Blending the Worlds of BPM and Social Media

The worlds of social media and business process management or BPM are strange partners. EDP Renewables, a renewable energy firm however, made the strange work quite well together.

The world of social networking platforms with players like Jive and Yammer fill the gaps in formal business processes. These platforms know who to connect with to get which processes completed and when to do so.

Business Process Management on the other hand is about creating, tailing and executing business processes. This process sometimes includes automated middleware to manage the processes. If one were to examine how these processes work, there is no point at which they can meet. The head honchos at EDP Renewables however, beg to differ.

EDP Renewables

EDP Renewables

Stephen Blasili is the head of sustainability and process management at EDP Renewables. It was in his mind that the worlds of social media and BPM collided to create artwork.

EDP Renewables is a sister concern for the parent company called Energias de Portugal. EDP Renewables is the operator of numerous wind mill farms in the United States of America and Europe.

The problem

EDP Renewables faced a number of basic housekeeping and maintenance issues on their wind mill farms. The underlying issue was the lack of a properly structured process for maintenance.

Blasili was quoted as saying, “Maintenance issues would be routed into different departments and sometimes there was a follow up, sometimes there was not. A lot of duplicate work was performed, just because people didn’t know.”

The unique blended solution

The issue was a lack of structure. However, a simple or a typical BPM model would not solve the issue. Unlike the arena of banking which has very well defined processes, the world of renewable energy is still in its infancy.

Blasili spoke of the issue and said, “We knew right from the beginning that most of the work would be non-repetitive, where you’re dealing with issues that haven’t come up before. I’d always used these kinds of tools when I dealt with repetitive work, where you execute according to the process description. In this case, we had a very rough idea what the process should look like—I wouldn’t even consider it a process, more like a guideline.”

For such processes that are not yet completely mapped out on the BPM model, Appian’s software is the solution that mixes the best of the worlds of Social media and BPM. The appeal of the software is the fact that it does not need a well-defined process.

While the platform allows employees to track the process as a traditional BPM platform, it also allows the processes to be modified instantaneously. Over time the processes will get a better definition.

The social aspect of the software means that the workers can make personal connections through these processes. Comments and notes can be made by the employees to open cases. Employees with a particular expertise, like high voltage engineering for example, can tune into a feed similar to twitter and stay updated on the issues that arise in the domain.

Apart from wind turbine issues, neighboring property owner complaints, environmental issues and anything else that crops up can be recorded on the software. Since the employees can see what everybody is working on, the efficiency receives a manifold boost. Two or three complaints are not lodged for the same issue, allowing resources to be streamlined and used efficiently.

This software can also help make sure that the most time sensitive and important issues are addressed at the earliest. Blasili likened the software to the hospital Emergency Room offering help to the most critical patients first.

Integration is the name of the game

While the system is already combining two very different worlds, Blasili also wanted email integration to induce further efficiency. Notifications of activity sent via email are fast and easily accessible. Employees can update cases via email simply by including the case number in the subject line.

Blasili has not yet tapped into mobile integration simply because the wind mill farms are located on the outskirts of cities and they usually do not have cellphone coverage. He said, “There’s a lot of hype around social and mobile, but for us one of the critical requirements to be successful make sure the system is used regularly and integrated into their daily work.”

Other key players in the games of integration

Appian and EDPR have established a work arena that is different from a simple integration of a workforce into an established BPM. Although it is a unique blend, Appian is not the first one to combine social media and BPM. Some social media platforms have been integrating structured collaboration features for a while.

Podio and Jive have integrated simple project management features into their platforms. Podio also has a basic workflow application within its platform. Jive has a collaboration with Producteev, which is a task management product. This integration of social media and work flow products has altered the way business can be conducted. Decision making and business organization is a lot faster and a lot more convenient to the business and the consumer.

Chief Strategy Officer for Jive thinks that the social collaboration with BPM is more of a generational change rather than an overlap in the conduct of business. He said, “We’ve shifted from an environment where work is conceived in multiyear periods and designed up front to one where things change so rapidly that more agile approaches have just been required everywhere.”

This integration takes away from a heavy focus on the process alone. Tasks can now be accomplished without being weighed down by a ton of processes. The checkpoints build efficiency.

The world of apps

OpenSocial API, backed by Jive and IBM makes the integration of enterprise and cloud applications with a social collaboration environment. The app is an example of the integration of the social media with other products and avenues.

Through the application, IBM users can look at structured business process updates on their social collaboration environment, IBM Connections. Users can even approve an invoice on a compact user interface system without having to leave the stream of updates. IBM promotes such pairings. They even encourage their IBM Business Process Manager tool to be integrated with IBM Connections.

Research analysts have seen productive environments in the workplace result from this kind of a collaboration. However, rather than standalone applications like Jive, the ones that are more successful are the ones that can be wholly integrated into a process that is pre-existing.

Yammer for example might have a better chance of surviving in the world of work as it is integrated to be a part of SharePoint, Office 365 and Dynamics CRM. Processes that businesses have always relied on need not be replaced, a layer of social collaboration can simply be added on to increase efficiency.

The layer of social collaboration will allow and support discussion around change. Therefore instead of having to choose social collaboration or process, businesses can rely on a combination of the best of both the worlds.

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