Industry Updates

What is a Social Supply Chain?

Written by Ken Kinlock
Published on Thursday, 03 May 2012

kinlock BlackberrySocial supply chain is using "social media technology" all across the entire supply chain : from supplier's suppliers to customer's customers. It means integration of social media technologies (collaboration, sharing) to connect and encompass the participants across the whole supply chain.

The customer-facing side of companies is getting busier. Customers use social media to connect with their peers from a marketing standpoint to promote and advertise their services and capabilities. Social media is now particularly important  in customer service environments. Consumers are able to communicate with customer service departments through Twitter and Facebook.

In the supply chain, companies have begun using social media to work with suppliers, vendors and customers. As an example, they can have discussions on issues and arrive at a concensus.

We will see social media-like capabilities being developed throuhout the supply chain to support collaboration between suppliers, manufacturers/distributors, and customers. SCM will have commercial/B2B solutions in addition to consumer driven social media solutions. The consumer-oriented applications lack the information management capabilities that a good commercial collaboration platform will have. This stuff is in progress and development today.

Some of the ideas I have found that are really cool are :

  1. Social media can actually provide information beyond POS. Let's say consumers are scanning shelf information via smart phone on some very hot selling item. Retailers, distributors and manufacturers can do a reality check on shelf availability and update the replenishment model almost in real time.  
  2. A manufacturer  was worried about a supplier that was facing a financial problem. They did not bother with D&B ratings, instead they looked at Linkedin and Facebook to find if a significant number of the suppliers’ employees were posting their resumes.
  3. All kinds of companies are using Facebook and Twitter to rapidly capture and respond to customer feedback. Why not use social media to get real-time feedback from the the supply chain: internally (inventory, warehousing, and procurement) and externally (suppliers, vendors, 3PLs, customers).
  4. We have GPS systems for location and technology to tag pallets and containers to read temperature or other product information. Can't we can get information from the truck drivers through twitter feeds on weather and road accessibility? Now we can see impact on the movement of products.
  5. Encourage supply chain partners to share and work towards improving processes. For example, a supplier can make a videos to demonstrate how they load a truck, then share it internally to brainstorm on more efficient loading processes.
  6. We are moving towards transparency in our business relationships which means closer relationships with key suppliers. A community of suppliers where business-critical information, opportunities, and thoughts can be shared will become a necessity.

My experiences with social media technologies are limited to only two : a business-oriented giant and an "emerging baby" with a huge potential.

The business-oriented giant is LinkedIn which has great group discussions and lots of information on jobs, both for the job-seekers and for hiring managers.

The "emerging baby" is Retail Universe. Modeled after popular social networking sites, Retail Universe is an online community for trading partners in the retail supply chain. Retail Universe is designed to facilitate relationships and communications between all members of the retail ecosystem. For example, a supplier can use the directory to promote its capabilities to potential retail customers. A retailer can engage potential vendors in online sourcing conversations and exchange marketing information to streamline buying decisions. Retail Universe can also be used by 3PLs, carriers and other trading partners to better market themselves to potential supply chain partners and to potential new customers.

The supply chain encompasses multiple companies and the professionals in these companies will need to become involved. Even Twitter is aiming to become an educational center. In the future we are going to see Twitter-like or other social media applications provide more solutions for organizational education and training.

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