In this month’s issue of Supply Chain Management Review, I share my perspective on the role and future of “social” technologies in supply chain management (see “The Social Side of Supply Chain Management,” available to subscribers). The article is over 4,000 words (the longest work I’ve written in years) and it covers a variety of topics, including the misconceptions supply chain executives have about social technologies; the current state of “social networking for business” and where the technology is heading; and some lessons learned and recommendations based on the experience of early adopters.

I invite you to read the full article to get the complete picture of my analysis and vision, but if I had to summarize the key points I hope readers take away from the article, here they are:

  • Social networking is not about socializing, but about facilitating people-to-people communication and collaboration, which is at the heart of managing and executing supply chain processes.
  • Social networking goes well beyond Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter—it includes virtually all of the leading software vendors that companies currently use to manage their business processes.
  • We’re seeing the rise of Supply Chain Operating Networks, the business equivalents of Facebook and LinkedIn, which are enabling communities of trading partners to communicate, collaborate, and execute business processes in more efficient, scalable, and innovative ways.
  • If deployed and used correctly, social networking will result in less work, not more for business professionals.

As part of my research, I conducted a web survey of 200+ supply chain professionals to get a pulse on the current views and practices related to social networking for supply chain management. Here are the results from two of the survey questions, along with my comments from the article:

“Has your company implemented a BUSINESS social networking solution?”

Despite the growing momentum, we are still in the early stages of companies using social networking solutions in business, particularly for enabling supply chain and logistics processes. Almost 62 percent of the supply chain professionals we surveyed said that their companies hadn’t implemented a social networking solution yet, while another 27 percent didn’t know. The low adoption rate is partly due to the challenges discussed earlier [in the article], as well as the fact that social networking capabilities are less developed for supply chain applications at the moment compared to other business functions, such as marketing.

Source: Adelante SCM web survey 2013

Source: Adelante SCM web survey 2013

“For each of the BUSINESS social networking capabilities below, RATE its potential value to improve supply chain and logistics processes (1-5 scale, 5 being ‘Significant Value’)”

Our survey respondents ranked “The ability to connect (like LinkedIn) with business colleagues and external contacts” number one, followed by “Document sharing and collaboration” and “Discussion forums to discuss business-related questions and topics with colleagues and external business partners.” In short, two of the top three capabilities are related to peer-to-peer learning and networking, which underscores the role and importance of people-to-people communication in supply chain management.

Source: Adelante SCM web survey 2013

Source: Adelante SCM web survey 2013

Due to an oversight on my part, the survey did not include what I view as the greatest value a social business network has to offer: network-based business intelligence and analytics.

The ability to discover and establish new business connections, either company-to-company or person-to-person, is another key value proposition of social business networks (the survey respondents ranked it in the middle of the pack). [For related commentary, see “Facebook Graph Search, Through a Supply Chain Lens”].

The bottom line is that we’re still in the early stages of using social networking technologies for supply chain management, but I believe the best is yet to come. I predict we’ll see more innovation and market adoption of supply chain operating networks (or, if you prefer, “social business networks”) over the next two to three years than we’ve seen in the past decade. In five years, if not sooner, we won’t be talking about “social networking in business” any more. It’ll just be business as usual, just like “e-business” became business again.

What do you think? Post a comment and share your perspective on this topic!