Is ERP converging with Social Media?

30th September 2011

The problem with ERP systems is that they are exceedingly boring.  They may be functionally rich, vertically aligned and easily navigable but fundamentally they are dull.  Don’t get me wrong – they do a great job – indeed they have steadily driven down the costs of transaction processing over the last two decades but are they attractive or enticing to use – not a bit! So what is going to get the Facebook generation using ERP systems, asks Gary Simon, FSN’s managing editor.

It’s a serious issue confronting the business software industry of which ERP is a large part.  Generation Y, the children of the Baby Boomers, are hitting the workforce right now and they have a completely different outlook to their parents.  They are steeped in the immediacy of the internet, the speed and variety of communications Twitter, Facebook, Skype, itune and Instant Messenger (IM).  They have instant everything, choose the information they want and personalise the way that it is delivered.  Their leisure use of the internet bears no resemblance to the clunky and inert user experience which is commonplace in the business world.

But the transformation facing the business world is not gimmicky.  It’s not about paying lip service to social media, adding a Twitter Feed here or a Facebook link there.  It is early days but the world of Social Media has a huge amount to offer business and should not be dismissed as a fad.  Recent reports that 500 million people used Facebook on a single day is a phenomenon which cannot be ignored.

One software house that is taking the Social Media revolution very seriously is Infor, the third largest ERP vendor in the world.  Following a recent management shakeup it has invested heavily in product differentiation and Social Media capability is a big part of its strategy going forward.

Work started around 18 months ago with the a commitment to a completely new interface.  “We want our software to look beautiful!” exclaimed Duncan Angove, Infor’s president of products and support at the launch of Infor10 last week in London.  That’s not a bad place to start if you are trying to grab the attention of Generation Y.  Indeed the new interface which pervades Infor’s products is attractive – (they used a specialist design house rather than a bunch of techies and it shows).  But the clever stuff is the functionality that they have added.

Infor10's Facebook style interface

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The interface has a Facebook style appearance which highlights critical business information in a familiar Web 2.0 presentation.  The information delivered is largely user configurable but the aim is to provide information that is contextually sound and relevant.

Infor has signed up with Buzzient a social media engine to deliver relevant snippets of information captured from blogs, websites, discussion forums, Facebook and Twitter with the aim of informing business decision making.  It sound easy but in practice refining the data requires deft management of business rules to decide what appears and which parts of the internet are trawled. Using information such as this, a user of a CRM system could monitor news about a customer or product, so called ‘sentiment analysis’ and assess its impact on performance. 

Infor10 pulls in relevant Social Media statistics

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But imagine if you could select feeds from within the ERP system based on a watch list that you define yourself.  Now that’s exciting!  In Infor10, most bits of metadata can be rendered in a Social Media feed.  Let me explain what that means.  Most Social Media encourage you to ‘follow’ an individual or to be ‘followed’.  Infor10 takes this a step further by allowing you to follow a piece of metadata – say a product or an individual.  That means you get a constant feed (automatically) of everything that is said or done about that individual within the system.  Infor calls this “Pulse”. (Security is managed via Microsoft Active Directory). What’s more information retrieved in this way can be ‘shared’ with colleagues or perhaps business units in the way that other social media allow information to be distributed to relevant groups.  Enterprise Search is yet another built in capability that can be used to get at information a less structured way. 

ION_Pulse.png

Context sensitive ‘Presence Checking’ is another clever feature that Infor unveiled in its interface last week.  Presence checking is used to reveal anyone else in a user’s network who is on-line and potentially available to communicate by say, skype, Instant Messenger or telephone.  The smart bit is that it is context sensitive, so that it only checks the status of people that the system considers are relevant to the part of the application that the user is in.  For example, a sales order entry clerk may need to know the instant availability of staff in a warehouse to check physical stock when managing a customer order enquiry.

At the moment Social Media capability entwined with CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems is growing very rapidly with many vendors having some sort of offering.  Infor is showing what the next stage of Social Media integration looks like and at the same time showing a commitment to technical innovation in an imaginative and exciting way.

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