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Social Collaboration and Business Process; An Oxymoron Made in Heaven

by Anthony J. Bradley  |  April 4, 2012  |  1 Comment

You might think that mass collaboration is ill suited for business process improvement. The chaotic, unpredictable, messy, voluntary, often controversial and sometimes ugly interactions that can characterize social collaboration seems almost the opposite of the clean, calculated, activity centric, deterministic approach that many associate with business process management. Well, the times they are a changin’.

The most strategic, transformational, and beneficial organizational processes just might be found in the chaos of the community. Social collaboration represents a whole new frontier for business process management. I use “frontier” specifically because it will be new exploration, challenging, and fraught with both danger and great opportunity. And exploring a new frontier requires some new approaches. New approaches that can enable, unearth, examine, enhance and support processes from within communities of customers, employees, suppliers, partners, contractors, prospects, etc.

Success in this new frontier demands a few new mindsets including:

  • A focus on social processes that enable business processes
  • The ability to discover and nurture emergent processes
  • Understanding the shift from designing “the right” process to enabling multiple experience opportunities
  • And how to effectively employ community protectionism from hostile processes

Consider the CEMEX example from the book The Social Organization where CEMEX employed a social collaboration approach to increasing the use of alternative fuels in their plants. Instead of taking a traditional process improvement approach they employed social processes to enable a community of plant leaders to themselves build the processes for increasing the use of alternative fuels. Yes, it was messy and sporadic and unpredictable as they initially stumbled around trying to find their way. But over time the community got better at it and ended up wildly successful. They accomplished in about 8 weeks what they estimated would have taken about 18 months with traditional process improvement efforts. And CEMEX also believes that the social collaboration approach gave them a much greater rate of adoption. We call this Design by Doing.

I will be delivering a keynote presentation entitled “Driving Organizational Success by Combining Social Media and Business Process Transformation” at the

Gartner Business Process Management Summit on 25 – 27 April 2012 in Baltimore, MD. I’ll be discussing this exciting topic. Yes, I did say exciting!

I’d love to hear from you on any thoughts and experiences you have around “crowd processes.” 

I co-authored a book "The Social Organization" on . Check it out!



Anthony J. Bradley
10 years at Gartner
26 years in IT

Anthony J. Bradley is a group vice president in Gartner Research responsible for the research content that Gartner publishes through its three internet businesses (, and These responsibilities include creating and leading the research organization and infrastructure needed for the strategy formulation, planning, research, creation, editing, production and distribution of the content. He has four global teams of highly talented people who are advancing towards the world's greatest destination for content on how small businesses succeed through information technology.

Thoughts on Social Collaboration and Business Process; An Oxymoron Made in Heaven

  1. Hi Antony:

    There is a lot of hype today around social technology and how it can be used to support from process improvement to process execution taking interaction out of corporate boundaries, in some cases directly with the consumer.

    Social technologies have more value enabling work because enable better access and information sharing and task execution, rather that on process improvement efforts. It can be argued that is more agile and it takes less time 18 months (exaggerated) to 8 weeks, but still is a “classical” approach because despite the speed improvement it relies on human perception what a process is all about.

    We humans have different perspectives of reality. If you ask the contact center person, the process manager, whatever involved in the process, they will present an inaccurate view what the process is all about. The fact that is being improved on a social platform does not change that. Even automated processes with clearly defined process models fail to mirror reality, because when exceptions occur people jump from the system and start to collaborate using for example e-mail. That execution snippets are lost due execution dynamics and difficult to trace manually.

    If people want to know the truth, the reality, social tools will make no difference. It will continue to introduce bias the way things are done like in the days when we draw process maps and collect evidences on papers glued on the wall.

    If the key attribute is speed process mining is the answer. But more important than that is process mining is based on facts not on human assumptions how work is done. Process mining brings human reasoning were is needed most: interpreting reality and make improvement decisions. And for that you can use a social platform to share the information.

    Here is a pointer of what process mining is all about:


    Alberto Manuel

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