There is a movement taking place in the IT industry that is really driven by major consumer technology vendors including Apple, Google and Facebook.
What these three companies do is really starting to set the tone for what people expect from a software application. The expectations of a software
application may have historically centered around its ability to solve business problems or to enable specific types of transactions or management processes.
Today, the software application is expected to let users communicate and interact with each other the way that they can on Facebook. Organic and guided
search as found on Google is also expected, as is the intuitive usability of the iPad.
In fact, employees and managers of most any business are already communicating with each other through various Web 2.0 technologies — the
problem being that all of this communication is taking place outside the bounds of formal and secure IT systems.
While some business software companies work to integrate their offerings directly with online tools like Twitter or Facebook, the real business benefits will
come from enterprise resources planning (ERP) and other enterprise software that mimics the functionality of these popular online tools. This serves to
improve internal communication and pull company business currently taking place outside of ERP systems back into the enterprise.
The Critical Role of Security
One primary deliverable of an ERP solution is the enhanced data and organizational security that result from access to company data being strictly
controlled. Security is also provided by the ERP’s ability to control which individuals within a company can complete various business tasks and processes
and by the ability to track, after the fact, transactions that have taken place.
When technologies or individuals circumvent ERP, these security measures are rendered ineffective. Building social media-type enterprise 2.0
functionality into ERP will leverage the inherent security benefits of the ERP system. Furthermore, the security of social media channels like Facebook,
Twitter and various instant messaging services is not as robust as that of a 21st Century ERP system. If executives are using these public tools to discuss
mission-critical matters, this increases the risk profile of the organization on a number of levels. Using social media can compromise the ability to ensure that
critical and potentially damaging information is not accessed by unauthorized people, in addition, the preservation of content from conversations for legal
and regulatory purposes is at risk. Free public social media on its face presents a challenge because the technology and your enterprise data are housed on
servers through a license that may be poorly understood or subject to change without notice.
Increased Focus, Knowledge Retention
Building social media functionality into an ERP platform will also help ensure that employees using Web 2.0 tools like instant messaging or wikis are not
leaving their working context and are likely to remain more productive. Harder to quantify but also important is the degree to which the workforce enjoys
the tool they are using. Intuitive communication tools like enterprise 2.0 can cause workers to more closely follow updates about what is going on within the
company — even when they are not at the office.
This dynamic can cut the other way as well. Intuitive enterprise 2.0 tools can make it more likely that workers will share information with others,
increasing the degree of intellectual capital entering an ERP solution.
Within much of the developed world, the number of people of working age is actually decreasing. This trend is hitting some industries —
including utilities, process manufacturing and other complex engineering-intensive fields — harder than others. Enterprise 2.0 ERP may be one of the
best tools to capture and retain the knowledge of senior, expert, professionals and technicians — intellectual capital that would otherwise have been
Wikis for Lean
One consistent principle of lean initiatives is documentation of change over time. As processes and practices within the organization change, it is
necessary to record how things are done, why they are done that way and the resulting outcome.
By structuring the software documentation as a wiki, it becomes possible to document not only how the ERP software is being used, but the processes
it is used to execute. The wiki format automates the lean mandate to document process change. As processes are altered, the wiki is updated, leaving a full
history of when and how the process was changed and the results that ensued.
Wikis can also reduce the amount of value added work spent looking for information or trying to determine the proper process to follow in a particular
situation. They can have an immediate and understandable impact on the amount of training required to use an ERP solution and to learn the processes
within a company, speeding the time to value following a new hire.
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.