September 05, 2013
In 1996, when I was a young engineer working at Motorola, there were only a handful of employees—in a few hand-picked departments—who were allowed access to the Internet and external websites from their work computers.
I was not one of them, so I had to sneak to my friend’s cubicle after work hours to surf the Internet. I was living in Arizona at the time and searching for a job back east, and my dial-up connection at home was painfully slow.
Motorola, like many companies then, was treading very carefully and slowly toward the Internet era. The company feared that employee productivity would drop significantly if everyone were given access to the Web.
Managers were concerned that everybody would be wasting hours surfing the Internet instead of working. Motorola also worried about having to deal with a whole new set of HR issues if employees started visiting “inappropriate” (read: pornographic) websites.
Other companies at the time were equally cautious and fearful. One supply chain executive, for example, told me at a workshop last summer that his company required employees to fill out a permission form if they wanted to email somebody outside the company.
Less than four years later, however, as we welcomed the new millennium, we found ourselves at the height of the dot-com era. This was a time where the “e-” prefix was attached to every business process, and every startup with “.com” in its name received outrageous valuations. The dot-com bubble ultimately burst, but not before the Internet and Web had transformed the way people and companies worked. “E-business” simply became “business” again.
I believe we are at a similar inflection point today with “social” technologies. Many companies are treading slowly and cautiously toward the “Social Era,” echoing the same fears and concerns they had about the Internet and Web 20 years ago.
In fact, 30 percent of the supply chain professionals we recently surveyed reported that their companies currently block access to social media sites (Exhibit 1).
At the same time, however, 45 percent of the respondents said that “social networks will make supply chain processes more efficient, responsive, and cost effective” over the next five years. Another 30 percent said that “social networks will transform supply chain processes (for the better) in ways we can’t imagine today” (Exhibit 2).
The survey results align well with what I’ve been hearing from supply chain executives in the numerous workshops I’ve conducted on this topic over the past few years: “We know social networks will transform supply chain processes, we just don’t know how exactly, and where to start, and why.”
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