Archive for May, 2010

Social Commerce and Successful Supply Chain Development

May 17, 2010 1 comment

A supply chain (SC) in which the members are strategically, operationally, and technologically integrated is fundamental to commercial success in many businesses, and SCs continue to be adopted by organizations as a strategic vehicle for creating and sustaining market advantage. Claims for the success of supply chain management (SCM) have traditionally been largely based on efficiency improvements (e.g. time compression, cost cutting and quality improvement) and innovative supply chain factors which enhance consumer value have been underplayed.  This Blog is to heighten awareness of the huge influence that social commerce may have in ensuring successful supply chain development, where social commerce is defined as all manner of intra- and inter-organizational social discourse particularly related to market concerns e.g. F2F meetings, communities of practice, social networks, social media, Enterprise 2.0 etc..

First of all, there needs to be a realization that indeed there is an unbalanced focus on technical and rational perspectives in SC practice that has resulted in the ignorance of potential innovations that could result from understanding the complex social and political issues that are an integral part of any supply chain. In defense of this bias it should be noted that ‘people issues’ such as culture, trust, aversion to change, opportunism, willingness to relinquish control, and willingness to collaborate, are intractable issues that organizations avoid addressing at all costs. This is especially true in cultures where emotion-laden subjects are un-discussable i.e. most organizations! Difficulties in acknowledging and addressing these cultural issues imply that for effective implementation, SCM must be aligned with an appropriately developed organizational culture e.g. see the EVO approach (

Collaboration is highly important if SCs are intended to lead to innovation, since the innovation potential of a SC is based on the skills and expertise of each supply chain member. In order to generate SC innovations, member organizations must understand the dynamics of the supply chains that they are involved in. For example, successful SCM involves horizontal cross functional integration, based on inter-organizational relationships which increase trust and collaboration, not only across but also within firms. The need for common or translatable value systems, language, symbolic artifacts and protocols or etiquette have been shown to be important for developing shared understanding and thus enhancing the chance of trust and commitment, not only across the whole SC, but also in each particular organization. This ensures that each trading partner increases trust in the other members of the SC to keep them committed.

The conventional approach to SCM views the supply chain as a linear process involving discrete organizational entities that are tightly linked from the source of supply to the supply of a final product or service to consumers or end users. Such SCM emphasizes major functions such as outsourcing, supply management, chain management, relationship management and power management. The current alternative view, which focuses on the social commerce among members, does not imply that the management of these major functions is not crucial, but rather that principles of organic and facilitative management through stimulation of learning, networking and expectation alignment should be incorporated in the management of these functions. Many SC practitioners have difficulty moving from the conventional view to one which focuses on social collaborative arrangements among members, and thus remain uninformed about the learning-related processes they could employ to build relationships and better integrate.

People who commit the firm to SC promises must be empowered and resourced to execute them, and must have the appropriate knowledge and skills provided by training, learning-by-doing, and Knowledge Management (KM) processes. A key competency therefore is the ability to learn or acquire the needed knowledge and the capacity to identify key information, understand the competitive importance of the knowledge and apply it. Learning in supply chains requires a high level of trust that allows partners to openly share sensitive information in order to gain full benefits of collaboration. If an organizational partner has excellent learning capacity, inter-organizational trust intensifies, and as the whole supply chain learns to work collaboratively and trustingly, the KM principles adopted will unleash immense creativity and innovation providing significant advantage to supply chain partners. In order to gain the necessary trust and commitment for this to happen, the organizational values and culture need to support the creation of social capital (SC).

The concept of social capital is useful for representing the collaborative status of relationships across an organization. Although there is no uniformly accepted definition of social capital, its meaning in an organizational setting has been defined as “The set of resources, tangible or virtual, that accrue to a corporate player through the player’s social relationships, facilitating the attainment of goals.” [1] A growing body of opinion sees social capital as an important source of commercial advantage. The importance of social capital is often under-valued in SCM but its value in my opinion must not be underestimated. Social capital might be viewed as the relational glue that underlies the effectiveness of supply chains, and it comes into its own particularly in supply chain situations that are complex and ambiguous.

Successful innovations are generated when key processes such the formation of wide and interconnected intra- and inter-organizational networks, and extensive experimentation, and broad learning are emphasized. SC practitioners may be considered members of a community of practice rather than members of disconnected functions along a chain. This requires that SC members actively and deliberately explore together their relationships. This collaborative learning builds competence, commitment, and accountability to their community of practice. In this way they adopt a people-centric social learning approach towards better understanding customers’ and/or SC participants’ perspectives and needs, promoting further supply chain integration. It is clearly important to underpin such inter- and intra-organizational social networks with a multitude of social commerce related communication channels within which SC actors may share learning and insight, and to introduce Enterprise 2.0 and social media  where possible.

[1] Gabbay, S.M., and Leenders, R.T.A.J. (1999),  “The structure of advantage and disadvantage”,  in R.T.A.J. Leenders and S.M. Gabbay (Eds.), Corporate social capital and liability, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Boston.