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.
Better sales results
About two years ago, the Nebraska Book Co., a Lincoln, Neb., company that buys used textbooks from college students and resells them to college bookstores, began using SAP's Customer on Demand, a cloud-based offering that integrates a social media-type application with ERP and CRM.
Nebraska Book wanted to increase collaboration among its sales representatives, so they could more quickly and easily find information about customers, says Michael Kelly, senior vice president.
In addition to the SAP enterprise apps, Nebraska Book uses a BI application from SAS running in a Windows environment and mobile BI software from Microstrategy, and is making those available to the sales team via Customer on Demand, Kelly says.
What it all brings, he says, is "the look and feel of a Facebook-like user interface for communications and access to the data provided by the statistical and BI applications."
"The goal was to take all that information ... and give it to [employees] as soon as they log onto an iPad," Kelly says. "To use a Facebook term, it's all posted on their wall." Before, sales reps needed to go to four different places to get the information they needed, he explains.
Sales reps can now visit a customer and quickly get a single-screen view of all the business Nebraska Book has done with that customer, as well as customer preferences, issues that have come up in the past and other information.