Supply chains can learn important lessons from social networks

Social, cloud and mobile have revolutionised the technology, financial and social spheres for consumers and business to consumer relationships.

Consumer innovations have demonstrated that we can connect people on a vast scale and in very short amounts of time. Facebook today has 1.3 billion users and Chinese Tencent QZone has 645 million users. All in all, close to two billion people today are using social technology in one shape or the other.

We have seen many social networks come and go in a very short time, such as 6degrees and Friendster, but those that have persisted and become successful are not just networks but social technology platforms. Facebook, for example, features interfaces and protocols for third-party software vendors to tap into data streams, identities, relationships and interactions. Third parties can then transform these features into opportunity and economic value.

The benefits and future potential of this approach should not be underestimated. Since Facebook’s launch, third parties have flocked to offer social technology-powered applications to users. Zynga’s ‘Farmville’ for Facebook reached 10 million daily active users within six weeks and by 2013, Zynga had 265 million monthly active users overall, demonstrating the value of the social platform to those who build applications on top of it.

While Farmville might be amongst the “50 worst inventions” according to Time magazine, the vision that lay behind it and the platform technology involved – creating social interactions and deriving value from it – have had implications for the business to business space and the digital supply chain and will continue to.

But while some of these ideas have filtered into B2B communication, it still remains largely unaffected. This leaves a landscape where supply chains are fundamentally unconnected, because of the challenges involved in connecting B2B’s archaic, siloed processes.

However, we are now starting to see business platforms emerge that marry concepts from B2C and social technology with hard business transactions. This is creating a truly digital supply chain, bringing business software and processes into the Internet age by adapting some of the key learning from social technology and applying them to the B2B sphere.

This includes connecting users across systems, lowering the barriers to entry so all businesses can participate, using a shared language, creating business profiles and fostering app ecosystems and communities. All of this builds an air of trust between organisations and their suppliers which is essential for efficient business. This is just the cusp of the potential for B2B interactions and there is still much more to come.

Gert Slyvest is chief technical officer at Tradeshift

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