Deirdre Fryer, regional product manager for Africa, SYSPRO.

Deirdre Fryer, regional product manager for Africa, SYSPRO.

Everyone uses social media. It's all-pervasive. We like, swipe and share our way through social interactions. We're accustomed to scrolling through news feeds, checking for content that's relevant and meaningful to our frame of reference, discarding that which isn't. We do it without even thinking about it. It's simply how we consume content today. It also means we quickly become frustrated with platforms that aren't as simple and intuitive to interact with.

As a result, learnings from how we interact with social media are being implemented in business platforms. Banking, public sector and even business applications are adopting elements of social media to encourage usage and engagement. The drive is to make the software more user-friendly and to present information in a format that users are comfortable with.

Deirdre Fryer, Regional Product Manager for Africa at SYSPRO, says it's important to differentiate between the software integrating with social media and pulling information from Twitter, for example, and incorporating social media elements into the software itself.

"We're seeing a workplace populated by millennials. There's been a great deal of research into millennials in the workplace, how they think, how they work and what motivates them. One thing is clear: they're tech savvy and very active on social media."

When you consider enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, it's pretty much the opposite end of the scale to how a millennial operates. While invaluable to a business, ERP software can be very restrictive in terms of usage. It provides visibility into the business and its processes and enables collaboration between employees and divisions, and another character trait of millennials is that they enjoy collaborating. However, businesses need to provide them with the right platform to do so if they want them to remain engaged and get maximum benefit out of the software. The usefulness of ERP to the business can be restricted by low adoption rates, or if it's not used to its full potential by employees. Poor user engagement has been identified as the leading cause of ERPs not delivering on their potential.

"Incorporating social media elements into ERP software doesn't mean changing the traditional menu or the programme itself, it's about how you drive user behaviour with the ERP system in a more natural way that's aligned with how they're already interacting on social media," explains Fryer.

"When you consider how people behave on social media, two elements stand out: it's very easy to interact; and there are certain predefined ways in which people can engage. We like and follow people, receive regular updates on people and activities that we're interested in, and we can also like and comment on those. Or even unfollow them, if we wish."

And it's that ease of use that's being implemented in social ERP software, which takes that behaviour and introduces it into a business application.

Fryer provides a real-world example to illustrate how this works: "A salesperson raises an order and sets in progress a series of events that s/he wants to track and potentially even manage. So as the order moves through the various departments, as the stock is picked, packed and trucked by the different business units, the sales person can see where that order is in its life cycle. Should that order stall at some stage, the salesperson needs to know about that, and have the ability to find out why things have come to a standstill."

It sounds simple enough. But, in today's pressurised environment, who can remember to run daily reports on their orders or make calls to various departments to track down a status update? Especially as that salesperson probably has multiple orders at various stages of processing at any given moment. They need an efficient way to have visibility into the progress of their orders that is simple to use and allows them to query anomalies there and then.

Social ERP uses artificial intelligence to build a news feed based on things that are happening within the business that are relevant to the user. It takes everything that's happening within the application, across the business, including all types of business transaction movement against a specified item, and adds it as a news feed item. It also allows users to identify specific things that interest them, which are then plotted into a trend bubble.

Users are able to follow, like, comment, track and engage with that business data using exactly the same behaviour they would when interacting with a friend on Facebook or LinkedIn. Fryer explains: "If you don't see any movement on your item, you can tag the relevant person and collaborate with them via the news feed. Directly linking your query to the source of the transaction is more effective and efficient than an e-mail or phone call. It's also a more informal way of collaborating on an item and, because it's internal to the business, there's no possibility of the client accidentally being copied on an in-house conversation."

Should the user want to delve deeper on a specific item, they can just click on the news feed and be routed directly into the relevant programme, enabling them to check that everything was captured correctly, for instance. There's no need to hunt around for any information, there is full interaction between the news feed and the ERP.

It's also possible to create hashtags for certain trends and follow them and delve into them further. This enables users to proactively identify trends or highlight trends that are relevant to the business. With all of these capabilities, the social ERP is driving social behaviour, but through business transactions and business information.

This ability to personalise the appearance and functionality of the ERP software interface is a critical factor in increasing the adoption rate of ERP software.

"You're still doing what you always did with ERP, but the way that you're doing it has changed," concludes Fryer. "It's all about collaborating more easily and sharing information seamlessly."

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