Social Media for Supply Chain – Laggard? Deserves to Be?

3 Jan

Its a fact that for service companies, most innovation is triggered and developed due to client demands. This was really true when I first tried to find out applications of Social Media Listening and Analytics in the Supply Chain area.

Despite having evolved and demonstrated many applications for this new medium in Healthcare and Pharma, in CPG and even in Financial services, i wasn’t expecting any applications in Supply Chain – after all, this is a fairly evolved science now – thanks to the likes of Wal-Mart and P&G/ Nike, with many enterprise platforms enabling flow of data to enable real time knowledge, and thus optimization drives. Also, as most folks believe, Social Media is largely a B2C concept (infact, in most peoples’ minds, it is really only facebook and twitter!)

Not true, and far otherwise!

The first use that professionals in supply chain functions can derive from Social Media, is no different from that other folks can – this is the benefit of “listening” – to keep abreast of trends, to catch any “early warning signals”, to track potentially viral news that could affect their/ their competitors’/ their suppliers’ fortunes. After all, in the much documented Washington earthquake case from (i think it was) 2010, news of the earthquake reached other centers far before it had been expected – due to twitter!

An allied use is that of fuelling innovation, or even problem solving. Case studies of how companies are using crowd sourcing to build a pipeline of R&D ideas abound. Rather than abstract ideas with unrelated people, crowd sourcing can be directed at a fairly focused/ targeted set of people via communities, and thus ideas generated or solutions received are more relevant. Solution Xchange is one such problemsolving/ brainstorming portal.

Having said that, the cases above are more traditional/ and generic. But, the true power of social media lies in the collaboration that these social technologies enable. And that actually lies at the heart of the best use case of Social for Supply chain. Think about this – real time platforms on Lithium or Jive, connecting instantaneously vast armies of suppliers and buyers, and also customers and all the intermediaries – to enable knowledge sharing and collaboration within these communities. The naysayers would say – but we already have our EDIs – we don’t need other/ multiple platforms. The point is, EDI shares DATA. What it doesn’t share is OPINION or JUDGEMENT. And, true information is made out of data + judgement. In addition, in today’s world, competitive differentiation is very often achieved by the SPEED with which u are holders of information. This is what social technologies enable – that split second expert judgement (backed by data of course) that says – shipment will be delayed! Cisco has done this well – they built an internal/ quasi external portal connecting thousands of their stakeholders, enabling quicker and much more cost optimised supply chains.

A better word for the above could be better SRM – supplier relationship management. You can build so much social intelligence around suppliers — infact, taken to extremes, this could spawn bidding/ sharing platforms similar to e commerce ones in the B2C world!

The final, and most interesting use case (to me) is in logistics – how 3PL firms are using social networks for better knowledge and information management. Con-way is probably the best example. They launched, back in 2011, their twitter platform – Tweetload. This published every 15 minutes the available loads, and carriers can bid on the loads to optimise consignment. Clever, isnt it?

So, the issue is not about how useful Social Media is/ can be for the Supply Chain function, it is : a) how do we choose the parts that are useful and b) can we create that ONE platform that is customised to the needs of the SC professionals – just as facebook was to the university student.

If someone can show me the vision for it, i may even help fund it 🙂


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