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Why People Make Business Processes

March 10, 2010

For years, we’ve tried to automate so much of our lives with technology at both home and work. Concerning the latter category, that means drumming up some rigid set of guidelines woven into our technology pipeline that we think workerbees from the cube farms to the factory floor will follow in order to ensure the utmost efficiency.

Philosophically, won’t we ever learn that’s a colossal waste of time, resources and money?

People, not rigid enterprise systems, create business processes, and that’s really where the opportunity for using social software has been having profound effects on the way work gets done.

Companies in need of social software suffer specific hurdles and logjams from existing technology that make their processes inefficient, and their employees slow to deal with market changes and new opportunities. Most often, the hierarchical technology they have in place (from Enterprise Resource Planning to call center software to old document and content management systems) forces them into working a way that isn’t natural, creating unnecessary redundancies and communication breakdowns.

Because these systems are so inflexible and algorithmically designed without people in mind, they fail to connect employees with the proper colleagues and information they need to do their job. Enterprise leaders have started to notice. A recent Gartner report (subscription required) that surveyed enterprise business unit heads highlighted this issue, noting that “the quality of information remains iffy and calls into question whether business unit executives can make smart and effective decisions. One in five business unit executives rated the quality of information from corporate databases and information systems as poor, an ominous percentage as economic expansion looms on the horizon.”

Accessing quality information can be alleviated by supporting processes that match the way people work, not the way we think they might work. From the standpoint of basic workflow, social software lets people change business processes themselves on the fly (Groups forming around projects really helps in this regard). It empowers them to create a set of processes that makes sense for their company at any given time (day or hour) because the tools are lightweight, encouraging transparency and sharing. If your business changes tomorrow — as it often can — the employees have the ability to alter the process without calling IT or asking someone to hack a bunch of java code.

This flexibility means social software can be applied to a wide range of business processes and use cases. I love seeing it everyday in my case study work. Companies like GM use online workspaces to share research before and after events for their researchers. At the Ohio-based Industrial Mold & Machine, the factory floor workers can now communicate with the people in the office via secure microblogging.

People make processes, and any technology they use should reflect that reality.


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