Manufacturing AUTOMATION

The rise of the social enterprise

November 30, 2012
By Phil Duff

The world of technology is no longer just reserved for technical experts – consumer technology now spearheads the technologies which businesses later adopt. Clever user interfaces (UI) and stylish hardware has also resulted in users building emotional bonds with hardware, such as their smartphone or tablet – something that was unheard of not so long ago.
Most people have heard of ‘consumerization,’ where a technology first emerges in the consumer market and subsequently gets adopted into the corporate one. This transition of business as a technology driver, to that of merely an educated adopter, has been termed: ‘The consumerization of IT.’ The trends that drive consumer IT are also blurring the lines between business and consumer needs. Generally, this has focused on hardware, with the increasing adoption of smartphones and tablets in the workplace. More recently, it has expanded into the software market. Even the traditional Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) market has not been immune to this trend.
Beyond significantly impacting the way in which people interact with one another, the rise of social media has also affected the software that they use. A new way of doing things has arrived. Enterprise software typically has to do with numbers, transactions, and so on. Social software is more focused on stimulating engagement.
Changing the way of doing business
There is now a new way of how technology can help businesses. The rise of the social enterprise is seeing social media elements being used in business and commercial contexts. Many companies have started to use social media elements to promote collaboration between their employees.
In addition to collaboration, these elements are being implemented to get employees to share tips and ideas of how to improve the workplace, as well as best practices across teams. Imagine using elements of the Facebook experience, such as event invitations, user comments, and photo and video sharing, and applying that to a customer order on an ERP system.
In the old days, orders were simply loaded into the system. Now, one can tag an order as an event, and make it more descriptive of its various elements. As the order goes through the system, people who are involved at that specific stage can leave a comment, for example: “There is going to be a delay in implementation time because a spare part had to be ordered.” Suddenly, the entire community of the organization involved in that order is not only updated but, engaging with one another.
This also means that employees could be trading documents in real-time. Gartner estimates that half of enterprises will be using some sort of social network within the next two years. These social networks are not necessarily the mainstream ones that are currently in operation, which we hear about everyday, but rather customized ones developed by companies themselves, featuring similar elements.
Collaborating on solutions
On the group side, you can have an engineering department who is busy solving a particular problem, and have other departments discussing and working collaboratively on it, without being pulled into unnecessary meetings. This different way of doing business will require adjustments in the organization and indeed adaptation, no doubt.
The social enterprise may prove difficult to embrace for those people who have more than 10 to 15 years of business experience. It will involve a significant culture change. On the flip side, it is highly probable that new employees will find their feet quicker in this collaborative environment.
Going mobile
The rise of mobility will also benefit those employees on the factory floor, where computers are difficult to operate. Mobility allows a factory worker to walk around with a tablet, have wireless internet and intranet access, and flag potential issues that could delay an order.
There are already a few large organizations that are using collaboration across multiple divisions and locations to improve the effectiveness of their operations. Social enterprise is about improving collaboration and not about slowing it down.
In the past, ERP solutions allowed companies to do process integration. Today, with the rise of the social enterprise, companies can now do people integration as well.
Phil Duff is CEO of Syspro, one of the world’s largest independent vendors of enterprise resource planning (ERP) software. The company is operational in more than 60 countries across six continents. He regularly blogs on SYSPRO’s Smarter ERP blog:

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