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Social Collaboration without Social Communication?(*)

(*) Not to be mixed up with one of the previous blog post ‘Social Communication without Social Collaboration’



Every employee in an organization is an individual who works in one or more teams or groups: project team(s), workgroup(s), committee(s) and/or business process(es). The common denominator of all these groups is that the members of the group have a collective objective to deliver something[1].

Part of the ‘working together’ in these groups is the sharing of information and working on that information together:

  • Documents
  • Tasks / to do’s
  • Calendar(s)
  • Other sources of information.

Not very long ago, this information was exchanged by mailing it around to the group members (note that the wording is different: ‘exchanging information’ in stead of ‘sharing information’). Nowadays the information is shared: this means that it is stored centrally in one location where all team members can find and update it. By doing so, everyone knows where to find the latest version of the information, and works on the same information That is certainly already true for documents, but not always the case for task lists, to do’s, calendars, etc. – there’s still some work to do on these.

The key words are: centralized and shared.



However, one piece of information that is missing from the list above is: internal communication. Team members still communicate with each other using e-mail. But e-mail is stored in local, personal mail folders. E-mails are still ‘exchanged’, not ‘shared’. This means e.g. that the communication about the project is invisible for team members that might join the group later on, and that the communication is lost when people leave the group (or when the group is ended, as is the case for project teams). So although communication very often contains useful information, it is not part of the shared information pool of the group.

This is where Social Communication steps in. Social Communication is ‘Facebook-like’ communication where a conversation is initiated by one person in a central location, and other people react and respond to it publicly . All people ‘following’ or ‘be-friending’ the person who initiated the conversation can participate in the communication. In other words: those conversations are centralized and shared!

Many people will argue that Facebook conversations are meaningless and futile, but that doesn’t mean that the mechanism isn’t very powerful. First of all: imagine that you cannot only follow people, but also ‘’groups” (like in ‘Project Team’). Imagine that you can subscribe to the conversations of the project(s) your are working on, the workgroup(s) you are participating in, etc. This would mean that you can follow the conversations that are held in these groups, and participate in them, openly. All the communication in a group can now be centralized and shared, and become part of the collective memory of the group.

But there are more advantages: by openly communicating in a group, answers to questions are often received more quickly, have a higher quality, and/or are more innovative. The whole team would benefit from this.

Another ‘reactive’ reason to start working with Social Communication is the fact that a new generation of knowledge workers is entering the job market for which this type of communication is the only natural way to communicate in a network.

REMARK: once you get the hang of it, you will learn that all this is not only true for ‘internal communication , but that you can also invite customers, suppliers or other external parties to these conversations (as long as they subscribe to the collective objectives of the group).

The tooling is there: SharePoint and Yammer

SharePoint and Yammer How can you achieve this? Probably the best tools to use are Yammer ( for the conversations, and SharePoint for all the other group content. The trick is to create a team site in SharePoint for each project team, work group, etc. to store the shared documents, shared tasks, calendars, and to create a corresponding group in Yammer to hold the social conversations. Then you embed the Yammer conversation on the home page of your team site, and voilà, you have a shared and centralized environment that comprises documents and conversations.


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Marc Vanderheyden - Picture


Twitter: @mceev11



And for Lotus Notes users: (in Dutch)


[1] This is different from communities, which don’t have an objective to produce something collectively other than ‘helping each other’

Business Processes on the Road: Why you need Mobile Apps

Productivity on the move

The private use of apps on our smart phones is spilling over into our professional life: we expect more and more to stay in touch with our ‘home base’ and have quick and easy access to business information on our mobile devices, any time, any place.

We can already keep on communicating with the organization by using e-mail on our mobile devices. But the time has come to go further and create a competitive advantage by opening up back-end business data to our mobile devices while making use of the unique capabilities of these devices. The highest possible value can only be created when the capabilities of a mobile device can be used in combination with back-end data to participate in a business process while away from the desk.

 Competitive advantage

The applicability of all this in your organization and business processes may not be obvious at first sight, but it merits the effort of looking into it.

In this blog post we explore some of the possibilities of Mobile Apps in a business context.

Enterprise Business Apps: restricted definition

In this blog I use the term ‘Business App’ in a restricted way:

An Enterprise Business App is a Mobile Application on your Tablet or Smartphone that gives you access to your organization’s back-end data.

Below I give some examples of ‘Generic Business Apps’: E-mail, Calendar, etc.. A GPS app or Office app can also be used in a business context. Generic Apps are very useful, but they don’t allow you to make the difference. They hardly create any competitive advantage.

A true Enterprise Business App opens up your company data to employees and customers ‘away from the desk’. It is the integration with your business data that creates a unique offering.

Types of Mobile Devices

Business Apps are available on both Smartphones and Tablets. It is useful to make the distinction between these devices and your PC, because you interact with them in a different way.


Mobile devices have restrictions when compared to PCs while at the same time they have capabilities that are not available on a PC. Good Apps acknowledge the restrictions of the Mobile Device and make use of its capabilities.

Each type of Mobile Device has its own features and intuitive interaction.

In most cases your PC has a larger screen and you interact with it with keyboard and mouse. Until recently PCs didn’t have touch screens and that is still the case for most laptops (and certainly for desktops). A PC takes a lot of time to get out of your bag, open it and get it started.

A Tablet has a smaller screen than a PC and has also la less precise mechanism for pointing an clicking. (Unless you use a pen, but even then the interaction is different from mouse input.) On the other hand, with a pen you can draw pictures or sign documents. The on-screen keyboard also reduces the amount of information you can view on your screen while typing. A tablet is out of your bag and up and running faster than a PC.

And your Smartphone has even more restricted pointing and typing possibilities. In terms of availability however, it is the device that is the quickest in your hand and ready to use.

Each device type has its own characteristics for interaction, its own ‘user experience’. On a PC e.g. you will prefer to scroll vertically. A tablet on the contrary invites you in a very intuitive way to swipe from right to left or from left to right, as you would do in a book. And on a Smartphone vertical scrolling is use more often because of the ‘portrait orientation’.


One of the consequences of all this is also that not all Apps are suited for all mobile devices, and vice versa

Unprecedented capabilities

One of the biggest mistakes one can make when making business data available on a mobile device is to copy the content and behaviour of a corresponding back-end function. A true Business App should allow you to perform things you could not do before. By using the technical features that are available on Mobile Devices in an integrated way, new possibilities can be explored.

Typical Mobile Device features comprise:
– Taking pictures
– Knowing your geo-location
– Capturing handwriting and drawing
– Sensing movements
– Using other data on your device

Business Apps on Mobile Devices offer possibilities you never had before.

Mobile Apps that make use of these capabilities in an intelligent way, are the most powerful ones.

Example: with a mobile device you can take pictures and at the same time register the location at which you take the picture and the date and time; this is e.g. very useful in construction and maintenance environments when you want to initiate a work request or report some damage.

This may not come cheap…

We all expect mobile apps to be cheap. Most of the apps that we purchase in our private live are extremely cheap (from less than a Euro to a couple of Euros). These apps can be cheap because they have a large number of users. On the other hand, with generic Apps you cannot create high business value in your organization.


In an enterprise context the business app needs to be developed to the specific requirements of the organization. It also needs to be integrated with the back-end data, meaning that some development is needed at the server side too. Therefore the budgets to be calculated with when developing a business case for an enterprise app are substantially higher than in the case of privately used apps.

Business Apps As-A-Service

An intermediate solution between privately used apps and bespoke developed enterprise apps are the business apps that come with an integrated server-side solution. The TrashOut App ( e.g. allows people to report trash by taking a picture of it. When taking the picture the geo location of the trash is also recorded. Any enterprise can get an account at Trashout to collect trash reports on its premises and take action on it. Another example is the TasksInaBox App ( – still in beta) with which you can keep track of tasks assigned to you or your team. Again your organization can get an account to enable Task Management on mobile devices in your organization.

These Apps-as-a-Service allow you to create a higher business value without having to pay for the full development cost.

Generic Apps

As mentioned above, you can also make use of ‘Generic Business Apps’. In fact this type of Business Apps is the one that is most widely spread: they allow you to manage your e-mails, keep track of your calendar and access your contact database. They are available on Phone, Tablet and PC. And although they are very useful to stay in touch with your home base while you are on the road, they don’t allow you to executive specific activities in the Business Processes of your Organization.

Other generic Apps that can be used in a Business context are GPS, Microsoft Office (including the marvellous Office Remote app), convertors, and what have. But however useful, these Apps will not help you create a competitive advantage.

More Generic Communication Apps

It is worth mentioning other Generic Apps that help you to stay in touch with your Organization. If you have implemented Enterprise Social Collaboration platforms like  SharePoint, Lync or Yammer, you will certainly will want to use the corresponding Mobile Apps ‘SharePoint Newsfeed’, ‘Lync’ and ‘Yammer’.

imageThese apps will help u to stay informed about active conversations in your organization.

With Microsoft you can!

A short technical paragraph to end with.

Microsoft has a unique series of technologies to make all this possible in a secure, manageable and affordable way. Starting with devices and operating systems like Windows Phone and Windows 8.1 (on Surface or other hardware), using Azure and Azure Mobile Services to connect the mobile devices to the cloud on one hand, and to connect the cloud to your existing back-end application in your data center on the other hand; with management tools like System Center to allow the IT Department to stay in control.

image With the technology available and ready, it is probable just your imagination that is holding you back from creating additional competitive advantage by using Mobile Business Apps.

BPM is ‘Old School’: Adaptive Case Management is here to stay


If you have been modeling processes for a while, you have probably experienced the situations where nothing seems to work. Suddenly, when discussing a particular process with your audience, your tips and tricks don’t work anymore. And you think “What’s wrong with me?” or “What’s wrong with these people?”.

Here is a potential answer: may be there’s something wrong with the process!

More and more voices are stating that not all processes can be captured as fixed, pre-defined flows. Some processes, mostly characterized as ‘knowledge worker processes’ have an inherent flexibility that cannot be described with traditional BPM techniques.


How to distinguish between an adaptive and an prescriptive process

First question that popped up in my mind was: “How can I recognize these processes when I’m discussing them with my customer?” (Because I don’t want to run into problems again.) I found a potential answer in Jacob P. Ukelson’s chapter of the book ‘Mastering the Unpredictable’ (Meghan-Kiffer Press, ISBN 978-0-929652-12-2, ). Here is my transcript of his ideas. I now use this frequently to check the type of process I am dealing with; it consists of a set of statements in 6 categories of characteristics of a process:

Type of interaction:

– The activities of the process mainly entail interactions with IT applications to capture information and data, without much interaction with other people.

– The activities of the process mainly entail human interactions (e.g. to ask for assistance, collaboration, or to negotiate).

Type of information:

– In the process mainly structured data is filled out on formatted (electronic) forms.

– In the process mainly documents, excel files and other unstructured information is created or received and processed.

Type of control:

– After the completion of an activity in the process, the system decides what the next (prescribed) step is.

– The actors in the follow decide on the next step based on the information they have.

Type of ownership:

– The process has a process owner who decides on the standard (prescribed) flow.

– Every instance of the process has an owner who can decide on the flow, deliverables and timing for that instance.

Type of objective:

– The objectives, time line and deliverables are defined once for all instances of the process.

– The objectives, time line and deliverables are defined separately for every instance of the process.

Type of process description:

– The process documentation describes how the process’s deliverables should be produced.

– The process is described by defining what the outcome of the process should be.


Before starting a discussion on a process, I ask my audience to score each statement of the 6 categories on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 = ‘I agree completely with the first statement’ and 5=’I agree completely with the second statement”. The answers give me an indication like “This is more of an adaptive type of process” or “This is more of a prescriptive type of process.” (I made a simple Excel file that, magically, comes up with the conclusion after you filled out the answers).


How does this help?

First of all it helps me during the process modeling to adapt my style of modeling: it doesn’t make sense to try to force the users to define a predefined process flow when you are dealing with an ‘adaptive’ process. In an adaptive process the possible activities may be known, but the sequence in which they occur cannot be defined in advance. (In many cases not even all activities can be identified upfront.) So for adaptive processes, the process model should say: these are the possible actions (activities), but it is up to the actor to decide what to do next.

Secondly, it also helps to define requirements for the underlying ICT systems. It the past, traditional ICT has neglected processes and process support as a basic requirement (see also the article ‘BPM Misconception: the back-end database doesn’t need to know everything’ that was published in the Architect Newsletter of Microsoft Belgium), and more recently you see that BPM is concentrating on “prescriptive” flows and is neglecting the “adaptive” processes. This is all the more surprising because tools like Microsoft’s SharePoint are ideal to support adaptive processes. If collaboration tools like SharePoint would be integrated more in the traditional software applications (e.g. by creating automatically a workspace or a case for every instance of an adaptive process) users would get a much better support during the execution of the process. I will come back to that in another blog post.



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