Many of the attributes of social media -- openness, speed, and portability -- make it a natural fit for the supply chain. Social media platforms, such as Facebook, give groups an opportunity to share opinions and weigh in on subjects in an open forum.
These conversations don't require a lot of back-and-forth email and "copying" the appropriate people. Information can be shared freely and instantly, so groups that are trying to reach a consensus can get there quicker. A majority of likes versus dislikes is pretty easy to read.
Collaboration, like visibility, is a supply chain ideal.
Collaboration within the electronics supply chain already takes place in many venues. Engineers from different parts of the world can access and work on a design stored somewhere in their company's IT system. Bills of materials, datasheets, and schematics can be uploaded, downloaded, and circulated among peers. Internet links are widely shared and forwarded. But collaboration is no longer enough, some experts say.
To keep up with a fast-paced, global industry, information has to be widely shared in a quicker manner. Community, writes Shawn Casemore in CFO magazine, should augment -- if not replace -- collaboration:
Given the risks inherent in global sourcing and the need for continual innovation in order to maintain a competitive advantage, supplier relationships must move beyond collaboration. The still-evolving demand for transparency in business requires ever-closer relationships with key suppliers. Building a community of suppliers where business-critical information, opportunities, and thoughts can be shared and built upon in real time will become the leading edge for many organizations. Social-media platforms are ripe to be the foundations for such communities.
In one sense, the back-to-back disasters in Japan in 2011 pulled such electronics supply chain communities together. Following the March earthquake and tsunami, social media was widely used to communicate with the outside world. Within the electronics industry, companies that interfaced with many suppliers, such as distributors, began collecting and posting updates on their suppliers' status. All this information was pulled together in one spot to keep customers, concerned partners, and onlookers up to date.
Electronics OEMs can use social media to post status updates in the case of such disasters, reaching many suppliers at one time.
It's a little more difficult to imagine how communities of electronics suppliers would work in non-disaster times. The kind of information shared between customers and suppliers, such as bids, order status, or pricing, isn't typically made public, or shared with other suppliers. Suppliers don't commonly tip their hands to one another, so it's unlikely business opportunities would be posted in such a community. Engineers that solve a tricky design problem don't share eureka moments with the rest of the world.
Yet, seamless collaboration across engineering, design, and procurement would clearly enhance the supply chain and increase visibility.
Several collaboration platforms are emerging in which OEMs can decide which partners within their supply chains can access and share specific information. GT Nexus and E2open Inc. are among a few vendors that provide cloud-based solutions that can be customized. Supply chain partners can use a common platform and communicate, minus EDI links or translation software.
OEMs can select which partners see specific information. An event such as a volcanic eruption that shuts down airports may affect all suppliers, so everyone is alerted to a problem. A delayed shipment by a single supplier may go only to the OEM or the EMS that's affected. All of this information is available and delivered in real-time.
It doesn't have to be an either/or decision, industry-watchers say. Forward-thinking companies are beginning to integrate social media with their enterprise software. According to supply chain community Adelante SCM, "Manhattan Associates has integrated social media tools within its user interfaces and workflows." The company started with its Labor Management solution "to enable collaboration between supervisors and associates including two-way feedback, recognition, praise and sharing of information to provide continuous operational improvement."
In addition to providing market intelligence and customer feedback, social media clearly has a role to play in the supply chain. Industry competitors could pull together on social issues, such as environmental efforts or best practices in conflict-minerals reporting. Trade associations, such as the IPC and the ECIA, already bring competitors together to improve operations in the industry. Social media could supplement those efforts.
If companies can reach a balance between what needs to remain confidential and what can be shared, social media is another platform for supply chain innovation.