Enterprise 2.0 and Social Media Coming to ERP

The time has come to stop fighting the tide towards social media and instead harness its power within the enterprise. ERP is the natural place for social media tools to enter. Building social media-type enterprise 2.0 functionality into ERP will eliminate potential security risks and productivity drains.

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Selecting ERP with Enterprise 2.0

Once you have determined that enterprise 2.0 holds real value for your business, there are a few factors to take into consideration.

Without question, the most important consideration is integration. Social media functionality that stands apart from ERP or lacks very tight integration with the platform as a whole will not deliver true enterprise 2.0 benefits. This integration needs to work both ways. You need to be able to search conversations and other social media data quickly so you can determine who said what to who and when they said it. You also need to be able to link any object in the application freely with social media conversations. This allows discussions regarding customer orders, for instance, to be tied in with the relevant functionality in the application, or a question about a particular customer invoice can be linked directly to the correct document.

Integration with the application at large is also important when it comes to ensuring that wikis and other organic data structures that are a part of enterprise 2.0 allow you to truly see how your company operates and how things get done. When unstructured data like conversations and wikis are embedded directly in the working environment, your company can become a learning organization that absorbs and retains the wisdom and collective decisions of executives, managers and employees in a comprehensible and actionable format.

It is also important to ensure that an ERP product with embedded enterprise 2.0 features addresses both types of social media communication — synchronous communication and asynchronous communication. Synchronous communication includes things that happen in real time like instant messaging, chat, IP telephony and the like. Asynchronous communication includes tools that allow users to "time lag," including wikis, blogs and message boards. Each is useful under different circumstances. Oftentimes, someone will first use synchronous communication to an individual or two to get an answer immediately and then, if questions still exist or clarity is lacking, they will broadcast their question using asynchronous communication to solicit feedback or thoughts from a group.

Particularly valuable synchronous communication tools allow a user to instantly communicate with any individual in the system including internally and external contacts like a customer or supplier. This is driven by a customizable contact card, and benefits flow to the organization as each conversation or contact is documented. This organizational memory can, for instance, improve customer service as a discussion about a customer order is clearly visible to others that might interact with that customer, allowing for exponentially greater responsiveness and a more satisfied customer.

Asynchronous communication features in ERP are ideal for those situations where you have a question but are not expecting a real-time answer. They scale particularly well to a group, and a number of people can contribute thoughts on a topic or collaborate on documentation over an indefinite period of time. Asynchronous communication tools of this type are very similar to Facebook, where you can post an update about a new smartphone that you have purchased along with questions about how to configure it. Your tech-savvy friends, wanting to show their knowledge as well as be of service, readily chime in with specific and detailed directions.

Another killer asynchronous communication feature is to structure help text as a wiki. This allows users to change the help text and augment it with documentation of the business process flow they are automating. This lets you become a learning organization and, in a more immediate and practical sense, gives you the organizational memory to avoid making the same mistakes twice. As stated earlier, using the wiki to record your processes can also support lean process change documentation requirements.

Most of us have found that social media tools are extremely effective tools when it comes to facilitating communication. However, they are so powerful that many of us block access to sites like Facebook from our offices.

The time has come to stop fighting the tide towards social media and instead harness its power within the enterprise. As the system of record within a company, ERP is the natural place for social media tools to enter. Enterprise 2.0 features will result in increased utilization of ERP, increasing the amount and quality of information available to managers and executives. It will also eliminate potential security risks and productivity drains that result when employees use public social media sites to facilitate business discussions.

As Director of IFS Labs, David Andersson is responsible for the strategic direction of research and development including newly available Enterprise 2.0 and social media functionality within IFS Applications. Prior to his role as Director of IFS Labs, David was Program Manager at IFS where he was in charge of several research & development projects and has been a Principal Research Engineer and Project Manager in charge of innovation of platforms and infrastructure. Andersson holds a masters degree in corporate finance from Lund University.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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