There are some factors that are critical to consider when evaluating this technology. To maximize the benefits of any social business initiative, look for technology that will allow you to:
•  Integrate systems across your business, regardless of origin. Most companies have highly complex technology landscapes, with systems and the information they store sitting in silos. Technology has evolved so that integrating systems is simple and straightforward, allowing users to connect in a way that makes them work together without being dependent on each other. An integrated system makes social business technology an especially powerful tool. Employees can get the full picture across all areas of the business, so they can zero in quickly on what matters most, and stop making decisions in isolation.
•  Embed social business in organizational systems. The greatest benefits of social business come from making it an integral part of employees’ work environments and allowing them to collaborate alongside the critical information that resides in your systems -- from an unpaid invoice to a detailed product-launch plan. Collaborative tools that simply sit on top of core organizational systems are more likely to create additional information silos and duplicated effort, rather than increased productivity.
•  Find information quickly and easily through powerful enterprise search capabilities. As many businesses have come to realize, having more information doesn’t necessarily promote better individual performances. With the amount of data available to companies growing exponentially, the goal is shifting from gaining access to information to being able to find the right information quickly. Social business technologies must incorporate powerful, organized, and structured search capabilities to address this issue.
•  Deliver information directly—and automatically—to users. In addition to making it easy for users to find information, look for technology that lets information come to your employees through what is known as contextual intelligence. This technology delivers customized, pre-analyzed key performance indicators (KPIs) directly and automatically to those who need them. This capability allows decisions to be made in context of supporting data, with employees collaborating based on up-to-the-minute information.
•  Tie mobile to social. The use of mobile technologies has exploded in the business world, with more core organizational systems being made available via mobile devices. As adoption rates continue to rise, the combination of social business and mobile technologies has the potential to be especially powerful. The ability to upload an image to a social business platform with the touch of a button via a mobile device is just one example of how these technologies can work together to deliver capabilities in a one-of-a-kind way.

Social media has altered the way generations of people interact, and its influence will undoubtedly continue to expand. While social media concepts hold great potential for manufacturers, building a successful social business strategy must consist of more than simply tacking a Facebook-like collaborative platform onto existing organizational systems.

To generate value, social technologies must integrate seamlessly with a manufacturer’s business processes, so that working within a collaborative platform is as routine as sending an email (and, eventually, replacing that routine altogether.) The results can be transformative, and the greatest benefits will come from the ability to harness corporate knowledge in ways that are not possible with the tools most manufacturers employ today.

Larry Korak is the director of Industry & Strategy for Infor’s Industrial Manufacturing business (a developer of enterprise software platforms.) Connect with him at LinkedIn.