If any technology in the last 25 years has demonstrated the consequences of too much of a good thing, it’s email. For employees in so many organizations, email’s sheer volume has made it almost counterproductive. That’s one reason why so many federal agencies are turning to social media tools for interpersonal collaboration.
Social tools don’t eliminate email, just as email didn’t wipe out phone calls or the occasional formal document. But they can enable directly relevant communications among members of a workgroup for the real-time collaboration required of efficient workflows.
This is why technology vendors have now begun to integrate social collaboration interfaces into application development platforms and enterprise-class business process management (BPM) tools.
Matt Calkins, CEO of Appian Corp., a manufacturer of such solutions, recently told me that BPM tools represent “the guts of how an organization works. But they require real dedication to use.” Their inherent complexity and the commensurate need for training have resulted in limited use within a given organization, which in turn has diminished their productivity potential.
Social tools, on the other hand, provide “a feed that everyone knows, and they fit all computer form factors.” But by themselves they don’t enable actual work.
This integrated technology is being utilized throughout the government today. Veterans Affairs, for example, uses an integrated BPM/social tool for a series of “VA for Vets” job fair conferences. Using a mobile version of Appian’s BPM suite, VA brought together employer information and VA personnel processes in a kind of on-the-spot streamlining. The agency was able to affect 16,000 job offers to veterans in two conferences. And, volunteers were fully competent to use the application after only 20 minutes of training.
The Defense Information Systems Agency, the provider of network, computing infrastructure, and enterprise services across the U.S. military, is also using this type of solution. The agency has utilized it for procurement, overlaid with a social interface under which the complex plumbing is invisible to users.
In general, the social element greatly extends the reach of BPM throughout an organization. Calkins says, “People participate more. Narrow conversations become broad. ‘Lurkers’-people watching but not participating in a conversation-can be educated. Processes can be broader, inclusive of people who don’t want to be trained on new software.” The interface may resemble that of Facebook, but it’s connected to mission applications and data.
But this doesn’t happen automatically. Fusing BPM with a social interface requires high-level sponsorship in an agency, means the C-level plus key program executives. Operations leaders must also be involved because deep process modeling-the part the bulk of users need not be concerned with-still takes some programming expertise so that the workflows marry data resources and applications, whether on-premise or cloud-based.
The good news is that the technology, proven processes and success stories are all readily available to help the government actually do more with less.
Stephen Charles is co-founder and Executive Vice President of immixGroup.