In March of 2011, I had the opportunity to join fellow supply chain management bloggers Trevor Miles and Lora Cecere in a Kinaxis sponsored thought-leadership webcast focusing on the potential of the social supply chain. The concept of the social supply chain was relatively new, not well understood, and lacking many specific examples to cite. The closest context was one articulated by noted IT author Geoffrey Moore, who labeled the term “systems of engagement”. Back then, supply chain organizations were becoming aware of Facebook and Twitter, but not in the context of business. Many businesses were banning the use of social media on work premises. Yet, we all believed that the potential leveraging of social media tools in demand, supply and risk management elements of supply chain business processes had enormous potential. I noted in a Supply Chain Expert Community posting at the time that: “social concepts do not equate to endless 120 character streams of unrelated or broadcasted information, but rather a context to a business process need.” Indeed, four years later, after much market education and early adopter successes, leveraging social supply chain applications to enhance business processes has far more meaning and applied uses. The notion of social tools as mechanisms for matching people possessing respective skills, expertise, and knowledge with specific internal or external process and decision-making needs has more meaning and application. That is especially pertinent to today’s reality of increasingly complex and fast moving globally based supply chain networks. It is about tapping the expertise and power of the extended supply chain network. Consider some specific supply chain challenges:
- Extending the methodology, knowledge and discipline of sales and operations planning (S&OP) across the extended supply chain network.
- Collapsing the functional silos to establish an end-to-end planning perspective and enable cross-functional decision-making.
- Gaining earlier warning on potential supplier problems.
- Determining if certain products are experiencing extraordinary quality problems on a near real-time basis.
- Acquiring daily feedback as to how customers are responding to a recent new product launch and the impact this response will have on existing supply plans.
- Obtaining insights as to what is happening at the source when major supply chain disruption occurs and existing IT systems communication channels are temporarily unavailable.
Many leading-edge supply chain organizations such as Barnes and Noble, Cisco, Procter & Gamble, Volkswagen, Wal-Mart and others have since addressed such supply chain process challenges utilizing social methods. Cross-industry educational organizations such as the Supply Chain Risk Leadership Council (SCRLC) have highlighted council member efforts in the effective application of social supply chain methods in addressing various aspects of supply chain risk management and mitigation. Similarly, the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) has featured learning and education on supply chain organizational initiatives leveraging social tools. Such learning has acknowledged that social methods can present a slippery slope, but corporations can benefit in many ways by supplementing existing processes with effectively applied social-based strategies addressing supply chain business and decision-making processes. A further influence rests with millennials and new graduates, the future leaders of tomorrow’s supply chain organizations. They are quite comfortable and adroit in the use of social-based systems for extended communication and team-based interaction. They are becoming influencers and innovators of change. On the technology front, various vendors have since helped in addressing a number of the concerns initially raised with the application and deployment of social based tools. Organizations can now take advantage of internal, private, and public cloud networks for hosting and deploying social applications. Supply chain planning, procurement, business network collaboration and fulfillment application software providers are augmenting their application software offerings to include embedded social tools that allow individuals and extended teams to socially interact in business processes, knowledge networks and supply chain focused forums within the application stack. Available information is not just structured, but more often unstructured in communication streams and knowledge transfer. Like all important initiatives, the overall goal is always not the technology itself but rather the business and cross-functional challenges and objectives needing to be addressed and resolved in a far more rapid manner. The reality of today’s industry supply chains is one of extended value-chain networks that are made-up of internal, and often externally based organizations and teams. Information, knowledge and team interaction are more externally focused. Noted supply chain management academic, thought leader and author John Gattorna has dedicated 40 years to the study and written articulation of supply chain management processes. His most recent work was titled Dynamic Supply Chains: How to Design, Build and Manage People-Centric Value Networks. That title indeed reflects the rapidly changing reality of the power of people-centric networks. The opportunity to leverage teams of individuals is indeed the opportunity for addressing how difficult and challenging problems are tackled and solved in a near real-time manner. Social based supply chain methods remain as the opportunities to tap the power of many.