Ahhh, social media—it’s one of those topics that follows you wherever you go, isn’t it? Whether it’s “checking yourself in” via Foursquare at your local restaurant or announcing a business update on Twitter or using Facebook or Instagram to share images from a recent industry event—it’s always at your fingertips, ready to be accessed. But for the global supply chain, it’s become much more than just joining a group or starting an industry discussion via LinkedIn. The use of social software by businesses to collaborate and share information via enterprise-grade social technologies continues to grow at a dramatic rate.
In fact, Forrester Research reported in 2011 that social collaboration software expanded from $900 million in 2011 to $6.4 billion in 2016.
Furthermore, the adoption of enterprise-grade social technologies continues to emerge as a significant driver of improvement in supply chain productivity, according to FusionOps’ recent “Your Social Supply Chain” report.
And the bottom line is that it comes down to the users to continue to propel enterprise-level platforms with social capabilities forward in growth.
“If it’ a good tool, and people start using it, they will continue to use it until something more effective comes along or for as long as it’s valuable,” confirmed Marc Stevenson, Production Manager, Security & Inspection Products, Varian Medical Systems. “There’s a huge benefit to everybody who is willing to share information on that platform, dive in and start a discussion on there. But until the users are comfortable with it and they want to participate in it and they see a benefit, you’re still going to have these meetings that are not 100 percent complete and you’re going to continue to see these email chains that go on for miles until some sort of resolution happens—rather than to try to get that collaboration going through this platform.”
The heightened need for improved collaboration
And from the looks of it, global users are taking matters into their own hands to use more collaborative platforms for work, despite company protocol.
While nearly half of employees report that social tools at work help increase their productivity, according to new research from Ipsos, more than 30 percent of companies underestimate the value of these tools and often restrict their use. To counter this, 31 percent of employees surveyed said they are willing to spend their own money to buy social tools, according to the research, conducted for Microsoft Corp. and which surveyed 9,908 information workers in 32 countries. This comes as no surprise if we factor in that “39 percent of employees feel there isn’t enough collaboration in their workplaces; and 40 percent believe social tools help foster better teamwork” the research further stated.
If that’s not evidence enough, Microsoft Corp.’s 2012 acquisition of enterprise social network Yammer—used by such companies as DHL, Manhattan Associates, Capgemini and more—may have been perhaps one of the biggest “hints” as to how great social media’s influence on the enterprise is—despite the number of naysayers in the industry who claim it has no use in supply chain processes.
For Sunnyvale, Calif.-based FusionOps, while the company provides supply chain analytics first and foremost, it identifies with the user’s need for more collaboration by integrating in social media techniques to make the distribution of information more efficient and user-friendly. On top of its self-service analytics capabilities, the company’s application configures transaction information from ERP systems through its integration with SAP and then extracts relevant data to provide its customers and their key groups’ information to better run their business.
“If you look at where a lot of the inefficiencies are with transactional type of work today, a lot of that work that is done during the day-to-day operations is looking for information—basically through emails and trying to make sense of spreadsheets and worrying about what version such systems are,” said David Hamdani, Senior Product Marketing Manager, FusionOps. “With our platform, you don’t have to download extracted information from our application into Excel and you don’t have to email it. We’ve taken advantage of that social media aspect where the data is just pushed to our users—they don’t have to go and look for it. So if I was a business analyst, I could create the reports I want and push it out to my user group based on their role in the supply chain. And anytime they would click on the report, it would show the latest information, data and content. So they would not have to go and re-run any reports.”
And that content is the number one thing cognizant of any social or enterprise platform that a user has to look at, whether it’s the FusionOps application or any other industry platform, according to Shariq Mansoor, Founder and Chief Technology Officer of FusionOps.
“The content is 90 percent of the work,” he explained. “No matter which job you have, you need information to do your job. ‘What content do you want to provide? Is it valuable to the user? Why are people coming to your platform?’ These platforms are only going to be effective if you’re providing the right content. And getting the right content is not easy. That is why you have to first come up with these analytics—in our place, the content—and then you share that with the social networks.”
“All this content is provided not just by the Facebook or the user—you have other apps which provide content and they share things on your feed and collaborate on there,” Mansoor continued. “What we do as part of this feed is identify ‘how do we make that information relevant to the user to push to the user?’ If an enterprise is using Chatter or Yammer or some other enterprise social network feed, we can integrate with those to have our feed also show up there. So you’re creating your own network and sharing it for greater visibility. You have an integrated model where the information is flowing not just from FusionOps but also from other systems.”
The product company’s platform’s nearly 1,000 out-of-the-box dashboard reports and metrics are based on key metric insights it gained from its work with manufacturing and distribution companies of all sizes across the numerous industries that make up its client base. For example, a purchasing manager in an alternative medicine company may want to know: ‘If they’re spending too much on supplies? Do they have late deliveries? What purchase orders need to be pulled in?’
And such scenarios are patterns that metrics can be fine-tuned on. To meet such specific industry-tailored metrics—such as with retail, apparel or consumer packaged goods (CPG)—FusionOps expanded its application to support the SAP Apparel and Footwear (AFS) and Financial Supply Chain Management Solutions (FSCM). As such, FusionOps now automatically extracts AFS data and incorporates it into its cross-functional supply chain data model for 360-degree supply chain visibility.
For Varian Medical’s Marc Stevenson’s division based in Las Vegas, the FusionOps dashboard “gives me the capability to go in and very quickly look at the data-set for a wide range of data sets in order to either report to executive management as to the status of something or a historical result; or work with my team here,” he explained. “My team looks at critical metrics in relation to how much we spend, inventory levels, purchase price variance—key metrics that I will review with my team. So I can quickly go in and look at the dataset and make a quick decision based on that dataset. So I no longer have to go on the backend of SAP and pull a ton of data out and dump it into an Excel spreadsheet and try to manipulate that to get me that same result. I can just go into the dashboard and quickly see what I am looking for in order to either make a decision or to report up or down on it.”
While Varian’s Security & Inspection Products division only has a few of its internal staff using the FusionOps application to date (Varian Medical Systems has approximately 50 users across the board with the implemented FusionOps applications), Stevenson confirmed that its Dashboard is probably the most used piece of the overall platform—primarily for reporting and data review as the base for its decision-making.
The future of social enterprise
While such application models as FusionOps’ are not a new collaboration idea, its capabilities—including easier collaboration integration and “snapshot” data functionality—provide further insight into the adoption scenarios and new collaboration models that will be evident in the near future for business’s global supply chains as volume of data across other industries besides apparel continues to grow.
“It would take a few key leaders in the business to start using social enterprise portals, and getting people on board and getting comfortable with using it until they see the benefits,” said Stevenson. ”Social enterprise platforms are not a fad—they’re just something that is an improvement and like anything else, needs to get a spark going, get a few users to use it and get people excited about it,” he concluded.