Supply Chain Collaboration 2.0

Using Web 2.0 technologies to build a knowledge-sharing platform across the enterprise — and across the supply chain


By Andrew K. Reese

Hugo Evans is an unabashed technology enthusiast who talks about Wikis and blogs and RSS feeds with the passion of a true believer. When it comes to leveraging Web 2.0 solutions within the supply chain, Evans and his team have a 360-degree perspective on the possibilities for these emerging tools. "I get excited about the technologies," explains Evans, chief information officer with A.T. Kearney Procurement & Analytic Solutions, "but I always take a step back and ask the most critical question, 'How can this be applied to a business problem?'"

Evans hosted a recent Web seminar on Web 2.0 technology for the Sourcing Interest Group (SIG) with Walter Alvendia, business technology director with A.T. Kearney, to share his enthusiasm. More importantly, he wanted to help procurement and sourcing executives understand the evolving role of Web 2.0 technologies in the enterprise. "With Web 2.0, there's a lot of hype, confusion and acronyms, and the technology is constantly changing," Evans says, adding that the technology really is secondary to the business and change management processes behind it.

A "Perfect Storm" Driving Web 2.0

Evans sees three forces creating a "perfect storm" to drive greater adoption of Web 2.0 technologies within the enterprise: the initial waves of the so-called "Millennial Generation," or Gen Yers, entering the workforce, the increasing maturity of Web 2.0 technologies, and changes in enterprise technologies.

Starting with the Millennials, Evans notes that they have grown up with technology and been immersed in it. "They tend to eschew hierarchies, and they share information much more freely," he says. "This is interesting because one of the primary challenges that organizations face in promoting collaboration is the ‘silo effect.' We don't see that effect with this younger generation." Alvendia suggests that the Millennials may be more eager to seek personal validation by using Web 2.0 tools to demonstrate their knowledge, a useful trait within organizations that might traditionally have seen individuals keep knowledge to themselves in order to maintain their value to the company.

With regard to the technology, Web 2.0 comprises a variety of new tools for enabling collaboration among different individuals and groups. Many of these tools are familiar to any Internet user. They include blogs, wikis, podcasts and social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn. Others, like mashups, RSS and social tagging, are still gaining broader recognition. (See sidebar, "8 Flavors of Web 2.0" for a primer on these and other Web 2.0 technologies.)

Underlying these different technologies is the fundamental goal of connecting people to each other and to information across organizational and geographic boundaries. "Web 2.0 is really about empowering users to generate content, connect people with each other, and connect people to content," Evans says. "Web 2.0 is not a new technical standard ‘or a new version of software. It's a broader way of thinking about how users interact with each other and the technology."

Finally, with regard to enterprise technology, Evans sees the emergence and increased adoption of technologies like Microsoft SharePoint and Oracle Collaboration Suite, among others, as laying a technology foundation for greater adoption of Web 2.0 within the enterprise. As technology vendors adapt to the new Web 2.0 paradigm and incorporate browser-based tools for collaborating and managing shared documents, the technology itself will help drive greater adoption in the enterprise.

Web 2.0 in Procurement

Procurement and other supply chain executives are starting to take notice of Web 2.0. A.T. Kearney's 2008 Assessment of Excellence in Procurement (AEP) Study, which surveyed 295 companies worldwide in the procurement space earlier this year, showed that a growing minority of procurement organizations already have adopted Web 2.0-based collaboration solutions. The study found that 22 percent of "market leaders" have adopted some form of collaborative work environment within their practice, while 33 percent of the organizations had plans to do so.

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