Would you call every person you know and tell them that you have arrived at a certain location? Would you send an email to your complete email directory that you are currently reading a certain book? Would you print a funny photo 200 times and send it to all the people you know? The answers are most likely all NO.
But why is that exactly what millions of people are doing on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn? What is the difference? It seems quite obvious that the key difference is the mode of communication. People post information (state change events) onto their Facebook pages and their ‘friends’ can read (receive event) that information at their leisure. Well, the same could be done with email, but here the recipient list is rigidly predefined and new ‘friends’ do not get to see past information.
Why are these social networks so popular? The most important element is that they are permissive, giving both sender and receiver the freedom of choice. The receivers choose to read and the senders cannot force them, but obviously it needs both parties. If no ones sends or no one receives the exercise becomes pointless.
Strangely enough, that is the same concept that I see as relevant in quantum physics. It makes no sense to send out photons when there is no receiver for them. I think it is actually impossible to suspend a photon (wave packet) in space while it waits to be received. The reality is in the information exchange and not in the information as such, making the harmonic resonance between sender and receiver the force that shapes the laws of this universe. But enough of that here. My quantum physics musings are on my ‘On Quantum Resonance’ blog.
Does Social Computing have some relevance for business applications? I am quite certain. So should we install a corporate version of Twitter to manage our processes? I don’t think so, but the concepts can be used to a business advantage. The permissive approach maps perfectly to the state/event model of my process management concept that can also be represented as state-controlled activities in a BPMN map if you want. But a huge number of flowchart encoded programs of action steps that enforce communication eventually create a spiderweb of unmanageable flows and rules. The state/event model in difference empowers the permissive approach and enables the necessary dynamics of change. Why is that necessary? Should a business not enforce processes for a better quality, as demanded by TQM and SixSigma pundits? My answer is NO and the proof lies in the success of social computing. Businesses need a social resonance for better quality as well described in the ‘Toyota Way’.
All BPM initiatives that have tried to enforce processes on a large-scale have failed and will continue to fail. That has to do with the dynamics of free markets and the complex adaptive systems they represent and – quite ignored by BPM proponents – the reality of human nature. The problem is compounded by the need to strike a balance. Total freedom is not possible in social systems. Also all Facebook users accept a common form and mode of information exchange as their minimum social standard.
This is why you hear me on the one hand talking and writing about empowerment of the business user and on the other hand about the requirement to create a business architecture, the necessity for security and the need of corporate identity and enforced context for content. These are the elements of such a social balance. The freedom of choice (equals empowerment) for the business user must be within the bounds of the business architecture, busines rules and security requirements. But there must be a degree of freedom for the social business process network of a business to flourish. And it still needs monitoring and auditing so basic collaboration or email is not enough. Enter state/event driven models!
In contrast to popular theory on MBA programs, changing (and therefore improving) a business is NOT a top down management activity. Change happens slowly, as a social resonance of employees to motivating activities of the management! You can not improve a business by enforcing processes. Yes, you can cut costs this way by firing the very people you need to change the business. Exchanging the people is the most expensive way to change a business, but unfortunately, sometimes that is necessary too.
As much as BPM software sells an illusion (not the process focus as such) that completely ignores the human element of managing a business, that is unfortunately the general state of affairs in IT. Also business intelligence and data warehousing gather huge amounts of irrelevant data before the necessary questions have been asked, producing meaningless statistical results the float in empty space with no receiver who could even remotely understand them.