Do Not Copy. Be Inspired. Social Media and Supply Chain Management

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Recently I have read some heated discussions over the use of social media in supply chain management. "Is social media in supply chain science fiction? Is it a fad? Or is there some definitive value for supply chain and demand management?" These are the major debates. From my perspective, directly copying/using existing social media such as Facebook and Twitter will only result in more problems (some can be very serious) than benefits. But rather than weighing the pros and cons of social media, I have been thinking about how we can absorb the value of social media and also fix the problems with it to make it a solution. How about we get inspired from social media and create our own supply chain management tool resolution? Please let me call the tool "corporate social media" for here and for now.

So, what is the biggest challenge in today's supply chain management? Higher and higher level of complexity causes lower and lower level of visibility and speed. Agreed? And why is social media so popular and necessary in the explosion of information society today? One major reason is that it allows information to flow and spread at the fastest speed ever. Does it sound like something we have been longing for in supply chain management? Duh! But some argue that most of the time one certain step or process in the supply chain is better not seen by people who do not need or have to know. So let's add the function of including (or "tag" in the language of the social media world) responsible parties and excluding irrelevant parties (by default) in our "corporate social media" tool. Also, make rules and procedures of "who, why and what" should know, just like other documentations in well-managed companies.

Now, let's use this "corporate social media" tool for our supply chain management. Imagine we are now on a supply chain of a Fortune 500 multi-national manufacturing company. The head of purchasing finds out from a supplier that the supply of one raw material will be delayed, which will affect 10 production departments and 20 distribution offices of the company. So he posts this information on his "corporate social media" page and tags 10 responsible contacting points. Then the 10 contacting points within the purchasing department edit and post the information on their pages based on their communicating needs and tag, for example, two relevant production managers within their responsibilities. Then 20 production managers know how this is going to affect the distribution departments so they edit the information, post it, and tag, for example, 10 sales representatives from each distribution office under their management, totaling 200 representatives. Does the supply delay also effect financial and marketing departments? If so, tag them at the affecting points according to the procedure. Also, under each post, parties included can discuss and update information freely and collaboratively in a timely manner. Imagine how much slower this will be done through email exchanges within such a big group. Email exchanging among more than five people sometimes already feels overwhelming and exhausting. Next, imagine if your supplier and clients also share this "corporate social media" tool, just like Facebook is so universal now, will that not become a resolution in supply chain?

Feeling a little inspired now? So what else can happen with the "corporate social media"? Will it also change the areas of change management, operations management, facility management, knowledge management, so on and so forth? These are not my area though, so I will stop here and leave the imagination and discussion to the experts.

Ashley Li is responsible for planning and executing projects to support JAGGAER's spend analysis solutions and products. With a strong knowledge and understanding of financial data and an international background, Ashley is devoted to providing the best spend solutions on a global basis to company clients. Prior to joining JAGGAER, Ashley held numerous intern positions in consulting and financial industries, including NYSE Euronext and Bank of China. She was also on the founding team of an educational software-as-a-service company. She obtained a Masters degree in Finance from DePaul University – Charles H. Kellstadt Graduate School of Business, and a Bachelors degree in Financial Management from Ocean University of China. She is fluent in both English and Chinese.

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