The following commentary can also be viewed and commented upon on the Supply Chain Expert Community web site.

This morning I had the opportunity to join fellow bloggers Trevor Miles from Kinaxis and Lora Cecere of The Altimeter Group in a thought leader’s webcast focusing on the topic regarding the potential of the social supply chain.

Trevor set the context for what is described as social, by noting what Geoffrey Moore, noted author and IT observer, labels as systems of engagement.  Lora touched upon current examples and the potential use of social methods in the customer-facing side of supply chain, while I explored some examples and potential that I believe are applicable on the supply side of supply chains.

If you did not have the opportunity to view the webcast, I believe that a replay will be made available on the Supply Chain Expert Community web site.

The topic of leveraging social systems can evoke a number of different responses and I’m sure that your organization is no exception.  In my discussions with other supply chain professionals and even among the blogosphere, there are differing opinions and viewpoints.  Some will note that social media is really nothing more than Twitter and Facebook, and who has the time (or desire) to want to read an endless stream involving all sorts of personal or other updates.  Some senior executives may currently have this viewpoint.  However, if you examine some of the efforts of early adopters, and if your lens is broadened to the notion of how people and teams can communicate with one another and gain insights, the value of social supply chain may have a different lens for your organization. Social concepts do not equate to endless 120 character streams of unrelated or broadcasted information.

Like any other new technology, the focus should not be centered on the technology itself, but rather the business problems that need to be solved, along with the various options available to solve these business problems.  For instance, how can we gain more early warning on pending supply or specific supplier problems?  Are certain products experiencing extraordinary quality failures?  How are our customers responding to our new product launch and what connotations will that have on supply plans? If a supply chain related disruption occurs, and existing communication channels are temporarily unavailable, how will we gain insights as to what is happening at the source?

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to hear a talk from Dr. Andrew McAfee, principal research scientist at the MIT Sloan School of Management, who originally identified the term, Enterprise 2.0. Dr. McAfee observed that while there is some healthy skepticism, leveraged use of social systems have the potential for organizations to connect teams of knowledge workers.  He provided a powerful quote from Lou Platt, a former CEO at Hewlett Packard: “If only HP knew which HP knows, we would be 3X more productive.”  Dr. McAfee further noted that the pace of business has permanently changed, and change will continue to come at a faster pace, and  in global perspectives, sometimes despite all means of planning. While we are in the early days of this transformation, unlocking the explicit and tacit knowledge  of teams of individuals can be the difference in how tough problems are tackled and solved in a much more timely manner.

On our webcast, Trevor Miles reminded our audience of a quote from Angel Mendez, senior vice president of supply chain for Cisco Systems.  “There are over 20,000 employees involved in the activities of Cisco’s supply chain, only 2,000 of which work directly for Cisco.”

That is the new reality of supply chain management for many in our community and that, I would argue, is the strongest consideration for keeping an open mind in incorporating social concepts in your supply chain processes. While we are in the early adoption phases of incorporating social mechanisms, the competitive benefits are important to consider for supply chain management needs.

I’ve encouraged a commentary stream on the Supply Chain Expert Community site and readers are welcomed to login and add their perspectives on this topic.

Bob Ferrari