Social technology is being added to many of the major supply chain portfolios. But social will manifest differently in the supply chain sphere than in the consumer sphere.
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Is Supply Chain Social?
Based on the early results we are getting from our 2014 research,1 a larger and larger portion of the supply chain community is either adopting or planning to adopt social methods. The reasons are pretty clear: business complexity drives the need for person-to-person communications, for better methods of collaboration and sharing content. Users cited that the social platform can be a more informal way to collaborate as compared to a web meeting, allowing for more ad hoc sharing.
Social for supply chain probably won’t manifest as a ‘network,’ but rather an easier and more complementary tool for collaborating with key trading partners. Thus the term Social Supply Chain is the designated buzz word we will use henceforward.
Use cases and use patterns for supply chain professionals are different than social networking patterns in the consumer markets or even professional networks such as LinkedIn and Twitter.
The social architecture is designed to support relationships. But not all relationships are the same. Hence, there is considerable variability in how social instances manifest. Let’s look at these.
Social networking—open platforms. Here the goal seems to be expansiveness, i.e., building a network, searching for people (vs. Google which may be typified by searching for things, companies, locations, and people). These are people-to-people networks. They also become fodder for marketing and sales—so-called B2C.2
Enterprise social networking—closed networks, most typically for knowledge management, and project and process support. Here people face some restrictions on self-expression, of course. Relationships are employee-to-employee, and often the goal is to seek expertise, or create a platform for team work.
Social collaboration—here are the unique properties for business users. That is, collaboration requires a secure, restricted business setting with content management at some level. I know that some tech providers are using this to differentiate themselves from the open networks of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.3 These can be fee-based (or free) tools for enterprise and tools that support enterprise work. Fee-based relationship platforms, traditional web and video conferencing tools, and, now, the ad hoc MFTs (file sync and share providers) fall into these categories.
Figure 1 below provides a view map of the kinds of tools and players in the market.
Figure 1: Social Solution Options for Supply Chain Professionals
Social Supply Chain
Calling it social is actually a stretch when we look at how social supply chain is evolving and being used. The social architecture—that is, the ability to enable relationship management—is the key. Here we are looking to facilitate dialogue and sharing, but not particularly looking to expand our network and find new people to dialogue with. We just want more successful working relationships with the people we already know. Early on, the adoption of social as a side utility was tried, but being a different platform, it didn’t allow blending of the specific business data with the dialogue.4
Social Supply Chain is different. Here social is part of the system with access to the operational information. Use case examples, so far, are in procurement or transportation management. Professionals are looking to gain more visibility and a broader perspective on their work in progress, from planning to current executional issues. The transaction systems of old were built without the ability to share other forms of content, or the ability to use texting and other forms of informal dialogue.
The current generation of solutions is the blending of relationships as part of the system. Examples of these are social within SYSPRO’s procurement module, MACROLYNK for transportation, and rollouts by TAKE Supply Chain (TSC) for supplier collaboration, Epicor social for customers and suppliers within their ERP platform, and others. These approaches are fairly traditional in their relationship enablement, with texting/alerting, good commentary, content sharing, and collaboration. But again, these are part of the systems.
There are other modules in the supply chain, for example, social commerce enablement. An example is MercuryGate’s FreightFriend. FreightFriend creates a relationship network of preferred partners (carriers and brokers) to tender loads. It streamlines the commerce process. Like social networks it allows for searching, but your group or ‘network’ is exclusive and secure. Users here have vetted carriers or brokers—the ‘friends.’5
A different example that includes social principles is the Descartes Community. Their community concept includes social but is broader in scope. The Descartes Community blends search, social, collaboration, and applications. This is probably the most ambitious endeavor to date in the supply chain environment. With over 150k people connecting to Descartes’ GLN (Global Logistics Network), Descartes doesn’t have to go out and ‘sell’ the community as a fee-based option. This community is open to any logistics end-user professional.
Figure 2: Social Adoption
Last year the participants in the 2013 Business Priorities research revealed the beginning of trading partner use of social for partners and suppliers (Figure 2). Of course supply chain, when compared to consumer markets, is a smaller base. Our respondents also said that they would try out various ‘free’ solutions and then seek an appropriate technology and pay for it. Hence, supply chain solutions providers should probably be including social supply chain in their offerings.
Business Priorities for 2014 is again looking at growth in this area. You are invited to get your perspective included in the research here. Early results show an uptick in this more purpose-focused use of social for supply chain.
Although social alone won’t win the deal, it is becoming one of the requirements for solution selection. Currently, having social supply chain as a feature is still somewhat unique. Last year there were only a few who had embraced this capability, but the numbers are growing.
Considering the increasingly complex nature of the questions, errors, and changes that go on every day in supply chain, having methods for enabling more effective dialogue between trading partners is crucial.
Our next issue will continue to explore 2014 and beyond for Supply Chain.
2Supply Chain professionals do have social networking in this sense. In the supply chain social networking example GTNexus’s G2 is established for their customers to share ideas. -- Return to article text above
3Collaboration is a big word. It was an interesting ‘category’-naming moment when the WebEx and GoToMeeting type solutions got categorized as the ‘collaboration market.’ But they were, so now file sync and share folks like Box have also tried to attain the goal of social, attempting to claim the bigger use cases and moniker of ‘social collaboration.’ -- Return to article text above