Allen Johnson

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Smart supply chains get social

by Allen Johnson  |  October 13, 2010  |  Comments Off

Blogs. The last thing I thought I’d ever do is blog. Honestly, for the longest time, I didn’t get it. A hundred years from now, you’ll find me at the Smithsonian with the other oddities. I’ll be the one with the puzzled look. And now, scratching my head, here I sit at a coffee bar in Seattle—waiting to head home to Texas and writing my first blog.

I’m a little old school. My favorite universe is the one where relationships are built via the spoken word rather than by thumbs pecking out 140 characters. Christmas cards get delivered to the mailbox by the street instead of the one on my computer. And people who want to sell me something don’t sneak offers into my inbox but actually call me at dinner time so I can hang up on them. All this connectivity, technology and community take the sport out of being a curmudgeon. Then again, a little back and forth with those of you who enjoy that sort of thing might be a real kick.

One of my favorite colleagues is fellow analyst Matt Davis. Matt is part of the under-forty crowd. Me? Let’s just say part of the over-thirty crowd (turns out AARP cards are really cards and come to the mailbox by the street!). He picked up his MBA a few years ago. I’m trying to remember whether or not they actually offered those when I was in school. He works out. I took down all the mirrors in my house. You get the picture. We’re at other ends of the generational seesaw.

With that said, and from two different viewpoints, we’re coming to a shared conclusion that sooner than later supply chains and social media will be tightly intertwined. End-to-end. From the ability to mine insights from social chatter and detect subtle shifts in demand patterns to literal communities of suppliers connected via friends-like pages. The social web will improve supply chains. Downstream data gets social.

Why do I believe this? Because too many planets are lining up here. Simple as that.

• Capability: Companies like Attensity, Clarabridge and SAS are tuning up their technologies to monitor, analyze and provide structure for the sea of unstructured conversations on the social web. With structure, they can be aligned with classic analysis tools and with a little effort at pattern analysis, provide legitimate demand signals. Technology always, always, always changes business. It will here too.

• Community: The data from Nielsen, Harris and just about any other source that looks into these things tells us that people are most influenced by those they know or who look most like them. The intersection of web communities and word-of-mouth marketing techniques is ripe with potential for companies who want to make demand happen.

• Consumer: Any way you look at it (and I have) we have all changed. We’ve become digital. We read digital books, download digital boarding passes, can’t remember the last time we saw a bank teller in person and have changed our language syntax to fit bite-sized bursts. The generation coming up knows nothing else. The world has become a transparent stream of 140-200 character conversations that yield market insights for those who take the time to look. Some really smart consumer brands are already looking there. They’ll win. Some have chosen to look the other way. They’ll lose.

I’m interested to know what you think. When will the social web become a legitimate downstream data source? Is it a maybe or a definitely? Will it be a sensing and shaping tool?

Oops—-gotta go. Time to fire up the Betamax and watch Cronkite. I’m up to Armstrong’s lunar landing now. Yep—I know that the news is a little dated but Walter is the only talking head I can tolerate these days, so it’s a 6 p.m. ritual at the Johnson house. Besides, gotta get amped up and ready to jump if one of those dinner time solicitors calls. It’s sport for the old school.

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