Collaboration and the making of a social supply chain

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I received a somewhat confusing email a few weeks ago – an invitation, from a colleague, for me to join Yammer.

The invitation didn’t provide much information about why I should be joining, so naturally a few questions ran through my head. Why have I been invited? Is this related to a project? Am I supposed to know? Did I miss something at the last team meeting?

I bit and created a Yammer account thinking that these burning questions would be answered…not so much. After poking around the home page, which resembled my Facebook news feed, I went straight to the source – the person who invited me. Turns out my colleague had been invited by someone else, and then invited me to join along with a few other team members. Which got me thinking: should a mere invitation be the driver to adopting a new collaboration tool?

While Yammer certainly provides some intriguing features, for me the motivation just isn’t there – at least for the time being. So what does this have to do with supply chain? Well, collaboration in a supply chain organization is essential to pretty much every role, from the customer service rep, to the demand planner, to the supply chain executive. And those are just the roles within the company.

Supply chain organizations operate within global networks of external trading partners that require regular back and forth communication. Social media aids collaboration within a business environment because it can help build trust and closely connect people from different roles, backgrounds, and locations across the globe. Many companies, in the supply chain space or not, are turning to enterprise social networking tools to influence collaboration and open communication throughout their departments.

However, research shows that these tools are not getting as much traction as predicted and employees go back to relying on outdated collaboration methods, such as email, review meetings, and phone calls. One of the main cited causes is lack of business context. This is due to the fact that enterprise social network tools are usually deployed independently of other widely used enterprise software systems meaning that key information is not integrated. Because these tools are not integrated with corporate processes they end up being too cumbersome to use and oftentimes cannot provide the right answers at the right time. Imagine you are working away at a specific task that requires the assistance of another colleague.

In a global organization with thousands of employees and thousands of external partner employees, how common is it for you to know every person whose actions might impact your job, and every person who you might affect? To determine who to work with, you must leave your current program, open another one, perhaps sign in, then try and figure out the most appropriate contact.

Assuming you can identify who to work with, you then need to provide them with the information, the context, and the request in order to get their help. All of this activity will likely happen outside of the system from which you draw the data and execute the decision in. Not exactly the most efficient way to get your job done. How do we simplify this process and make it more like a social network where information can easily be shared and collaborated upon? What is required for a successful implementation and integration of a social network in a supply chain organization?

As my colleague Carol put it, “The Internet of Things, the use of interconnected devices, is rising. Products and processes must be highly integrated and interconnected. The collaboration needs to be embedded in the process for the system to be most effective. Everyone’s input and analysis can be captured and tracked. It can all be based on events – coalescing around a particular issue to achieve a particular outcome.” In my opinion, there are some requirements that a supply chain planning system of record must possess in order to facilitate proper integration of social networking functions, including:

  1. An end-to-end integrated system that includes everyone you collaborate with, including customers and external suppliers = Everyone working in one place
  2. Cross-functional visibility into up-to-date data = Everyone working from the same data
  3. Ability to create copies of said data (what-if scenarios) to model various supply chain business problems = Analysis is purpose-driven based on specific events/goals
  4. Ability to share the what-if scenarios with anyone in the system = Collaboration happens in context and with a specific objective
  5. A way to connect people in the system to the processes and materials for which they are responsible, so that identifying who to work with can be done quickly and mid-task = The right people are brought together

Is your company struggling with an enterprise social network implementation? What do you think a potential solution could be to improve collaboration?


Stephen Landmark
- January 29, 2017 at 6:43pm
Wonderful advice. Thanks so much for sharing.

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