Enterprise apps get social

Combining social media with ERP and other business software is a great mix

Social media mania is having a huge impact on traditional business applications. Companies that are leveraging this trend are seeing significant benefits, including collaboration and data sharing in ways they've not experienced before.

Adding social media extensions to applications like enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM), business intelligence (BI) and supply chain management (SCM) makes it possible for companies to share business insights generated by these apps.

In general, social data can be used to enhance a variety of other sources, says Mary Wardley, program vice president of CRM and enterprise applications at research firm IDC in Framingham, Mass.

Customer-related and product-related data from social platforms are "another piece of the puzzle that can be mined to understand" customer preferences and product enhancements, as well as inform other decisions, Wardley says. Listening to what customers say among their friends helps companies really understand their true likes and dislikes, she says.

There are several good scenarios where integrating social media and enterprise apps have shown significant promise, says Dion Hinchcliffe, chief strategy officer at social media technology firm Dachis Group in Austin, Texas, and an expert on social strategies.

The first is in CRM, where organizations have begun correlating social media conversations with customer activities, "looking for sales and [customer] retention opportunities," Hinchcliffe says. The second is in the supply chain, particularly around exception handling -- what a business does when something unexpected happens -- which he calls "one of the most sensitive and important areas of ERP in many companies." When something in the supply chain goes wrong, that information, as well as possible solutions, must be made available to people who can address it, he says.

Combining the highly structured world of enterprise apps -- in terms of how work is done -- with the less structured environment of social media makes sense for many types of business interactions, says Rob Koplowitz, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass.

When processes become more ad hoc -- for, say, when customers need support -- "a lot of that stuff needs to be outside of core systems," Koplowitz says. "The ad-hoc processes live outside of core systems because they execute in places like email that were never designed for tight integration," he explains.

Enterprise social tools "are very good at capturing these human-centric interactions and also are designed from the ground up with integration in mind," Koplowitz says, so the idea of making these applications social is "pretty compelling."

Several vendors are addressing this market, including enterprise application providers that have added social networking capabilities directly into their applications or are offering the social software in combination with the apps, Koplowitz says. Vendors include Salesforce.com, Oracle, SAP, Microsoft and IBM.

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