Planning for social reference systems

I have spent the day finding new research on enterprise resource planning architecture and supply chain management (you have to keep up with these things) and I’m increasingly of the opinion that to be effective in inventory and information control within a supply chain, you don’t just need a good records system. You also need a good reference system. And I don’t mean a good database either; a good reference system that points to other resources and other information sources in the field is actually what produces time savings (reduces cycle time) and effectively cuts costs for an organisation.

This seems to be one way that social software could be transposed in to a corporate environment. [SIDE NOTE: Don’t worry, social software advocates – I’m not suggesting the corporate sector take over social software; I’m merely advocating an application of social software in supply chain management. Settle down. Have a drink and relax.] Because an automatically generated reference system can’t tell you how good/bad/indifferent a source is, and it can’t actually pose questions.

Case in point: a friend of mine announced tonight that he had a presentation to complete on spam, due on Friday. He was beginning the research and got side-tracked. Once I knew what he was looking for sources on spam, I was able to point him in the direction of several really good sources through some research I supervised from one of my best students (yes Sami, that’s you!). But it wasn’t just that the research was good, it was the fact that I knew it existed, and that there had been a number of news items on spam that have emerged just recently (including the fact that a convicted spammer has been sentenced to nine years in prison). It’s the social sharing of information resources on an on-demand basis that actually cuts down the time of research and therefore improves productivity.

Critics will say that social software reduces productivity because it encourages conversations which have nothing to do with the project-at-hand, but the reality is that such conversations tend to be interest driven. If the worker is interested in their project, they will share information and reference resources and their knowledge about the value of certain resources over others will grow as those conversations continue.

A good records management system and inventory control might produce a better managed supply chain system, but it’s not going to provide a sustainable competitive advantage for a firm. Indeed, an information technology mediated supply chain management system is only going to make a firm a viable business entity. If you want to add value to an ICT-mediated supply chain strategy, then you need to add the value that can be derived from evaluating components and information products inherent to the supply chain.

And that’s effectively a social software application for supply chain management.

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