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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’

What most people forget about Task Assignment

What is Task Assignment?

Task Assignment (aka Role Resolvement) is the mechanism that decides ‘at run-time’ to which user a work flow task should be assigned. It is an essential part of every process engine. If the process defines that a request needs to be approved by the Head of Procurement, then the Task Assignment Mechanism will try to find at run-time a user with the role ‘Head of Procurement’ and assign the approval task to that person. And if that person is on holiday at that moment, then the Task Assignment function may even look up his replacement, and assign the task to that person.

In more technical terms therefore the Task Assignment mechanism is a set of rules, policies and trimmers executed by a rule engine to decide which user is the right person to execute a task at a given moment in time.


Why is Task Assignment important?

Take the example of an Expense Report Approval Flow. The flow will probably state that the expense note needs to be approved first by the Head of Department of the employee who submitted the expense note, and secondly by the Accounting Clerk. Without a Task Assignment function, the logic to determine which Head of Department needs to approve the expense note would have to be modeled in the process flow itself. In a simple organization with 3 Departments, that might look like this:


It is obvious that in a more complex organization (and which organization isn’t?) this is not a workable solution.

When you are modeling for a workflow environment with Task Assignment, the same process would look like this:


In a process modeling project, everyone focuses mainly on the process flow and les (or not at all) on the allocation of human resources to the steps in the workflow. That may be OK, until the moment you really want to execute the process in a workflow or process engine.

Conclusion: Task Assignment is important because it allows you to keep the logic

to assign a task to the right user outside your process flow by defining it in a separate set of business rules and policies.


You can do more with Task Assignment Rules

Another reason for adopting a process engine with a Task Assignment function is that you can do so much more with it.

Imagine a Task Assignment function that would balance the work load automatically over the available resources. Or that would include resources from other departments during peek hours. Or that follows a different logic in emergency cases (when availability of resources is much more important) than in normal cases (when delays are acceptable).

With a rule-based Task Assignment function, you can adopt different scenarios, depending on the context of the workflow. And none of it would influence the clarity of your process model.



Many commercial workflow or process engines ignore to a large extent the importance of resources and task allocation. And although that may be acceptable for simple workflows, it will become a major problem once you want to automate real business processes.

SharePoint’s workflow engine doesn’t have a Task Assignment function. That is why Spikes have developed such a mechanism as part of the SpikesTogether product, to operate on top of workflows in SharePoint. For more information:

The Buzzwords: Portals & Collaboration, Content Management (incl. Case Management), Workflow, (Self-service) Business Intelligence & Digital Archive

There are (too) many words for describing the digital sharing and processing of documents and other types of content. ‘Document Management’ is one that is often used. What flavors does it have? (And yes, they can all be implemented with SharePoint).




Portals & Collaboration

Portals & Collaboration refers to the single entrance (‘portal’) that people get to loads of information. It also refers to the unstructured, loosely defined collaboration they can set up using the portal. ‘Collaboration’ refers to the fact that the way in which people work together on documents is not organized in a formal way. Who is allowed to add content, modify it, etc. can be configured by using the authorization mechanisms that are available. But the sequence of events who is supposed to do what and at which moment is not formally defined. Collaboration therefore equals communication without formally defined rules.

Still there are various mechanisms (also all available in SharePoint) to ‘collaborate’:

– Centrally stored documents that can be accessed – and modified – by authorized users (using a check-out/check-in mechanism or not)

– Wiki’s to share knowledge

– Discussion Groups

– Announcements

– Task Lists

– Team Sites


Content Management (incl. Case Management)

Content Management is a different ball game. It almost the opposite of collaboration in the sense that here the way in which content is managed is as structured as possible. The whole life cycle of each document type is analyzed and defined, and finally implemented: who can create content, who should review added or modified content, who should approve the added or modified content before it can be published, etc.

Content Management without versioning is inconceivable. Content Management without workflow is hardly conceivable (see next chapter).

A special form of Content Management is Case Management. Where most people think of individual documents or single items of content when they talk about Content Management, Case Management is about sets of documents (files, dossiers, cases whatever you call them). In Case Management the same principles of structured content creation, review and approval apply to sets of documents (aka ‘Cases’).

And yes, you can implement Case Management with SharePoint too.



Workflow is the mechanism that is used to automate the processes related to documents and other types of content. The content reviews and approvals that are mentioned in the previous chapter can be fully automated with workflows.

By automating workflows, you take away the risk that the prescribed way of working is not followed. People can make mistakes. People can forget. Or you can forget to train people to work in the correct way. When procedures are really important (e.g. for compliance or liability reasons) it can be very helpful to automate the process by means of workflows.

Tip: before you start implementing workflows: read our blogs about Process Modeling.


(Self-service) Business Intelligence

Why write about Business Intelligence (BI) in the context of Document Management?

First of all, because a Portal is the perfect place to publish your reports and figures, especially when they take the shape of dashboards and scorecards.

Secondly because reports can be considered to be ‘content’ like documents, having similar properties: collaboration, meta-data, life cycle, authorizations, etc.

So why not take advantage of the platform you already have to make the right version of your reports available to the right people at the right time?

The possibilities of BI in SharePoint are countless, and yet most people don’t even know about it.


Digital Archive

What is the relationship between a Digital Archive and Content Management? The content Life cycle!

One of the simplest rules in Content Management is: what gets in, must get out! For each type of document, and therefore for each document, you must know when it is going to be removed from your content database at the moment you add it to it! Sounds impossible? Can be done!

And because people don’t like to throw away things, or because the legislator or compliance committee may demand that you keep record of specific types of documents, you need a (digital) archive to store documents that are no longer ‘active’.

In the archive, your content starts a second life that eventually ends with the permanent deletion of the content.

The key concept here is: content life cycle management!


… and CRM?

This may seem like an odd one. What is the relationship between CRM and Content Management?



Document Management is about collaboration. Collaboration is about communication. Organizations communicate with their external contacts more and more through portals in stead of through e-mail. By sharing documents on a portal with customers, partners, members, etc. the communication becomes so much more efficient: everyone shares the same version of a document, everyone can modify that version (if authorized) and so on.

CRM is about keeping track of your contacts and of the touch points you have with those contacts. So if you want to keep control over your touch points with customers and other external parties, it does make sense to integrate your CRM with your content management.



If you want to hear more about projects we realized in this context, or want to learn how this may apply to your organization, don’t hesitate to contact me or the company:

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