Social Business Application Software and its correlation with SaaS

In this time and age where Social Media have become an integral part of our lives (private and professional), there is an ongoing discussion about Social ERP (sERP), social CRM (sCRM) and other “s-prefixed” systems. In this post I’d like to contribute my own definition of the “Social” tag and discuss how this could be served by web-based systems and even enhanced by SaaS communities (I use the term “SaaS communities” to show that users working on a cloud Service (public or private) form a new “closed” community which – like any other community – chooses to open up to certain other teams (a.k.a. other users) under certain restrictions and rules (a.k.a. authorizations).

I see three different uses of Social-like tools and rationale, which I list below in ascending order of “users involved”.
  • The first is the usage of social tools and methodologies (the terms “social” and “methodologies” seem so remote to each other, don’t they!) among users that belong to the same organization. The objective here is to utilize social user interface and tools to keep colleagues engaged and assist or enhance collaboration. Let’s see a few examples:
o   The existence of a “corporate timeline” keeps all employees up-to-date on corporate issues (just like the timeline of Facebook which keeps you in touch with your social friends). This corporate timeline may also include important messages from the organization heads or HR department etc.
o   Because this social environment operates inside the core business application, we can easily imagine distinct timelines per business event (for example a Customer Order can include the discussion between departments on how to go about a problem that occurred with that specific order or a Cash Flow Analysis can include comments from the CFO indicating problems found and requests to rectify them etc.).
o   The function of “nudging” a co-worker or send an instant message (without overloading each other’s email) can increase response times for trivial issues.
  • The second use is the expansion of the social tools in the entire SaaS community where users can interact even if they don’t belong to the same organization. In this case, sharing of corporate data will be extremely limited (since SaaS tenants may have no relation with each other or even be competitors) In this case, I see social interaction more in terms of knowledge around the SaaS environment, in order to
o   Discuss non-business-specific issues, like certain functions of the SaaS service
o   Request for community support
o   Broadcasting a new bug that was just discovered
o   etc.
This is normally done outside the Service, usually inside Twitter. But imagine being able to use this social functionality from within the Service and share images, screen shots etc.; getting help from other members of the community and then conveying the new knowledge to your co-workers. (Let alone the fact that public social media may have been disallowed from your corporate network, thus leaving twitter and the like out of your reach, from 9 to 5).
  • The third is the invitation of external users inside the business process that is materialized by the “s-System”. External users are primarily customers (but surely not limited to this category). The s-System invites external users to engage in the Business Process, first by being notified in any status change of the Process that concerns them and then by allowing them to contribute their input, data or comments to that Process.
For example, the Process of compiling a sales quote from a sCRM system or the fulfillment of a Sales Orders inside a sERP could engage end-customers so as to keep them notified about the current status of the order, allowing them to make comments, express their concern about delays or allowing them to request last-minute changes. Of course, if external users are “invited” in the Process, then care must be taken so as to disclose only the part of information that is intended for them.
The trend of enriching business applications with social features is just beginning but I think that this trend will continue and will even lead to a redesign of the classic CRM/ERP/etc. applications, as we know them today. The main reason is that social networking is becoming part of our everyday life and we have come to expect that functionality like this must “surround” us. It is surrounding us with the wide expansion of public WIFI and smart(er) phones and so it is only logical to expect that we will ask it to come into our professional lives, too. And this expectation will grow even larger as newer generations (generation Y) populates the global workforce. Application designers cannot overlook that trend and must be prepared to react.

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