatives to improve business processes over the past three years have faced employee resistance. Two of the major causes of this reluctance to change were that employees had little or no say in determining the new process (31%), or that the new process didn’t map to the way employees thought their jobs should be done (28%).

It would make sense, then, that giving employees more input -- via wikis, social networks, blogs and the like -- into the way workflows are structured and executed would reduce this resistance to change and make them more invested, and thus more efficient, in their work. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

Input vs. Action

The main problem with this assumption is that “input” doesn’t always translate into “action,” particularly when you’re talking about the BPM tools that are included as part of an ECM suite. Far too many ECM systems demand extensive domain expertise from expensive programmers, analysts and consultants, making it cost-prohibitive to adjust your content-related business processes in response to employee input.

If it costs $20,000 to change one template field within your ECM system, how much do you think it’s going to cost to constantly optimize your content-related business processes in light of employee input? And if you’re not willing to act on the input you receive, how long do you think your employees will continue offering their opinions on the way they think things should be done?

And there’s the rub with all social media, really. A company can put up a customer service blog, but customers get upset when they take the time to blog about their experiences and their comments fall on deaf ears. It’s one thing to implement social media tools, it’s another thing altogether to harvest the insight gained and use it to improve your operations.

So before you put a Social BPM strategy into place, you’d better make sure that your BPM tools are flexible enough to evolve with changing market conditions.

What Is Flexible BPM?

When you’re looking to implement a flexible ECM/BPM solution, there are several things you need to keep in mind:

  1. First, steer clear of systems that require extensive customization and development; you want to avoid “vendor lock-in,” because it’s a situation that often results in cost overruns, project delays and a lack of buy-in from users.
  2. Second, look for a solution that gives the organization centralized control over its content, but that grants departmental business analysts and line-of-business managers control over their business processes. An ECM system with the ability to delegate workflow configuration rights to these folks ensures that the people configuring the workflows are enmeshed in the day-to-day reality of the group’s working requirements -- and can easily solicit input from their peers. It’s also a heck of a lot more affordable than paying a consultant to configure the workflows for them.
  3. Third, your ECM system must allow you to design custom workflows that fit your needs. Graphical, drag-and-drop configuration of pre-built activities aids in this process, but you should also be able to script your own activities with VB.NET or C#.

To enable organizational agility, decision makers need to be able to adapt quickly in the face of change. An ECM system with flexible BPM tools is a necessary foundation to have in place before putting a Social BPM methodology into practice.

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