Collaborative and Social ERP: Is SharePoint a Candidate?
Collaborative and Social ERP: Is SharePoint a Candidate?
Communicating effectively with a geographically dispersed team can present some challenges. We take a look at a possible solution in this article.
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Impact of Social Media
Social networks are responsible for the unprecedented growth of communication and human collaboration. You can now have colleagues in Australia and work for a boss in Canada without leaving your bedroom.
This type of closeness is exactly what companies need in their teams for faster communication and idea sharing, especially in the case of geographically distributed teams. The downside of this high connectivity is that people tend to blur the boundaries between professional and personal lives and use general social media networks for business communication due to convenience, without thinking about security implications.
Benefits of a Collaborative ERP
Processes can benefit from automation if the ERP is configured with workflows. For example, document approval could be done automatically, reducing the number of e-mails going back and forth between the manager and the frontline workers by including a chat-box in the sidebar of the document repository. As long as there is a good authentication system in place and a timestamp feature, the chats have the same binding power as emails, but with less formality.
Another feature is the creation of “isolated collaborative spaces.” This feature allows switching from the ERP to the get-together room without any exterior distractions that could arise when a general communication software like Skype or Hangouts is used.
The collaboration solution could also mimic the Google Docs suite, allowing multiple users to edit a common document simultaneously. A repository that can hold pictures, videos, documents, and act as a library is also necessary for a corporate environment where the know-how needs to be stored and shared.
Reporting solutions that require input from more than one employee or department could also benefit from a collaborative solution. Such an ERP could create real-time dashboards using the information uploaded through Excel sheets. In this sandbox, security is easy to maintain, and any information leakage can be accurately traced back to the source.
Tracking information flows, recording conversations, and even timing different stages can create a wealth of data and metadata that can be used to improve processes.
The top features of such a solution are the reusability of the information stored, without creating redundancy, the ability to customize the platform to the needs of each user, and control over the information shared by author authentication.
Challenges of Building a Collaborative ERP
Making employees use such a system instead of the commercial versions they are accustomed to is difficult and requires merging two approaches. The first one relates to enforcing company rules regarding business communications and the second one requires creating user-friendly systems that connect to the ERP.
Yahoo! has closed its legacy messenger due to a significant drop in use after similar, but easier to use, services gained traction. If the communication solution in the ERP mimics this relic instead of learning from the successful competitors that people use voluntarily, the chances of success are slim.
Creating corporate replicas of the services people like, increases the likelihood of adoption. If this is not a solution, some systems offer the possibility of third-party integration with these popular applications, via a secure connection.
Security is the primary concern when using commercial software instead of a proprietary one. Voluntarily exposing corporate information to the attacks of hackers is the worst nightmare for top management. After creating a user-friendly collaborative solution, it’s important to educate all employees on the security risks and the necessity of remaining within the organization’s IT system.
Towards a Social ERP
Most large companies use an ERP solution which contains all the necessary info related to clients, contractors, invoices, sales, and much more. However, these are, most of the time, spreadsheet environments or SQL based and don’t have a straightforward and user-friendly communication solution included.
Using a social ERP or, better yet, integrating collaboration and communication features on an existing ERP can speed up decision-making processes and the sharing of ideas, and reduce redundancy while maintaining high-security standards.
A social ERP transcends the boundaries of the organization and integrates with the CRM. This means that customer data can flow through the supply chain where it is needed (invoice processing, review management, and remarketing). These systems will offer real-time data to the organization and also give clients the opportunity to take a look at the internal workings of the company by giving them updates on their order status, an inventory of the desired product, and more. Such transparency increases the speed of the product cycle and builds trust.
SharePoint - A Possible Solution?
SharePoint has been in use since 2001 and has already proven successful in document management, intranet, file hosting, and more. Integrating this with the ERP and CRM of the company can leverage its power without affecting the underlying logic.
SharePoint consultants advise you to use SharePoint as a hub/gateway in the ERP and CRM systems. In this way, the organization can be sure to retain the security features since access is granted only to those who were previously able to access the ERP.
Building a dedicated solution inside the ERP would require both financial and time resources which the organization usually does not have available. The difference is between patching the system and using a plugin approach.
People are naturally inclined to use the most convenient solution and to work around difficult situations. If the corporate collaboration solution offered has an architecture that is simple, easy to use and intuitive, requiring a minimal number of steps to perform the necessary actions, it will be adopted right away. It just needs to provide the same degree of familiarity as the commercial options.
To avoid reinventing the wheel, your organization can use a hub solution like SharePoint to connect all the individual productivity islands (ERP, CRM) and add social networks to boost collaboration through integration. This solution offers the advantage of being cheaper, less intrusive on the systems already in place, and easily adjustable to changes.
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