Enterprise Social as work not just networking - supply chain

We all know and McKinsey, Gartner and Forrester confirm, that the majority of implementations of enterprise social networks fail to meet their goals. No doubt we're all getting better at implementing them more successfully, but in many cases we find that even those improved implementation rates hide a disturbing truth. And the truth is that many ESN implementations have never moved beyond being part of "employee / corporate communications". The potential is so much broader, for example in supply chain.

Focusing on verticals helps integrate into how work is done, and ROI

Companies want social technologies that become part of their work. Yet often, enterprise social networks act as a separate silo where people interact for the sake of just "corporate communication".

One of the problems in making an ESN part of how work is done is a frustration in measuring ROI.

The networks which companies have in place have often crept into place by "organic adoption". While the process of organic adoption certainly demonstrates a need, but it rarely demonstrates ROI. There a many reasons why this is so:

  • organic adoption does not involve describing and analysing a specific use case;
  • without a use case there is no baseline which can be used later for ROI calculations;
  • without a use case there are no metrics developed, and no targets, for later ROI input;
  • without a well defined use case the ESN processes have little change of being integrated into how people do their work, that's why the ESN remain a separate silo, often just for corporate communication.

Another very big factor is that effective design and integration of an enterprise social network into how people work is in almost all cases a significant cultural change project requiring multifaceted project management and direction. This simply does not happen in organic adoption because resources and priorities are not allocated and conscripted to the project, because in fact there is no project.

Focusing on use cases - supply chain

We believe that focusing on detailed vertical use cases is the only way to effectively establish and integrate enterprise social networks into how people work, and the way to provide measurable ROI. If we think about the supply chain as a vertical - or what IBM might call a "social business pattern" - then there are great opportunities for ESN applications:

  • In 2010 70% of Chief Supply Chain Officers predicted that their supply chain flows would be optimised within 5 years;
  • In 2014 only 9% said they have succeeded, but their expectations were even higher than before.

To some degree, the expectations were based too much on technology / systems solutions and not enough on the human and collaborative possibilities, which are slightly harder to rigorously define.

What we know from various research sources is that, for example:

  • one of the single most important ingredients for successful supply chain management is building trust in the relationship among partners;
  • procurement is shifting from "vendor" to "trusted partner" approach as more non-core supply chain activities are outsourced;
  • organisations which employ leading-edge purchasing practices achieve almost 2X the margins of others with below-average practices (McKinsey 2013, "Evolution of the Networked Enterprise);
  • supplier innovation (vendor-led innovation) increasingly demanded by purchasers, and this requires more openness and sharing on the part of purchasers.

These are just a few of the changes taking place in supply change management, and all of these can substantially be enabled by the proper planning and implementation of an ESN.

Beyond these, consider that several leading edge purchasing organisations are even using social listening as an input into predictive demand analysis. What this means is that companies need to have a serious approach to the deployment of all social technologies including enterprise social networks and social data analytics. The days of letting organic adoption take its own course, or being content with enterprise social being primarily a tool for corporate communication are well gone.

To stay ahead, companies need to take a holistic and full-ecosystem view of how social technologies can aid their key business processes including how to boost supply chain performance.


Walter Adamson 

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