I hosted a workshop at the Process Mining Camp 2013 about Social Mining. Here are the results of the discussion with my peers and fellow miners.
Kick-start to the workshop
We’ve been supporting our way of working, based on the increased processing capacity of information systems that have created the illusion that the world was more stable, predictable and standardized.
However the pace of change in the economy has been increasingly accelerated, fuelled by a nexus of converging forces — social, mobile, cloud and information — is building upon and transforming user behaviour while creating new business opportunities that let people do extraordinary things and are automating repetitive tasks and decision making at large. This implies that our vision of the future has to be changed.
Any system, any process must be able to handle the complexity of its elements and be active and adaptive to survive. This implies that any attempt to limit the existing variety will lead to the system, the process, the organization will lose the ability to adapt. This is the reason that business processes are not anymore normalized, standardized and are getting more difficult to analyze.
For sure there are research methods to tackle this kind of challenges, there is an example like Simplifying Discovered Process Models from Dirk Fahland, Wil M.P. van der Aalst, but the thing is variation, complexity cannot be predicted, and such methods can work in predefined or controlled because organizations live in a world where interdependence, self-organization and emergence are agility, adaptability and flexibility.
It is a networked composed world in the design of collaborative-networked organizations.
These networked configurations comes to the composition of complex systems, from cells, to society and enterprises (associations of individuals, technology and products). In those complex systems, characteristics of emergence, order and self-organization, develop a set of network interdependent actions not visible in the individual parts. This is the reason why defining methods to analyze a domain fail if the domain and the parts change, which is what most of the times occurs once we are living in a world of variety.
The facts that are changing everything
There a hand full of facts that are changing everything the way we work, basically that are two domains that are making a huge pressure on enterprises.
The technology factor
As communication costs drops and speeds increase, cost will no longer be a consideration in many parts of the world. As the cost of communication drops, the shift will be towards applications. Combined with increased computer capacity and speed, we will be able engage with, and have access to information in real time. Cloud will free organisations from fixed and limited availability and processing power. The way we are used to working will dramatically change.
The social factor
On the social factor, in leading GDP countries, we are facing a displacement of “assembly line” people to aspiring ones; this is because work can be transferred to those that can do the same thing for less than a half of the cost. This shift occurs in industry sectors from manufacturing to services. But in the near future tiny tasks will be fully automated and unfortunately those brave workers will be obliterated, unless there are new work opportunities, or chances to execute more complex work. People will have to adapt and start pushing their capabilities to new boundaries.
This shift has also a profound implication on the type of people companies are sourcing in the labor market. As leading companies expand and operations are outsourced or transferred to low wages economies, the future workers profile will be aimed at highly skilled persons capable of embracing business dynamics.
The convergence of three important process dimensions
The complexity were are living with, implies that we to look and align other kind of dimensions we were not used to look before to tackle the factors that are transforming the way processes are executed. Control flow perspective does not provide any kind of insight because there are not two similar instances and because under social collaboration paradigms the process is the conversation or the interaction and there are infinite ways to do that. Time perspective is important and will continue to be important but is definitely not the best way to understand behaviour.
In fact today we have immense analytical capabilities, but how do we understand a fundamental challenge for organizations that is how people socialize? How do they work? the configuration makes sense? It is too centralized, depends always from the same person and the same organizational units or is open and anyone can be invited to join? The type of knowledge applied is abstract, i.e. people can apply recurrent solutions to daily problems in a multitude of situations, and only apply customized solutions (concrete knowledge)? Knowledge is reused? Information flows naturally or processes are too structured and best practice oriented that are turning organizations into fragile systems because they are not able to change, react to unpredictable facts and adapt?
This was the background of the workshop.
Our society is constructed around flows. This construction is also applied inside organizations and among its stakeholders. This is what we are made of.
Flows are the sequence of interaction between physically disjointed positions held by social actors, that belong to a particular social network.
Dominant social structure are those arrangements of organizations whose internal logic plays a strategic role in shaping social practices.
Thence the trick is you are able to align network structure to the process type being executed and evolve the network type according to circumstances. In order words, you need to introduce and maintain an adaptive social approach. But that is not enough. You can have the best social network configuration, but knowledge is poorly used, or you let people set them free when it should be supposed to reuse solutions all and over again.
Social dimension – social networks configuration
Once the process transformed into something that is the conversation, we need to understand how people engage. In other words, what is the network configuration. It’s somehow accepted that network patterns can indicate the way people work and share information.
As a reference on social network patterns, and social network discovery techniques you can learn it here in this post.
Centrality is used to measure degree distribution. But all measures are wrong and some are useful.
From the discussion resulted that:
Information (logs) about social iteration that spreads into e-mail, social tools like activity streams, messaging, video chat, that can help to discover the way socialization occurs are difficult to obtain, due:
- The effort to obtain this information can be infinite, because is recorded across multiple platforms and most of the records do not have a common key;
- Some information is inaccessible if is recorded inside systems that the company, the entity that has interest in understanding what is happening is not responsible for the system administration (event if it is administrated indirectly);
Privacy concerns. There is a clear division about the approach how information is considered private across different parts of the globe. For example, in most European countries, at large, data like e-mail, stored in the employer devices is still personal, even if it is corporate e-mail. This challenge is amplified if data is stored in personal e-mail or devices even if it is from corporate source).
Building the complete log can be overwhelming if social interaction is spread in multiples systems. Without entering into technical details, is much more difficult that joining different database tables.
It’s more important if the social dimension could be embedded in the control flow, rather than being analyzed separately. If the process is the flow and the process is social the visualization should be integrated. I consider that this point is key for developers.
Knowledge types – What type of knowledge exists and how it’s applied
Healthcare industry has always been characterized by the involvement of multiple professionals for diagnosis and treatment of patients where information sharing plays a key role. Health professionals (as well as professionals from other industries), tend to work around problems, address the immediate needs of patients rather than resolve ambiguities. As a result, people face “the same issue, every day indefinitely,” which results into inefficiency. In other words, people like to design, the same solutions always. How can you overcome this challenge and what can be done so that the knowledge use can be more abstract and knowledge itself can evolve within the organization?
Knowledge consumption should be aligned with the type process design. For example a repetitive task is usually automated turning into explicit knowledge use, documented and understood by all. There is often a temptation to simplify the existing complexity, automating and standardizing how to proceed to the point of “crystallize” only a small part of the information that people have to process, making it difficult to cope with the changing conditions of execution, thus leaving no room to use of the tacit dimension.
Knowledge is not then just a twin flavor (explicit or tacit) but it’s more than that.
How to discover and measure knowledge type?
There can be different types across parts of the process and measuring is not automatic.
From the discussion resulted:
People would like to spot the indispensables. The ones that makes the difference, when a solution is build. That could be measured by how many person in the company “like”, use, apply the knowledge that was created.
Many think that the problem with knowledge discovery and usage is related with the tools used to store and share it (portals, wikis or alike). Some examples were provided in IT context, like a patch, a pattern that was sent over the development team, was considered to be handy, because everyone was involved working in the solution and as such knowledge gets codified, but big
knowledge repositories are not considered to be useful.
The lynchpins, the indispensables, don’t like to codify it’s knowledge, because it makes them … dispensable (I tend to agree, but there are some generations that live under the share paradigm and make the others contribute to the company success).
A side interested comment was presented:
Knowledge finding automation is highly requested. Even with a Swiss army of systems to manage knowledge, it’s hard to find.
Discovering process types
Process are not from a single flavor anymore. Today it’s possible to find a very pre-defined type, but also a blend of every type available across multiples process instances.
Today processes are blended. You can handle a claim with a customer in a loosely manner and in the end pay a compensation using a by the book, best practice, “ever day the same thing”.
How to understand what process type we are looking at?
The structured ones are easy to find, but Ad-hoc and Adaptive put extra challenges, particularly if parts are blended with structured ones.
From the discussion resulted that:
Most important that have super algorithms to spot patterns and discover process types, at this point of time is more important to have access to recorded data to actually let people think.