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Why Process Barfs on Social

Posted by Bob Warfield on November 9, 2009

Sameer Patel has an intriguing new post on the problems of E2.0 and its juxtapositioning versus Business Process.  I wanted to comment, since Helpstream’s main claim to fame is the harmonious integration of Social and Business Process.  That’s not the only thing we do, but it is pretty unique as Sameer’s post points out. 

Process barfs on Social because most Business Process isn’t integrated with Social.  E2.0’s biggest problem is it lacks Business Process for the most part.  Too often it does get thrown out as the silver bullet.  Process insists on considering all aspects.  If you’ve left something out (like your E2.0 software), the Process is not well formed.  If there are ways of doing things outside the Process, that’s a bad thing, at least from the Process viewpoint.

What we’re lacking is simply a harmonious marriage of these two.  Social should be integrated into specific business processes, perhaps many if not most specific business processes. 

When it isn’t, what we have is ad hoc.  We lose the advantages of process in terms of measurability, repeatability, and consistency.  We lose the support of those who cannot see value in anything but process.  In the worst case, it sounds to them like we’re just arguing to hold hands and sing “Kumbaya”.

This is a matter of where we are in the evolution of Social Business Software.  The 1.0 E2.0 products are tools, in some cases they want to be dignified as platforms, but they lack that process component, so they really shouldn’t  be dignified as platforms because they are too incomplete.

We see this evolution over and over in Enterprise Software.  First we get the tools.  This is the Silver Bullet stage.  Everyone expects magic.  But the tools lack specific process.  They do not solve specific problems.  They are not solutions, in short.  As such, the results one sees from them vary wildly.  Nobody seems to be able to put their finger on why things work sometimes and not others.  The answer is that without Process, they haven’t factored people properly into the equation.  Ironic when this happens to software whose whole purpose is to be Social!

In the Tool Stage, only organizations that have really talented and properly empowered people can implement Process on top of their Tools without any help from the Tool get the full benefit.  Companies like Walmart and Dell had ERP and Supply Chain software capabilities back when only Tools were available because their talented people made it happen by brute force.  This is not a scalable model for an industry, but it is a model where some great franchises can be built.  So we have some great Social Case Studies available today.  The scalable model comes when somebody starts to bottle the magic that was done ad hoc by automating Business Processes.  At that point, suddenly everyone can get the benefits.  I’m not saying it’s easy, just a whole lot easier than when it has to be done by sense of smell like the Pinball Wizard.  We have to move beyond the sense of smell stage. 

We’ve reached a point in the evolution where there is enough smoke that it’s time to bring out the fire.  We need to move from the Tool Stage to the Solution Stage.  This is a time honored transformation that has happened before and spawned huge new markets like the ERP and Supply Chain areas I’ve already mentioned.  The requirements are pretty straightforward:

1.  Solve a Specific Business Problem:  No touchy feely stuff allowed.  You can’t just be about making things “better” or “empowering people.”  Passion is great, but call your shot, and if the ball doesn’t go into that pocket, you’ve scratched and forfeit the game.   Helpstream is all about Customer Service.  Our specific Business Problem is increasing the efficiency of your Customer Service organization in dealing with your Customers while increasing their Satisfaction at the same time.  Very specific.  We have just introduced a Social Marketing module whose specific Business Problem is making your Lead Generation and Lead Nurturing more efficient via Social.  How many of the existing Social products are that succinct?

2.  Include Specific Out-of-the-box Business Processes that are Configurable:  You can’t have a Business Process product that has no Process!  You can’t expect a Process to be one-size-fits-all.  What are the Business Processes included with your Social Product?  For example, Helpstream includes an integrated Social Business Process that is all about “getting help” for customers.  There are many other Processes in the product, but that is certainly the keystone.

3.  Map out how the Social Business Processes integrate with Existing Business Processes:  This one is absolutely critical.  Too often the answer from the Tool Stage is, “We won’t need those existing processes any more because our silver bullet is that good.”  Balooney!  Your organization has some sort of Business Process, defacto or formal, for everything it does.  If you’re solving a Specific Business Problem of any worth, there will be quite a lot that needs to be thought through and integrated with.  This is, again, something that has happened in the evolution of many types of Enterprise Software.  For Helpstream, we integrate with your CRM systems.  That means our software talks to your Case Management, Knowledge Base, Salesforce Automation, and Marketing Automation systems.

4.  Be Able to Measure Success:  For the Process world, if it isn’t measurable, it may not exist.  For most of the E2.0 world, measurement has either been beside the point or an after-the-fact nice-to-have that is done grudgingly when the Marketing Department needs a case study to sell more product.  If you’re doing #1, #2, and #3 correctly, your product should be able to measure its ROI continuously.  After all, you have an integrated end-to-end process solving real business problems.  Surely such a process is incomplete if you can’t measure whether the problems actually got solved or not, isn’t it?  Helpstream automatically measures success in exactly this way, by monitoring key business processes all the way to closure and then reporting on the results.  While it has been useful for our Marketing Department, it has been invaluable to our customers and for our product development.  By studying these analytics, we are able to fine tune Best Practices and ultimately distill those Practices into more functionality for our product.  We’ve just kicked off a benchmarking program with our customers where we share these key results about how they’re doing relative to others and help them analyze how to improve.

Social and Process are not strange bedfellows.  They actually work together very nicely.  Process can never spell out every critical detail and exception.  Social is the most powerful tool yet devised to help empower people to fill in those gaps.  This is one of those rare cases where the whole is actually much greater than the sum of its parts.  Aren’t we ready to move to the Solution Stage?

9 Responses to “Why Process Barfs on Social”

  1. […] is a lot of talk about ROI on Social Media efforts, but very little to show that makes any sense. Process barfs on Social because most Business Process isn’t integrated with Social.  E2.0’s biggest problem is it […]

  2. Bob,

    This is a good step forward – but it leaves me wondering something… isn’t the steps 1 and 3 you highlight above what Siebel did for CRM (and how it failed)? In short, the value of the software or solution providers is to create a flexible enough platform so that the processes can tweak it and run in it – not something out-of-the-box — no matter how flexible or different is. bottom line, the process changes from place to place (as you well recognize), so why try to fit them into a specific model? the solution i am talking about is how Chordiant, Pega, and Ciboodle made huge strides in a mature market.

    Good post, got me thinkging… as you can see 🙂

    • smoothspan said

      Esteban, I’m not whether what Siebel did vis a vis #1 and #3 specifically caused their failure. In fact, many would say they didn’t fail at all given the scale they reached. However, if you want to follow that line, Salesforce “didn’t fail” relative to Siebel and they started much more focused on #2.

      All processes are not necessarily different. We’d like to think they are, but in many cases, the percieved differences did not yield enough business value when implemented. This was a major failing of Siebel and it’s SI partner ecosystem. The SI’s, in particular, loved customization because that was their currency. SAP suffers from this today.

      The former EVP of Worldwide Sales at Sun told me a great story one time. They got to the end of a Siebel implementation after much gnashing and moaning. It was years and zillions of dollars. They went for all of the customization. When he looked at it in the end, he concluded they’d have been way ahead to simply go for out of the box Salesforce.

      Process design is not unlike UI design in many ways. You can’t just look at process from the standpoint of business value, you must also look at it from the standpoint of getting people to embrace it. Anything else fails at it is increasing hard to simply mandate compliance.

      That was definitely a lesson CRM was faced with and fights to this day.

      The importance of #2 is that it is important to start simple. Designing process on the fly is changing too many variables. Get a system up and running and then start to tune the process with real metrics in place. Designing one in the vacuum is fraught with peril.



  3. rhappe said

    I tend to agree and yet a post by Paula Thornton on the FastForward blog got me thinking (see: – part of the reason people are using social channels is because the processes set up for customer support by organizations have become too optimized for the company’s efficiency but not for the customer’s. People use Twitter to ask companies questions because they cannot get a quick, helpful response any other way. It’s because they are not being treated like a widget.

    I mention this not because I think we need to loose all hope of consistency and measurement but as a caution. There must be a balance between efficiency/effectiveness for the company AND the customer otherwise this SCRM will fail.

    • smoothspan said

      Rachel, so right, but see my note to Esteban above.

      People designing Processes have often gotten totally focused on the business goals, and often the wrong business goals. They forget that process involves people, and that there are costs if the people don’t like the process. This is particularly true when those people are customers, partners, or other third parties we can’t control.

      Social channels are a nice way to provide flexibility to pure Business Process. They create an alloy that is both flexible and predictable/efficient when the right balance is achieved.

      It can be quite a magical thing!



  4. […] Helpstream CEO Bob Warfield adds this thought: What we’re lacking is simply a harmonious marriage of these two.  Social should be integrated […]

  5. […] Helpstream CEO Bob Warfield adds this thought: What we’re lacking is simply a harmonious marriage of these two.  Social should be […]

  6. Useful info, thanks . Friendship greetings …

  7. […] Helpstream CEO Bob Warfield adds this thought: What we’re lacking is simply a harmonious marriage of these two.  Social should be […]

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