Making Sense of Social in the Supply Chain

Electronics supply chain managers generally agree that social media has a role to play in business, but nobody’s sure exactly what it will be. All partners are struggling with the same set of questions regarding social: What information should be shared, and with whom? What do businesses do with incoming data? How much can this information be trusted? And what will it cost to get involved?

Right now, many individual companies are working within their respective silos to figure this out. E2open, which provides a connectivity platform for supply chain networks, is expanding the base through an initiative to integrate social technologies into its E2open Business Network. “Our customers tend to be innovative, and want to use this technology to be more productive,” Lorenzo Martinelli, SVP Corporate Strategy at E2open, told EBN in a recent phone interview.

E2open cites research published by the McKinsey Global Institute in July 2012, which says:

Improved communication and collaboration through social technologies could raise the productivity of interaction workers by 20 to 25 percent… These technologies, which create value by improving productivity across the value chain, could potentially contribute $900 billion to $1.3 trillion in annual value.

E2open is focusing on three key areas most pertinent to the supply chain: issue collaboration, demand sensing, and supply risk monitoring. These areas could benefit from social media application, Martinelli says.

Issue collaboration
The most common communication among trading networks is collaboration to resolve supply chain issues, E2open has found. Currently, this communication is typically done via email, instant messaging, phone/conference calls, war rooms, and face-to-face meetings. “There is a belief that the current structure, with different companies in different time zones, is not as productive as it could be,” Martinelli said. He went on:

Since the supply chain already uses a process of exception management, this is a good context in which to start the conversation. For example, if there’s a shortage, have the right people been notified? Are there costs associated with this shortage? Since mobile is already a common communications tool, we think that could be escalated to a higher level of structure. Facebook and Twitter may not be the right platform for this; if not, we could provide one.

Demand sensing
One of the biggest challenges across trading networks is inaccurate demand management due to the volatile nature of forecast planning and limited real-time visibility. According to Martinelli:

The concept is pretty simple. Let’s say I come up with a new lipstick in red and pink. Our forecasts are at best a guess. Now, let’s say we are tracking what people are saying on the social network on red vs. pink. We see more people talking about pink, but my production forecast is for 50 percent red and 50 percent pink. Social can be an indicator to what people really want, and that can help a forecast.

Supply risk monitoring
A critical risk across trading networks is the occurrence of an unplanned event that has a negative impact on the supply of products and/or their logistics movements. Many E2open customers have identified the combination of social media monitoring with cloud-based, big-data, predictive analytics as a potential way to change the economics of supply risk monitoring. Martinelli went on to explain:

There may be a problem with a particular supplier, or a problem that affects all suppliers and logistics lanes in a specific geography. The concept is similar to demand modeling, but the information is about a specific supplier or the logistics route a company takes. Let’s say the Occupy movement has shut down a seaport and I have cargo coming in next week. I could contact a commodity manager and let them know that there will be a delay and help this supplier rebalance inventory. The challenge is building the knowledge base to look for the right things. If we had known about the rains in Thailand, we could have saved millions of dollars.

E2open's customers — and most members of the supply chain — spend most of their time just resolving issues, Martinelli says. “If you approach these things in a more structured way, you can improve productivity.”

Anyone interested in the initiative can get involved through this link.

28 comments on “Making Sense of Social in the Supply Chain

  1. Susan Fourtané
    December 3, 2012


     “Facebook and Twitter may not be the right platform for this; if not, we could provide one.”

    Do you know what kind of social media platform Martinelli has in mind? And why he thinks Facebook and Twitter are not the right platforms? 


  2. Barbara Jorgensen
    December 3, 2012

    Hi Susan: The model E2open has in mind integrates social functionality into a secure enterprise-type system or platform. A few companies are doing this already for internal social tools. Facebook and Twitter don't have the type of “rules” that would make them safe or practical for supply chain use, so a more structured environment is necessary. Martinelli explained it this way: with e-mail, you have to make sure the right people are cc'd every time you send something out. With social, the right people are automatically cc'd if they are part of the community. But that community has to have some kind rulebook or structure.

    I'm not sure I understand how it will work, but it's beginning to make sense 🙂

  3. ITempire
    December 3, 2012

    Facebook and Twitter both attract a large population but no one is willing to talk about business over there. It is extremely difficult to gather the like minded vendors and buyers at a single social platform. There are many forums that are doing good in connecting the supply chain partners but gathering the right group is still a challenge.

  4. prabhakar_deosthali
    December 4, 2012

    It looks like the creators of E2Open are creating another Silo , another compartment and for a global supply chain it may provide a limited sense.


    While the supply chains are trying to become global, they need tools which are also global in nature -such as FB or Twitter to get any meaningful advantage for the supply chain operations – be it a demand forecast, interaction with the consumers or any such thing


  5. ITempire
    December 4, 2012

    @ Barbara I get your point exactly. Once I was an intern at an electronic enterprise and my task was to search suppliers for a particular model on relevant forums. What I concluded was that most messages on the forums were from suppliers who were serious in dealing but there geographical locations made it unsuitable for me to recommend them further. Point is that forums have a lot of potential and are an alternate of social networks.

  6. Daniel
    December 4, 2012

    Barbara, there won't be any doubt that “Social Medias” can boost the sales or business because of its reachability. So any updates about products or latest additions, will be appear to all the followers or group members and hence an immediate reachability. Another advantage is its cost effective too because there is no postage or printing associated with it.

  7. Daniel
    December 4, 2012

    “But no one is willing to talk about business over there.”

    Waqas, I had seen many social media forums, where business talks or product reviews are taking place. If the product are meeting standard qualities, then the positive reviews are helpful for business, otherwise it have a negative impact..

  8. Barbara Jorgensen
    December 4, 2012

    Business is discussed on social media, but certain strategic topics aren't. For businesses, there's a difference between getting product feedback/opinion and revealing too much about their partners or future plans. That's where a more secure forum would be necessary.

  9. Barbara Jorgensen
    December 4, 2012

    @Prabhakar: Actually, E2open is more of a horizontal model that works across and between silos. Its clients determine which partners participate on which network. E2open may use research as a baseline for social media application, but only its clients “silo.” But I see how silos could still happen within a community.

  10. Greg Riemer
    December 4, 2012

    I would agree that the social platform needs to be global and secure before companies would even look at sharing key information that could impact the supply chain. The medium also needs to be widely adopted for it to be effective. This appears to be the biggest challenge companies like E2open face. Just because they build it doesn't mean they will come. I think many people are overlooking Google+. I'm still not positive it will be adopted by businesses or transform itself into something companies could use but it appears to have the capabilities many of these startup platforms want, and we know it has the resources.

  11. Ariella
    December 4, 2012

    @Greg You say that many people overlook Google+. Do you mean to say that it could serve the purpose or that the fact that people do overlook it shows its failing? I'm just wondering. Personally, I enjoy Google+ a lot, though it has tried to become a lot more like Facebook lately.

  12. Susan Fourtané
    December 5, 2012

    Thanks, Barbara. 

    I only wonder if instead of finding a way of using the already created social media platforms it will really help to create even more channels for interaction, sharing, internal communication, etc. 


  13. Susan Fourtané
    December 5, 2012


    Social media channels act as the first point of contact. If there is a good ground for a deeper business discussion the parts involved can move on to an internal forum or a more convenient channel. 


  14. Barbara Jorgensen
    December 5, 2012

    Hi Susan,

    Personally, the last thing I need is another social platform. I don't even use the ones I have. The one good thing I've heard, though, is many of the existing socials allow you to log in through a single site (usually Facebook). That saves me the trouble of memorizing several passwords. On that issue, I've finally started a list of passwords and I'm already up to a dozen just for our intra-company sites. I can't use the same one for these various sites…(no duplicate letters, must have a cap and a number, or two numbers, or I have to chnage it every 90 days….)

  15. ITempire
    December 5, 2012

    @ Jacob

    Well there are many forums where you can find people discussing about positives and negatives of product but forums where actual negotiation takes place are rare and most wanted. 

  16. ITempire
    December 5, 2012

    @ Greg

    Agreed @ secure. Companies won't be expect to write down their confidential details on the face of the forum. The forum can just display the topic and buyers/sellers can specify the basic features of the product they want to deal in. If somebody finds it appropriate, they can inbox the other party.

  17. Greg Riemer
    December 5, 2012

    @Ariella I think Google+ could serve that purpose if they chose to focus on business. It has capabilities that other channels do not and again the resource to build applications that businesses require. But as of right now it doesn't appear that they are focusing on that.

  18. Ariella
    December 5, 2012

    @Greg yes, though G+ did roll out brand and even vanity pages, it doesn't seem to have had much impact on business commications, at least as far as I've seen. 

  19. Daniel
    December 6, 2012

    “But forums where actual negotiation takes place are rare and most wanted. “

    Waqas, actual negotiations- am not getting what you meant by negotiation. Normally reviews and promotions are taking place through social medias.

  20. Daniel
    December 6, 2012

    Barbara, now a days in most of the community of social networking sites, there won’t be any need to create a new login or to remember passwords, because they are using Facebook login modules for authentication and authorization. Am not sure how much it’s safe to leave our Facebook credentials with such unknown third party websites. So I would always prefer to create new login ID and password.

  21. Barbara Jorgensen
    December 6, 2012

    Jacob: I like that feature too, but I have concerns about FB security and use of user data. as much as I hate passwords, they are advisable, especially in a business environment.

  22. Barbara Jorgensen
    December 6, 2012

    Greg: That's a great idea! I haven't even visited Google+ and in spite of all the buzz, I know few people that do. A business app is a great way to recap the investment (if Google isn't getting its ROI. I suspect it isn't, at least on this product).

  23. ITempire
    December 7, 2012

    Jacob Glad you asked. I mean that there are or are required such forums where buyers and sellers submit the specification of goods they need, prices they are looking for and the terms of agreement. Those forums/websites like other websites earn from advertisements but the main objective of the website is not to give their users reviews and promotions about products.

  24. Daniel
    December 10, 2012

    Waqas, you meant various filters. No negotiations will take place over any social media networks and final negotiation will happen around the desk (face to face).

  25. Daniel
    December 10, 2012

    Barbara, you have to compromise in somewhere. I don’t want to provide or leave any FB credential to any unknown sites for login, so I use to create a new login with a password. But in most of the cases password for all such unknown/unwanted websites may be the same with some identification. So there won’t be any issue of forgetting password.

  26. Barbara Jorgensen
    December 10, 2012

    @Jacob: agreed. I limit my fb logon to “fun” sites, such as forums on TV shows, movies etc. The truly “social” part of my life; professional is a different story (and passwords)

  27. Susan Fourtané
    December 13, 2012

    Hi, Barbara 

    I also think adding more social networks to all the already existing ones would be too much, and impossible to handle. 

    A dozen passwords sounds too much. Are you using your favourite book as storage place? Why can't you use duplicate letters? I would also find it impossible to remember so many passwords if I would have to change them every 90 days. What about using a password generator? Some encrypt passwords, too.


  28. Daniel
    December 17, 2012

    Barbara, thanks. It's always better to have a defined limit for everything. There is no need to open our doors for strangers. Moreover, it's good to keep a different level of strong passwords for different sites based on, how the account is important.

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