Rethinking Global Supply Chain and Social Media

Is there a match with global supply chain and social media? I say "Absolutely!" However, for many in the supply chain space, there seems to be some hesitation. There is a luke warm "yes" to the fact that supply chain professionals ought to be using social tools in someway, however there is a struggle on how one would leverage this new media. Having worked in R&D, Supply Chain and Global Project Management for a number of years and now social media, I personally can see the potential of social tools in all these functions. In fact, I believe there is a natural fit. At its core, social media is all about open communication, sharing and collaboration. All these attributes are critical to the success of any supply chain.

As a result, I would like to suggest a model that integrates a global matrix with social media.

Supply Chain Value Chain

There are countless models of supply chains that have been published. They all have the components shown in Figure 1 below:

Figure1. Supply Chain Value Chain
This is an over simplification of a very complex value chain however for illustrative purposes, I think we can all agree that this is a typical representation.
The Global Project Management Framework

Figure 2. Global Project Management Framework
Figure 2 shows the global project management framework. I believe this model provides a good visual on what it means to manage work and stakeholders in the global space. It delineates both the people (global team, global communication and global organizations) and technical (collaborative tools and techniques) components required to succeed. With closer examination, one can readily see how this framework can easily be transfered to a global supply chain environment.

A Mash-Up For Global Supply Chain and Social Media

Below, Figure 3. represents a "mash-up" of a supply value chain and the global framework.

Figure 3. Global Supply Chain and Social Media
In Figure 3. the people and technology streams remain the same with the exception of replacing the project management software with a supply enterprise system [such as SAP]. Within this global communication and collaborative framework, you will note I have labeled the supply value chain processes as "collective knowledge". How well a supply value chain operates is reliant on how well the collective knowledge is shared, communicated and acted upon. In fact, I would go one step further to say that an organization that has exceptional performance of their collective knowledge across the value chain, is an organization that is over achieving in the market place. Social media tools can be leveraged internally [global teams, global communication, global organization] to build that collaborative social business environment. This can take the form of social communities for cross-functional, cross-border teams, or just an alternate form of communication. Social media tools can also be leveraged across the entire global supply value chain to enable that collective knowledge. This would be an integration of internal and external communication. Increasing the visibility of both the supplier, retail and customer supplies is where global supply chain and social media can really provide competitive value.

Social Media For Global Supply Chain

Social Presence and Listening

A good first step is to assess the organization's social presence. Although a company may not be formally using social media tools, the chances are that a significant number of their employees are. Conducting such an assessment provides a baseline and an indicator to where there may be pockets of excellence as it relates to internal social media skills. It is also an opportunity for alignment on a number of levels.

Social listening is a second good step. There are many social tools that organizations could use to better understand the environment across their key stakeholder base.

Externally this could be as simple as a hashtag search or alerts to understand the current thinking, or to identify key influencers or thought-leaders. There are also very sophisticated social tools that crawls the social web that can provide content and sentiment data. Listening can take a more active approach by joining or moderating social communities. Social communities provides an excellent opportunity to listen, learn and build relationships. The act of listening in social media is a critical step. It gives a real-time understanding of your sector's environment. It can lead to innovations. It can help prevent the escalation of brewing issues.

All the above suggestions can also be used internally in an organization. Hashtags and internal social communities can be extremely valuable. Developing an organization's social competency will ultimately unify and synchronize collaboration right across the global business. A simple exercise of sharing meeting outcomes, supplier feedback, conference key notes via a hashtag ensures that individual knowledge becomes corporate knowledge in real time. Access to the many is now a reality. This accessibility ensures that others have the ability to be informed; that they can then take advantage of knowledge on behalf of the business -in real time. From a global supply chain perspective this can take the form of learning about potential shortages, potential partnerships, potential collaborations with retailers.

Social communities

At the heart of the social revolution are the social communities. There are so many successful, vibrant public social communities. For example:

Communities are where most social engagement first occur. Successful communities have a clear focus, understood guidelines and a good community manager who understands the cornerstones of social engagement. Communities can be used as a form of communication, collaboration, problem solving and relationship building. Again, communities can be private or public.

Social Intelligence

The need to keep a pulse on the business landscape is not new thinking. However, the ability to make that pulse visible in real-time, across many stakeholders, across many geographical borders, is new. This is an exciting new capability made possible by leveraging social media tools. Taking advantage of the collective knowledge described above, together with social curation, social mapping and social groups, can lead to the ability to build valuable social intelligence.

In closing, social media tools are indeed an excellent fit for global organizations. There is a match with global supply chain and social media. The ways to leverage and maximize social media is still being explored. Those who have dived in, to listen and learn, will be better positioned to leverage these social assets. Developing social competency is experiential and so my advice is to begin the journey, if you have not already.

Now it is your turn. What is your take on leveraging global supply chain and social media? Or what are your thoughts on just leveraging social media for any global organization?

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