Taming the Supply Chain beast, Enterprise 2.0 style.

At the Enterprise 2.0 conference last month, I met with a few interesting companies that I wasn’t familiar with, prior to the event. I thought I was “plugged in”. Clearly, not enough. The next few posts uncover how some of these companies hope to move the needle on Enterprise 2.0 enablement. First up: Supply Chain Management.

McLean, VA based SIM (Supplier Information Mgmt) provider, Rollstream was one of the more impressive but lesser-known-companies (to me) that I had the chance to meet with. If you read this blog often, you’ll get why I instantly liked their business. RollStream fixes specific problems – inefficiencies in the supply chain via Private Supplier Social Networks. Counting well known companies such as Walgreens, Owens & Minor, Johnson & Johnson and Tesco as customers, their SaaS solution services the partner relationship lifecycle for retailers, manufacturers and distributors. Business activity-focused capabilities cover partner on-boarding, compliance, performance management and dispute resolution.

light_logo_small Founder Nick Parnaby and CEO Kristin Muhlner discussed existing bottlenecks and cliffs in the supply chain mgmt process and how Rollstream hopes to open up the lines of communication, add visibility, and remove unnecessary interaction toll gates enforced by decades old SCM and ERP influenced work models. Also, today’s resource heavy supply chain management interaction models force relationship managers to pick specific partners to deal with. RollStream offers social software to reduce manual intervention during on-boarding and to help organizations more easily identify high performing partners in the network.

Re-casting the supplier relationship via Enterprise 2.0 enablement.

RollStream considers its’ primary value to be in the area of efficient partner management. They know their business of course and it’s early pickings, but to me, one of the biggest opportunities to enterprises using such social computing technology is be able to to pry open the gates that lock out supply chain access to core processes such as product management, R&D, marketing, end customer support, etc. And conversely – giving these business units access to knowledgeable supply chain partners as well. That’s where SIM providers can really help.

Why? First, no one knows the true power, limitations and opportunities for each component of a product better than the very folks who build them. Second, component manufacturing is largely a commodity business.  As a supplier, I need to differentiate myself from competitors who are waiting for me to falter or cut me on price. I need to be a strategic partner to be somewhat indispensible. Social Software can open up the lines of interaction beyond R&D, Procurement and Product Development, allowing suppliers to learn, first hand,  any pain felt by the end customer. Or help marketing really understand the deep competencies of each component of the end product. Or provide new insight to R&D on early technology innovation at the component level. And on and on.

That’s purpose built collaboration (a.k.a business case) with dead clear incentives for suppliers to participate (a.k.a adoption) and play a role in the success of an end product in the market place.

There’s sizable opportunity here, however, solutions such as RollStream may not be for everyone. And I suspect that gaining sustainable adoption across hundreds of suppliers for each customer can sometimes be culturally and programmatically daunting.  I’ve seen one too many partner extranets that eventually turned into ghost towns thanks to re-orgs, shifting priorities and erratic shepherding.

All that said, the use of collaborative software in this context can bring massive, measurable business benefit if its treated as a strategic initiative by enterprises. Pulling in a snippet from an older post….

ZDNet blogger and eternal pragmatist, Dennis Howlett says:

In my argument, breakthrough ROI comes from seeing these technology through the lens of collaboration, which in turn implies process and context. I am mindful that huge amounts of value continue to be locked up in supply chains. AMR quoted a number of $3 trillion in 2005. Has that materially changed? Simply being able to communicate across supply chains in a meaningful manner could do wonders to lubricate those rusty wheels.

Have other ideas about how an Enterprise 2.0 design can improve supply chain processes? Chime in.

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