Two Challenges: The Promise Of Social BPM Depends On Better Governance & Better Technology

On his ebizQ blog, Peter Schooff asked an important question (June 2012): "Has social BPM fallen short of expectations so far?"  If you are exploring the promise of social BPM, the answers to Peter's questions are worth reading.  Your host believes there are two key challenges before we will realize the promise of social BPM: (1) a technology challenge and (2) a governance challenge.  Here are your host's comments, mirrored from ebizQ:

Some of the challenge around social BPM is associated with expectations and hype contrasted with the immaturity of social BPM software technology. There is a huge amount of research around "work", "narrative", "story" and "annotation", but that research has not truly been engineered yet into social BPM products.  The result is that most current social products are not built on a solid model of how narrative works in the human mind and as communication transactions between actors. And typically, a model of "work", i.e. what should be the subject of conversation, is also missing. But, over time we should see these challenges addressed, and surely the result will be very exciting.

However, I believe there's another challenge beyond technology, which may be more difficult to solve. This is the challenge of "social technology governance".

The world "social" actually misleads us when addressing this challenge, because the governance issue is not first of all about the "social" but about the "individual".

All so-called "social software" is first of all about capturing personal thoughts in a more intimate way than has ever really been done by technology until now. To participate in "social" is to deliver one's quotidien personal observations to technology, and more importantly to the corporation.

From an ideological perspective, you can find critics on both the "left" and the "right" on this topic. On the right, we have former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's infamous comment that "there is no such thing as society", which just as easily could be updated to refer to "the social". One doesn't have to be a fan of Margaret Thatcher to see a certain truth to Baroness Thatcher's comment. The "idea of the social" is a little bit of a convenient corporate "fiction", in the same way that "temperature" is a convenient scientific fiction. Useful in the large, but not an absolute category.

On the other hand, from the left, we can hear all sorts of criticisms about "corporate colonization of individual thoughts". Both sociological/governance criticisms capture what I think are intuitive concerns by participants in corporate social technology experiments. (One can add an economic dimension as well, and ask about the personal cost of participating in social versus the benefits to the individual.)

The social technology governance question is a question of sociology, power and economics and whether or not the individual, i.e. the autonomous human actor which is the driver of social, benefits from and perceives benefits from this participation in the social.

In summary, social BPM is immature as a technology and especially important, social BPM is beset by unresolved personal governance issues.

Personally, I have high hopes for the category, and like many, am already benefiting from social technologies. But we have a long, long way to go. Compared to where we will be a generation from now, it's hardly even a beginning.


And in answer to a question about the need for a theory of communications, your host commented:

A theory of communications should underlay any social technology. And certainly also that social is about facilitating interpersonal communications.

However, consider that "emergent behaviour" cannot "emerge" except that you have an actor (or atomic) population each member of which has some independence, although subject to common rules and characteristics by virtue of being in the population.

You can't have "inter-subjectivity" without first having subjectivity. To ignore individual autonomous actors, i.e. the people which are the users of software technology, is to create a governance problem. I don't think that we can continue to "assume", as has the entire IT world since its inception, the individual.

The movement to BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) is just one example of something that I think we will see a lot more of. Here's an item I wrote on this topic: