If you have been following my series on the Social Business Marathon you’ll know that we’re past the half way mark:
Last time we looked at Building Communities and Content so this time we’re looking at bringing real business value to your organisation through adapting your processes to become social.
Making business processes social falls into two categories:
- Making the stuff you do every day more social;
- Changing the way your organisation’s core processes work to be more social.
The first of these probably looks the easiest to achieve because its something that you can start to do yourself. You might also think that the second is probably impossible in your organisation. Hopefully in this article I’ll show you that you are right on both counts.
Making the Stuff You Do Every Day More Social
How do you spend your day? Making and receiving phone calls, sending and receiving emails, speaking to people, filling out forms? Most desk-based people do only these things all day long. Virtually all of these actions require the interaction of someone else – the person at the other end of the phone line, the sender or receiver of the email, etc. What problems do you face with these actions? What irritations could you really do without? Let me give you some suggestions:
- People phone me about things which are not urgent and as a result interrupt my train of thought.
- People email me things when I am out and think that because they have emailed me the responsibility for actioning it is now mine.
- People use email for urgent matters without considering that I might not be there and then complain because I haven’t responded.
- People email things to me to cover their backside, when I don’t need to receive the email.
- My heart sinks every time I go into my email when I find thirty new email messages and I only checked it twenty minutes ago.
- I don’t have any where to put information other than my email and now the IT department is on my case about the size of my mail box.
- People treat me like the yellow pages because I look after information – they know I’ll have a copy of something they’re looking for, often when they have it themselves: it’s easier for them to ask me to get it than for them to look for it themselves.
The list could go on and on. I would expect that you would identify with at least one of these seven.
Remember that the key to this is being social so find ways of using your social collaboration platform to work in new ways with your
colleagues, such as:
- Use status updates to update each other on what’s happening, what you’re doing and any work-related news that you want to share.
- Consider using a blog to record the outcomes of conversations and meetings you have with colleagues and customers. It doesn’t need to be War and Peace – just bullet points and simple notes in a blog entry to aid your memory later. Once you get in to the habit of this, start tagging the blog entries with the customer name or colleague name. It makes finding information really easy later on.
- Move files you’re going to share with others into the system. Send them a link to the file in the system – you’ll save file storage in your mail file and theirs.
- Start collecting information you’re regularly asked for in a wiki and share the information with your colleagues. The next time they ask for the information – send them a link to the wiki page.
- Need to go to lots of meetings? Save time with using something like an Activity to manage the meeting.
Now that you’re being more social, remind others that you’re doing this to help them and encourage them to do likewise. You’ll find that by leading and sticking with this approach, after a few short days your colleagues will get into the habit too.
Don’t forget, though, that there are many time-saving conveniences available to help you be social. In particular for IBM Connections, here’s a useful list that you can make use of:
- Windows Explorer extension for Connections – provides drag and drop file management. Get it here on Greenhouse.
- Activities, Files, Status Updates sidebars for IBM Notes. Get it here on Greenhouse.
- Connections plugin for Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Office. Get it here on Greenhouse.
- Connections toolbar for Mozilla Firefox. Get it here on Greenhouse.
- Integrate LibreOffice with IBM Connections.
- Integrate OpenOffice 4 with IBM Connections.
Moving to Social Business Processes
OK, so the basic stuff that you do every day you can probably handle without too much trouble, but what about those big business processes? What about that helpdesk system that no-one can find anything in? How do we get more intelligence around that CRM system? How can I turn my newsfeed in my social collaboration system into a complete river of information from all the different business systems in the organization?
One approach to solving this conundrum is to use what IBM call “embedded experiences”. This is the presentation of “foreign” systems in the social environment and the provision of key functionality from those foreign systems which let you perform the tasks you need to. In simple terms, you might want to present your holiday request in your manager’s newsfeed. To make it easier for her to approve your request you want to provide an approve button and a reject button. You probably also want to provide a link back to the holiday booking system in case your manager wants to look at more detail.
The point here is that using Embedded Experiences you can present the request and just enough functionality in the context to allow the process to continue. In other words, your manager might be looking at their news feed and can see status updates, changes to documents and now sees a holiday request from you. If she can action it there and then she is able to get on with her work seamlessly without either putting-off looking at that request until later when she has time to jump into the holiday system, or stopping what she’s doing and then losing track of where she was. The result is (hopefully) faster approval of your holiday and higher productivity for your manager.
Here’s a short video illustrating the concept:
The second approach you can take to socializing your business processes is to use a portal. A portal is a way of integrating different systems on the screen to provide the illusion of a single environment. You probably use a portal quite often if you’ve ever used Amazon, eBay or done any online banking. One of the key components of a portal is a thing called a portlet. This is basically a little container or window on the web page which shows some other system. The cool thing about portlets is that they can communicate with each other. Thus, if you had, say, a portlet showing a customer account record in your Customer Relationship Management system, another portlet, which might represent your Connections Profiles could show the biography of the account manager for the customer account. The portal does this by allowing the portlets to exchange information and essentially work in harmony with each other.
Bring Social into your Existing Systems
“If the mountain won’t come to Mohammed”, as they say. Social collaboration systems like IBM Connections support Application Programming Interfaces and single sign-on integration which means that the social information you’re collecting can be integrated into your legacy system quite easily. Using the single sign-on features means that the interconnection between your systems can be seamless and “joined up”.
Consider in your CRM application if you were sending an email to a prospective customer. You want your name, job title and contact details to be appended to the bottom of the email. Using this kind of integration the CRM system can pull your profile information in from Connections. That way, if your details change in Connections, you don’t need to change them in the CRM application.
Design your Business Process in your Social Collaboration System
The last way I’ll explore here is the re-creation of business processes in the social collaboration system itself. Your options are a little more limited this way because you’ll be using the functionality that the social collaboration system provides. It’s perfectly achievable, however, to provide document management, project management, task management, intranet-style processes, and all sorts of other systems using the standard technology.
If you need convincing of this fact, take a look at this final video for this post, Project Exec for IBM SmartCloud for Social Business: