Social software/Web 2.0 tools such as blogs/wikis/instant messaging can be a great way to manage the exceptions to your business processes. Here’s why…
In a previous life, I was an SOA Evangelist for IBM’s WebSphere integration suite. A large amount of IT spend in the early 2000s went on systems like this one to integrate processes, both internally and with suppliers and customers. The idea was one of cost reduction, reduce the cost of doing business by reducing the time it took to add a customer to a vendor list from 3 days to minutes. The ROI cases were strong and compelling, and many customers managed to get ahead of the market through early adoption.
Now, however, such integration capabilities are more commonplace. Most business processes have been automated to the point where there is not a lot of cost left to be squeezed. Further, (and this is something that bugged me at the time) the vast majority of ‘real’ working practices don’t actually follow the process. The process becomes more of a guideline than a set of rules – exceptions to the process are the norm. Once you have an exception (payment terms are 30 days, but they’re a really important client so we won’t send them a nasty letter until 60 days) – the ROI breaks down as humans have to get involved again. Also, because the ROI cost case relies on people following the process barriers are often put in the way of breaking it, making it even more costly to “do the right thing”, be innovative, and follow an exception.
I was trying to find some stats on how much impact exceptions have on business processes. I am convinced somewhere I found something about 80% of processes resulting in an exception at some point. Vitria are so concerned about exceptions in business processes they’ve created a product for it and claim 50% of process related costs are down to exceptions.
Vitria (and others – I’m not picking on Vitria, they just happened to come high up on Google for “Business Process Exceptions!” offer exception management, but it sounds like another process. To quote from their site:
“Vitria’s Exception Manager is a purpose-built application that provides a systematic approach to resolve exceptions across your enterprise. Exception Manager classifies incoming exceptions, automatically resolves problems, guides resolutions with context-sensitive workflow when human involvement is still required, restarts the normal process flow, and provides full visibility and audit trails across the entire exception resolution lifecycle. “
So what happens when there’s an exception during the classification process. Or an exception during automatic problem resolution? The point is that Business Process Management vendors try to solve the exception problem with what they’re good at, a process. Where Web 2.0 can help here is by providing a tool that fits the problem at hand. What you really need when an exception arises is to communicate with the person who can fix the problem or authorise the exception. The problem is, traditionally, it’s hard to get hold of this person or even know who the right person is! That’s where enterprise social networking, blogs, wikis and especially instant messaging can become vital tools in resolving exceptions whereas email is not that helpful at all. This is why instant messaging is fantastic for large organisations during quarter end – the conversations are all around exceptions to the process – the key is to get the order in the books in a legal manner. We work with one of the world’s largest IT vendors who told us that the accepted downtime for instant messaging during quarter end is measured in seconds, whereas email is hours. Tools such as social networking can also help you find the right person in a time constrained situation, especially if your ‘usual suspect’ in finance or HR isn’t around and you need to find someone similar with the same skills quickly.
The aim of a lot of social software tools is they are based around tacit knowledge. Business processes, however, are all about explicit knowledge. Social software is the yin to business process yang. Exception management definitely falls into the ‘tacit’ space, however, which is why the explicit, systematic approaches to exception resolution fail. The exception is an exception precisely because a systematic approach does not work in this instance, and it is down to employee initiative and innovation to find a solution.
Looks like we’ve found another ROI for Web 2.0 – reducing the cost of business process exceptions which can be up to 50% of the cost of a process.