Facebook for Business

September 1, 2010 by Gerd Scheuerer

Social Media für Unternehmen - dafür gibt es passende SAP-Software. (Bild: SAP AG)

Business has latched on to social media (graphic: SAP)

Activities that used to take place at the local market square are now happening on social platforms on the Internet – from Facebook through Twitter and LinkedIn. This is where people meet and talk. Social media enable people to find out about products, services, and content, as well as exchange opinions and experiences. The way we communicate is changing. At the same time, the number of active users is increasing. In Germany, almost 50 million people now have access to the Internet.

Particularly popular at the moment are the rapidly expanding Facebook community, with 10 million users in Germany, and the business network XING, with around four million German-based members. Wherever social media can be found, dynamism and growth are also present. And this trend is set to continue, because new technologies and social media are still in their early days.

The changing way we communicate

The business world has also latched on to social media. Employees tweet messages on Twitter, publish articles on Wikipedia, evaluate and recommend business partners in communities, and manage their business contacts using LinkedIn or XING. But the information obtained often can’t be integrated with a company’s business processes, due to a lack of flexibility and open IT solutions. Communication within companies continues to be one-to-one, in other words, by telephone, fax, letter, or e-mail – regardless of whether it’s an order confirmation, a delivery note, or leave approval. In social networks, by contrast, communication is usually one-to-many. The majority of software providers have not yet reacted to this trend. Among the pioneers in this field are SAP with SAP StreamWork and Microsoft with its Outlook integration for social networks.

But other solutions are bound to follow, because people will soon be using social network services as their primary means of communication, rather than e-mail. It is already becoming apparent that social media will transform communication in the business world forever.

What does this mean for CIOs?

People use social media at home and want to do so at work, too. And the social media trend is catching on in offices everywhere, including the midmarket. Social platforms are increasingly being used for recruitment, marketing, service, and sales – at the interface with business partners. Business is becoming more personal again. Companies are acquiring faces that business partners can enter into dialogs with. This enables employees to communicate simply, fast, and at a personal level. They increase their own visibility, maximize their employer’s exposure, and can have a positive impact on the exchange of opinions.

Value-added reseller and wholly owned SAP subsidiary Steeb sees enormous potential in social software. On the one hand, Steeb believes social media will drive the popularization of information technology. On the other hand, Steeb predicts that ad hoc interaction with business partners will be increasingly managed using platforms. With a platform, for example, customer communication through social media can be structured and included in company decision-making processes or business transactions. The result is sustained added value for employees and for companies.

Relevant Market Trends

As a leading software and consulting company for midsize companies, Steeb is already tapping into the benefits of social software. The company identified three trends for the German market: First, the Internet will continue to become more important as a communication platform, so broadband technology must become available throughout all of Germany, because people will only be able to use new applications if they have access to a high speed Web. What’s more, companies need to implement simple but secure access management in their IT systems. Ideally, users will be able to access all applications using mobile end devices. Second, software vendors and service providers need to develop more Web services and make them available to customers through application stores such as Apple iTunes. The more Web services that become available on the market, the greater the value will be that users can derive from them. And third, companies need to digitize all the relevant business processes and integrate them with their existing operations. As a result, they’ll be able to expand their business processes and also integrate new ones easily. An example here are requests for quotations through Facebook, which employees respond to using the same social medium and which need to be mapped in an SAP solution.

SAP is one of the world’s first major software providers to offer social media products and to enhance existing solutions with tools that improve collaboration. According to Steeb, these applications are particularly interesting for small and midsize companies.

Next Page: SAP Software for Social Media

SAP NetWeaver Business Client (Screenshot: Steeb)

SAP NetWeaver Business Client (Screenshot: Steeb)

SAP NetWeaver Business Client – the new SAP interface

The new user interface offers all SAP users a standardized environment for central access to SAP and other applications. It is more harmonized, easier to use, and people can adapt it to their individual needs. For example, they can add gadgets and social media tools. Furthermore, companies can use the interface to integrate all the applications necessary for processing business transactions and exchanging information. SAP NetWeaver Business Client also helps accelerate decision making, because business transactions can be analyzed using integrated tools. Users have their own personalized user interface, which gives them direct access to data from business applications, analyses, and Web services. This not only makes the existing software solutions easier to use, it also increases transparency and – ultimately – the effectiveness of business operations.

SAP StreamWork – AKA Facebook for the Office

This on-demand application connects team members, information, and tried-and-true forms of cooperation. As a result, teams are in a position to structure their tasks more efficiently and achieve their goals better. Users require neither training nor technical knowledge to work with SAP StreamWork. Currently, most companies use a combination of e-mail, collaboration tools, business software, and Web 2.0 applications. This often makes cooperation confused and difficult to track, and seldom leads to clear decisions. With SAP StreamWork, teams can analyze data, develop strategies, and improve their decision making. It works by structuring and unifying the decision-making process and documenting the steps involved.

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