Saturday, September 24, 2011

Get Ready for “Social Supply Chains”

When Marc Benioff outlined his vision for the “social enterprise” at last month’s Dreamforce, he described social networks for employees, customers, and products.  Being a long-time supply chain analyst, I was surprised that he didn’t talk about social networks for your suppliers. 

Let me do it for him.

This past week I was in the Rocky Mountains to attend E2open’s ( annual customer event.  As I sat listening to some of the world’s smartest supply chain practitioners talk about the challenges keeping up with an ever-expanding list of new SKUs and new product categories (e.g., tablets), I wondered whether Chatter could be deployed as the preferred collaboration medium between brand owners and their top suppliers. 

After all, it would seem that you would want to capture most or all of the back-and-forth discussions on forecasts, purchase orders, engineering changes, shortages, and other factors versus using email, IM, fax, etc.  in this case, Chatter could be used as a knowledge management system, too.

If you’ve been around chief procurement officers for Fortune 100 high tech companies, you know that they tend to be deadly serious people.  While many CPOs might read this and spontaneously scream “Not in my lifetime!” let me outline a social supply chain scenario for you.

Caution:  This scenario has a 0% probability
Imagine that Marc Benioff and Michael Dell are meeting right now to discuss Marc’s idea for the DealBook, a new tablet designed specifically for business apps.  Over lunch, Mr. Dell agrees to license some of his IP and to share his suppliers in exchange for royalties on each unit sold.

When Mr. Benioff returns home, he announces the news to his executive team.  They immediately create “Project Aloha,” and set up new Chatter streams including “Launch Teams,” “Development Schedules,” “New Product Ideas,” “Tier 1 Suppliers,” “Carriers,” “Competition,” “Sales Forecasts,” and “Cost Targets.”  In addition to all internal communications, Chatter also becomes a content repository as third party information such as IHS’ iSuppli Teardown reports get added for all to share. 
Next step:  Create a social network for suppliers

Here’s what could happen next:  Within 72 hours an internal team makes the trek down 101 to E2open.  Their goal is to get rapid access to the 50,000 suppliers in E2open’s trading network.  When they get there they discover that their new partner is a salesforce customer and used to write a new application to streamline the onboarding process.  A deal is quickly negotiated, but with one condition – Chatter will be the collaboration standard for all supplier interactions.

Over the next few weeks and months the network expands from design firms, contract manufacturers and Tier 1 partners to include critical suppliers embedded deeper in the supply chain.  It also includes selected AppExchange partners who have agreed to provide free 90-days trials of their software as well.  In a short time, Chatter is conveying P.O.s, demand updates, engineering changes, and updated launch information to key suppliers. 

Then expand to customers/partners
Thanks to the network, the sales team soon has DealBook prototypes that they can preview to selected carriers, retailers, and customers.  Verizon and BestBuy ask to create a shared partner network built around Chatter.  They want to begin training employees and creating marketing plans ahead of the launch.

As word begins leaking out about Project Aloha, turns to its Radian6 team to monitor the buzz.  This gets shared over Chatter to the employee, supplier, and partner networks.
Leveraging Chatter on the day of the launch

On launch day, sends its employees out to key retail sites to track the success of the new DealBook.  Immediately, the field begins submitting videos of the lines outside the store and interviews with customers and the retail employees.  Messages are coming in on product sales and competitive responses.  Every comment is recorded on the new Chatter Map and arranged by geography. 

As the first batch of DealBooks quickly sells out, sets up a new Chatter stream to track re-sale prices and volumes on eBay and Craigslist.
Meanwhile, marketing has created a new social network for the DealBook itself.  Customers log on to download the video of the Metallica performance at Dreamforce.  They also post their ideas on new features they want to see in DealBook2 as well as their views on how the new tablet stacks up against the iPad.  Thousands post YouTube videos and Like it on Facebook.

What do you think?
Still sitting there with your arms folded muttering “Not in my lifetime”?

As always, I welcome your feedback and ideas.



  1. Bruce

    Gotta love this!

    Let's do it!

    We can have it ready in a couple of weeks when Salesforce Winter '12 is available


  2. Bruce,
    Way ahead of everyone else as always!
    However, even though your vision is spot on in my opinion of how brand owners (OEM customers), contract manufacturers and their suppliers should be interacting, it is not always that simple. Not everyone has adopted the social media world, it is still in its infancy and in order for a "social supply chain" to work, every member of the network must participate. We will get there, it will become the norm, but it may take another 10 years.
    One company taking the lead in this area supported by DWG is Flextronics. Not only are they rolling out internal video messages and chatter, but they have also recently expanded this to their OEM customers and suppliers via their CTP program. Check out and register at to learn more. This is in phase one, and by the end of this calendar year more solutions and services will be added and more collaborative tools in place, including the ability to add apps to SAP Business ByDesign for this community of suppliers.

  3. It seems that the technology is in place to support these scenarios. Perhaps the push-back/adoption curve is limited by the existing processes and human behaviors that will resist this, no?

    Collaboration across supply chains has worked previously under very strict and organized frameworks. Now, this is totally unstructured, ad-hoc, social and natural...The trick might be in combining the unstructured/social into the structured/transactional part.

  4. I agree with William- the vision/technology is possible, but the trick will be in the structuring (or possibly filtering) of data. Take Facebook, for example, who pioneered the social media space. Their recent enhancements have been focused on automating the management of the digital community, and aligning your personal data feed with your likes & dislikes.

    Apply this notion to your vision, and the difficulty is in knowing what data is valuable to the supplier, as opposed to the engineering team. If customers are participating in the community, saying that they favor the 3G version of the tablet, then the "3G connector component" supplier wants to know that. Traditionally, these parties may not have interacted, however this new cross-pollination would drive additional value.

    Very interesting concept. Perhaps next week's discussion should be around how to make the community "smarter...?"

  5. We all know we're heading there. The global trading network business model is begging for it. The technology is (finally!) here. The security is here. It's the trust and focus on sustainable relationships that will be the tipping point.

    Paul Masson would sell this wine as it's certainly time!


  6. As more and more people become comfortable with doing business in a collaborative and engaged manner, we should start seeing value added to the product lifecycle through these types of social networks. I applaud the innovative thinking and look forward to the future!