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Collaboration In ERP Drives Innovation

by Robert Sinfield - Senior Manager - Product, EPICOR January-2015

Founded in 1972, EPICOR is a Texas based company that provides software solutions to clients in the vertical of manufacturing, distribution, retail and services industries.

While collaboration is nothing new, it is becoming increasingly important in the modern world, as we become more connected around the globe. Today's ERP should engage employees, customers, partners, suppliers and constituents and should be mobile and socially integrated.

Conversation and engagement inspires innovation, which is why collaboration has become increasingly important. Making it easier for staff and departments to share information and views means that skills and knowledge can be pooled, leading to quicker problem solving and project progression as well as sparking new ideas.

Working together to deliver improved customer satisfaction isn't new and already well-practiced in the world of customer relationship management (CRM) and best of breed project management solutions. Now is the time for businesses to benefit from social collaboration within enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions.

Why is this move towards collaboration within ERP important? It's about becoming more responsive, reacting to challenges quicker, increasing transparency across the entire process and leveraging all the information you've gained in the past to avoid future problems in order to stay competitive in today's business environment.

People have collaborated with each other from the beginning of time. Enterprise collaboration, however, is now simpler than ever before with the introduction of integrated social collaboration tools. The most modern ERP solutions are 'ground up' social. This means that users participate as equals in the platform, collaborating around a business object or transaction within the ERP, bringing people together from different departments to share their expertise and increase productivity. This promotes collaboration beyond the four walls of your business: opening up conversations with customers and suppliers, and access to data so you can make smarter decisions, faster.

Agile ERP solutions also allow real time user interaction rather than discussions in a separate environment such as Microsoft Yammer or Jive. Collaboration features such as messaging, presence and notifications are available for both non ERP users (as a portal or an application) and ERP users (as an internal ERP feature). Users can therefore choose the way they work with other users and within the system without changing environment.

In essence, the introduction of integrated social enterprise collaboration allows the ERP to become a virtual water cooler, breaking down the invisible walls within an organisation and bringing together islands of information. It creates an environment where ideas can be shared while documenting them within the ERP so – unlike Post-It notes or telephone conversations – they'll never be lost.

Using established social networking techniques allows users to quickly share and easily consume information from deep within the ERP as these mimic the ways in which employees interact with technology in their lives outside work. Well known social networking concepts like message streams, hashtags, status updates, and subscriptions simplify the sharing and distribution of information, requesting advice, actions or opinions. This in turn speeds up the resolution of problems and the identification of opportunities – essentially leveraging collective knowledge, experience and skills.

With the proliferation of mobile devices and the adoption of "bring your own device"(BYOD) approaches, users are not tied to the office any longer. Self-service enterprise social collaboration is accelerating this, allowing users to subscribe to the information that they want or need, when they want it.

Knowledge bases can be created for topics of interest or importance that are openly accessible to regular and irregular ERP users. Leveraging concepts like hash tags, users can search for specific information (my requisition, my case) or even a specific business process (how do I approve a requisition request?). This is especially useful for on-boarding new employees or even making changes to your business processes. The information is captured within the ERP so the entire organisation benefits.

Conversation inspires innovation. Crowd sourcing opens up an entirely new avenue within the organisation for sharing ideas. The tools provided in modern agile ERP not only offer a lot of flexibility in how businesses can collaborate, but also allow the users to personalise and choose how and when to use them. For example, users can create informal groups and work together on specific issues or projects, and then simply disperse these groups once the job is done. Users can opt in and out of information by choosing to follow 'streams' and receiving notifications, of any changes within the ERP related to a specific customer or project and others. In essence, this is a self-service scenario where users can structure the information that they specifically want. Embedding the concept of user subscription and on demand information within the ERP is something a lot of other collaboration tools can't offer.

Collaboration provides a competitive advantage and is essential for the future prosperity of all companies, particularly those in highly volatile markets or where complex processes are used, as it provides increased transparency and joins 'silos' of departments together. But it's not just for larger enterprises; smaller or medium sized organizations (SMEs) will benefit too, where groups of people may have overlapping areas of responsibility. Collaboration tools enable them to document information, add traceability and provide a higher level of control.

We're not talking about the future: collaboration tools are already starting to change the way people work. People want more information to be available on demand and they want access using tools and concepts they feel familiar with. The time to benefit from collaborating from within your ERP is now!