The Social Supply Chain

Total Disruption: The Social Supply Chain

The Social Supply Chain

This is the fifth article in our ongoing series on Disruption. If you missed the other articles you can read them here: Disruption Part 1, Disruption Part 2, Disruption Part 3, Disruption Part 4, Disruption Part 6.

Another element of disruption affecting enterprise technology and the supply chain are social networks and the resulting “social supply chain.”

What is the “social supply chain”?

Simply put, the social supply chain is the application of social networking tools to the process of managing the supply chain. Social networks are all about communication, free-flowing and unstructured communications, and that’s what the social supply chain attempts to incorporate.

The number of social networks is exploding. PracticalEcommerce.com lists 91, but that’s a just a selection of the top networks worldwide. Social networks have blossomed because they make it easy for us to communicate and share information with our friends, family and colleagues, and do it quickly.

In fact, Scientific American reports that in some cases Twitter is faster than the US Geological Survey sensors at identifying and broadcasting earthquake warnings.

It’s this speed and ease of communication that has made the idea of the social supply chain so attractive to enterprises.

Many businesses are adding a social component to their websites and their applications, to supplement traditional communication channels such as the phone, fax and email. This allows you to “friend” and “follow” people, and message and chat with them or groups on forums.

Though this is useful, there is much more gold to be mined in the social supply chain.

Making Supply Chains Social

While social networks are centered on individuals, enterprise social networks are centered on people and companies. As Wikipedia explains it, enterprise social networks focus on “social relations among people who share business interests and/or activities.”

“Enterprise social network” may suggest a standalone social network for enterprises, and it can be, but this is of limited value.

In its ideal form, as applied to the social supply chain, it is more than just adding a forum or chat alongside every day operations. It means making communication easier and more valuable by infusing social communications throughout the network, tying it to its relevant context, and leveraging the underlying network relationships.

If a problem arises, with say a shipment, I should be able to launch a chat with key personnel inside and outside my company who are relevant to resolving the problem. The system could even suggest resolutions based on relationships and data (both historical and real time) from across the network. Any discussion and decisions could be captured and stored for potential auditing and analysis, fueling better suggestions for future problem resolution.

Here’s a different example from a One Network customer, where as in the earthquake example, speed is critical and lives are at stake…

One of the program offices in the Department of Defense will be using “Blipper,” a Twitter-like app, to broadcast alerts and recalls of defective and hazardous ammunition to the forces. This process typically can takes hours to several days to accomplish depending on the urgency, yet every minute of delay involves potentially deadly consequences in the field.

With Blipper, these critical broadcasts are instantly relayed to all affected parties in the network, so they can move immediately to remove and replace risky assets in the field and in depots.

This is a dramatic example, but even in more mundane situations where lives are not at risk, speed is everything. The quicker we can react to problems, the less damaging the consequences and the lower the cost of remedy.

From speed and ease of communication, to leveraging the underlying relationships and the intelligence of the network, the social supply chain can provide enormous value. It can speed up problem resolution, provide valuable intelligence, and unearth and foster lucrative relationships with new customers and partners.

Bruce Jacquemard

Executive Staff at One Network Enterprises
Bruce Jacquemard is a member of One Network Enterprises' Executive Staff and leads a variety of customer-facing and field operations related activities. Much of his career has focused on European and Asian markets.