Today, organizations need to be able to execute at the pace of global volatility. Those that can adapt to trends, preferences and issues ahead of their competitors can create a defensible advantage. But you may not be able to do that unless you can get real-time market data and rapidly align your organization to the new priorities and practices. Too often, old, legacy processes prevent companies from having that agility.
Fortunately, social media offers us a chance to improve the communications supporting process improvement. Leading organizations are already using the power of social media to shape their business process management (BPM) agendas. Although the use of social media in BPM may still be in its infancy, its potential for increasing the agility of business processes — allowing for change in the early stages of product development, for example — is immense. Social media in BPM can accomplish this in three ways: First, by collecting customer feedback and using it to adjust processes; second, by disseminating knowledge and increasing acceptance of new processes; and third, by helping identify which processes really contribute to competitive differentiation.
Social tools can make the "process of process management" much more nimble, by delivering information to process participants about improvements needed for operational processes. If, for example, there is a quality issue in goods received, immediate online communication between customer and supplier in response to a blog or other online post can enable a discussion about how best to address the problem and improve the process.
Social media can also be an excellent tool for bridging the gap between external networking and internal integration. Organizations' IT departments can use social media to communicate with the engineering department as it works on new products, often creating a tighter feedback loop than previously existed. Similarly, the R&D department of a life sciences company could collaborate with academic research institutions using a joint community page to share research findings and ideas.
Transparency has long been an ingredient of the success of process-driven organizations. Social media can make transparency easier, gathering and disseminating the feedback that improves existing processes and creates new ones.
Blogs and other online communities can support transparency by memorializing informal discussions that may be highly pertinent to a process, but might not normally be captured. While such forums would ideally be free and open, companies that excel in process management can post and visit forums to identify problems and address process issues with a higher degree of certainty.
In the effort to build up the process organization, companies can use community-building software or blogs to solicit input from stakeholders to gather information that can be used to improve internal- or external-facing processes. As such, this use of digital channels can become part of the process of process management. One example: KLM Royal Dutch Airlines ran a social media campaign that identified passengers who were friends with KLM on social media channels, such as Twitter, Facebook, etc. Those friends were surprised at the airport with a small, personalized gift based on information obtained from their social media use. This use of social media helped the airline improve its customer relations process for the social media friends with measurable online results.
Our research, published in Value-Driven Business Process Management, indicates that fewer than 20 percent of processes truly differentiate a company in the eyes of its customers. Social BPM can identify and validate those processes that really make a difference, such as the airline's social media campaign which contributed to the experience of select customers. Those that don't contribute to differentiation are candidates for standardization and automation. The ultimate results for organizations embracing social BPM can be greater agility and an enhanced ability to deal with volatility, leaving competitors struggling to evolve.