Make the Social Network Work for the Supply Chain

Social media offer new opportunities, as well as risks, for the supply chain — and supply chain executives


Jon Bovit, chief marketing officer for CVM Solutions, which provides supplier information and risk management solutions, noted in a recent blog entry on forbes.com that Chatter on Salesforce.com makes it easy for procurement staff to subscribe to updates from suppliers or groups of suppliers. "Supplier managers can choose to 'follow' ... any supplier information stored and be notified as data changes automatically," Bovit writes. Supply managers also can use Chatter to comment on suppliers or post relevant information on discussions with co-workers that are interested in a particular supplier. "This helps to cut across organizational boundaries and leverage the power of specialists," Bovit suggests.

Defensive Policy

Of course, with all the data points available freely on the Internet, it make sense to consider the types of information that your company and you personally are putting out on the 'Net, including on social networking sites. "Procurement may want to have a conversation with Legal about what kinds of documents can never be put out into the public domain, subject to legal limitations," Sommer advises. Marketing also should be brought to the table to similarly discuss what information is acceptable to put out about the company. And HR needs to be engaged in setting and enforcing a company policy about what employees can and can't say on sites like Facebook and LinkedIn.

Debbie Wilson, a research director with analyst firm Gartner, agrees that that management will need to balance the opportunities for mining intelligence from social media sites with concerns that employees either will use social networking for personal purposes — like job hunting, for example — or will go too far in sharing internal company information. Notably, in the Supply & Demand Chain Executive survey, just under one-third (31 percent) of respondents said that their business-related use of social media Web sites was covered by a formal enterprise policy, directive or guidelines. A further 9.5 percent cited a formal departmental policy, while more than half (55 percent) said "no formal policy" governed their use of social media. When asked about the barriers to great adoption of social media as part of their supply chain processes, the top obstacle cited was "concerns over employee use or abuse," followed by "lack of clear business benefits" and "information security concerns."

Wilson points out another issue with leveraging social media tools on the job, the challenge of simply keeping up with all the different accounts on different sites. Facebook, LinkedIn, Ariba Network, Scribd, Twitter, Quora — who has the time to keep all your profiles up to date. "Are we going to have to have 'Master Facebook Management'?" Wilson asks, only half-joking. Even restricting on-the-job social networking to an internal company collaboration tool carries certain risks — namely, that once it becomes easier for colleagues to find you within the company, they'll actually want to engage with you, eating up more of your time. "We do find," Wilson says, "that once a procurement organization gets known for being helpful for doing bids, reducing prices and helping people meet their budgets, the floodgates open, so they need some way to manage that stream of requests for help."

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