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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.


Comments? Questions? Reactions?

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’

5 shades of mobile grey

imageOK, so you’re convinced that mobile computing may have some value for your organization. But where do you stand today? On a scale of 1 to 5 how deep into mobile is your company?


How important is mobile computing for your organization? Why should you care? The question may not seem relevant to you unless you consider this from the perspective of your organization’s objectives. In generic terms every organization has the following challenges:


So the real question you have to ask yourself is:

How can mobile computing help me to achieve the objectives of my organization?

We’ll come back on that question in the last chapter. But let’s first define the 5 shades of Mobile Computing.


Shade 1: Mobile e-mail and contacts

image In level 1 of the mobile adoption scale you have opened up your mail server to allow your employees to consult their e-mail and contact data on mobile devices (both Smartphones and Tablets). Almost every organization currently is in this level, at least for a selected group of employees.

Many organizations running their mail server on-premise hesitate to do this because of the security implications it has. Security will be a main concern in every shade of Mobile Computing. How you can deal with that is indicated in the last chapter. The fact remains that your work force is increasingly expecting to have access to their professional mailbox and contacts from their own mobile device (meaning that in the objective of having satisfied, motivated employees, this shade of grey scores quite high).


Shade 2: Mobile access to files and documents

image In the next level of mobility you allow users to access documents, pictures, etc. from their own mobile devices. Achieving this level might be a bit more challenging depending on where these files and documents are stored when you start.

If the documents are stored on file shares on the company’s network, you will need a VPN (Virtual Private Network) or VPN-like connection to access the files from outside the company walls.

In a similar case your files may be stored in an on-premise SharePoint. In this case you would also first have to install a mechanism to access your SharePoint from the outside.

In both cases you have to solve the scary problem of opening up your network in a secure way. There are various solutions. The last chapter will tell you more about this.

One of the possibilities is to make sure first that your files are stored on file servers in the cloud. There is a fair chance that if your organization fails to organize mobile access to files and documents, your users will do it themselves by setting up a personal Dropbox, iCloud or OneDrive[1] account. Is that what you want?


Shade 3: Mobile virtual desktop

image Another way to make sure that your employees can access their applications, files and documents no matter where they are, is to implement a Virtual Desktop. This is a mechanism that allows you to log in into your network from virtually any device and still find the same desktop that you are using at the office.

.It is clear that the user experience may not be the same on the various mobile devices that you have, but at least you can be sure to have access any time, any place with any device and still find the familiar experience you have at your desk.


Shade 4: Mobile generic apps

image In the first 3 shades of Mobile Apps, you merely open up existing applications, files and data to mobile users. Starting with Shade 4, we are entering a new world in which you create new possibilities for your mobile users. From this point on you have to think in terms of new ways to interact with users that are on the road.


These new ways are available because the mobile devices have capabilities that your standard laptop or desktop PC doesn’t have: taking photos, knowing the geo-location, handwriting on a touch screen, etc. (see blog post “Business Processes on the Road: Why you need Mobile Apps”).

So Shade 4 is about mobile apps that were designed specifically for the mobile users. The easiest and fastest way to getting started with mobile apps is by using Generic Apps. Generic Apps are generally available on the market to fill in a specific (generic) business functions. Examples are: Track My Mileage (to keep track of your mileage expenses), BulldozAIR (for field reporting in Construction Projects), Timesheet .Net (to fill out time sheets on mobile devices) etc.

They are great because you can start using them almost immediately. However, their biggest disadvantage is that they are not integrated into your existing enterprise applications: e.g. the Timesheet app mentioned above cannot use the existing cost codes of your project management system.


Shade 5: Mobile enterprise apps

image This is the level you really want to achieve. The main difference between Enterprise apps and Generic apps is that the former bring your existing enterprise data straight to your mobile employees and customers

This type of apps is the darkest shade of mobile because by opening up your back-end data to front-end apps you create the highest possible business value.

Enterprise apps change the way you do business, because they give you possibilities you never had before. Imagine that your customers can place orders directly into your order system by using a mobile app that you make available to them. This App is branded with your organisation’s logo and colours and uses up-to-date information about your products (availability, price, actions, etc.)

Or imagine an App with which your Field Engineers can do a job at the customer’s site, fill out the job report on his tablet, and have the customer sign it on that tablet whereby this information is fed directly into your ERP-system. No paper involved, no writing and copying, no errors.

By looking a bit closer at the possibilities of this type of Mobile Apps you will discover a world of opportunities to really make the difference for your customers and employees. This type of app allows you to consider the specific context different steps in your business processes, and decide in which processes a mobile app can bring the highest value.



Business perspective

It is clear that from a business perspective not all shades of mobile apps contribute in the same way to your business objectives. Here is an interesting exercise that every decision taker should make: rate the different shades of Mobile Apps for their contribution to the organization’s objectives. Such an assessment may result in a table that look like this one:


This is a good basis to choose your first mobile candidates.

Technological perspective

It may seem like a big and risky leap to introduce mobile applications in your existing IT environment. However Microsoft has a comprehensive set of tools and platforms to help you achieve this in a controlled way, and Spikes has the people and skills to help you implement all that: check EMS or Enterprise Mobility Suite[2]. Based on the Windows 8.1 platform and using its cloud infrastructure, Microsoft offers a product for every part of solution that you want to implement:

  • Cloud infrastructure so that you don’t have to invest in new servers and other hardware
  • Cloud solutions to run your e-mail, contacts, files, etc. from the cloud
  • Identity management to make sure only authorized users get access
  • Encryption mechanisms to make sure that data remains confidential all the time
  • Communication mechanisms with which users can connect to the office from any place and on any device
  • Monitoring and Management Tools to control and manage the whole environment, even in a hybrid cloud-and-on-premise architecture
  • And many more

In other words:

Microsoft has the technology to let you run every shade of mobile grey.


Footnote [1]: OneDrive is the new name for the Microsoft service that was previously called Skydrive. OneDrive is a consumer tool to store files in the cloud. OneDrive for Business is the business equivalent of OneDrive. OneDrive for Business is part of SharePoint Online which itself is part of Office 365

Footnote [2]: Read more about Enterprise Mobility Suite (EMS) on (in Dutch).


Comments? Questions?

Marc Vanderheyden - Picture


Twitter: @mceev11



Business Process Modeling: the Overview



Automating workflows is becoming more and more popular (and I’m, of course, glad for that). Every workflow implementation project starts with documenting the underlying business process. (I am not going to elaborate on the definition of workflow and process here, that is a subject for a separate blog.) The big question is: how should I document my business process to provide the right input for the workflow project.

This blog entry is part of a series of blog entries on the basics of process modeling. In fact this post gives the overview of what was already published, or what is still to come. (Yes, I agree, this is nothing more than a list of subjects I could blog about, but maybe you can find some information in it too. In the mean time, subscribe to this blog … and wait for the rest to come.)


The Basics

Categories of processes: management, core, supporting

BPM (Business Process Management) traditionally makes the distinction between Management, Core and Supporting Processes. What are they, and is the distinction relevant to process modeling?

Levels of the Process Model

One of the most important rules for achieving readable, usable process diagrams is to model the right level of detail at the right place. This can be realized a.o. by defining different levels in your process model.

Two crucial definitions: what is an activity, what is a trigger?

Business processes are about information that is flowing between people (the process actors) and that is enriched in each process step. This blog post offers very clear definitions for the flows and for the process steps.

Process boundaries: where does it start, when does it end

You have probably also seen these wall covering process diagrams that try to describe everything in one diagram. Are they readable? Do they identify the business process correctly? Probably not. So how can you delimit process in a correct way?

Roles and functions

The actors in a process are people in a specific role. But people have also functions (by the look of their business cards). How do you deal with that in a process model?

Not just a picture: document it!

Many people only think of diagrams when they talk about a process model. And although a picture tells a 1000 words, they may be 200 words from 5 different people. One way to take away the ambiguity of the process diagram is to a text.

Yes you may bend the rules!

Every business process documentation project has its specific objectives. And although it is important to respect some rules when modeling processes, you must also see to it that the model serves the objectives. Bend it!



What are Management Processes??

Many people will argue that management cannot be captured in processes (mainly managers will say that). Maybe they are right. But that doesn’t mean that management processes don’t exist. Here are some examples of management processes that are useful to document.

2 Kinds of Supporting processes?

Although BPM only talks about Supporting Processes, I see at least 2 kinds: Core-supporting & Supporting-supporting (I couldn’t find a better name – every suggestion is welcome.) What are they?

Process modeling tools

My father-in-law used to say: the right tool is half the work done. Which tools are on the market to support the process modeler?

Process modeling with Visio and SharePoint

About a year ago I would have rejected Microsoft Office as an acceptable tool for processing modeling. But since the release of Visio 2010 and SharePoint 2010 I changed my mind: today they are my favorite tools for modeling processes.

What is a workflow, what is a process?

The words workflow and process are used as synonyms. But do they mean the same thing?



Triggers: formalized communication versus informal

The glue of processes are the triggers: they make activities, and processes, stick together. They represent the information that flows between people. But which communication should be modeled and which not?

Triggers: time trigger!

When modeling processes, many people ignore the most common trigger to start a process: time!

Something on process flexibility

Process models give the impression that every process nicely follows the prescribed path that is described in the diagram. But in reality, processes need to be much more flexibility.

Process performance: measuring quantity and quality

Process modeling and process performance stich together like birds of a feather. How can implementing processes help to measure process performance?

From Process to Workflow

Business Process and Workflow: the same thing … or not?


The implementation of Digital Business Processes

Something on process engines

What is the role of a process engine when implementing Digital Business Processes?

Task Assignment

aka Role Resolvement: is the mechanism that assigns process steps (tasks) to the right user at run-time. If your process engine doesn’t support Role Resolvement, then you’re bound to include the assignment logic in you process model. And believe, you don’t want to do that. Read more about this topic here.

What does it mean for the user?

The whole picture: a process steps is a workflow step is a task on a task list

The relation between a digital archive and content management, not clear to everyone

Many organizations talk about digitalizing their (paper) archive. But how does that affect their content management?

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