Social Media & Supply Chain: Volerro

I’ve recently found myself in the company of supply chain experts. I enjoy the supply chain industry as it is relatively mature, so changes are more visible, and it has seen giant innovations in the past. (The Box is an excellent story of the rise of containers in shipping.) Last week I had the chance to check in with Kevin Lynch, CEO of the supply chain startup Volerro, and talk with him about the role social media is playing in the industry.

Volerro’s unique take on social media is that companies can be nodes - rather than people as is normally the case. This is a business graph rather than a social graph that Facebook might talk about. The focus is not on friends, but rather are you a supplier or a client?

Lynch says:

We model supplier client relationships — the business graph — we make the node the company and assign relationships (clients/suppliers) so you can now distribute content along business processes. For example, you build a group to do a request for proposal [RFP]. There are five suppliers [that are the] nodes in the network and they don’t have a relationship to each other. Everyone can see the RFP, but their material can’t be shared or their identities even acknowledged.

The key is that the expected level of transparency/privacy for this type of relationship is built in, rather than relying on the expertise of people tweaking more general collaboration tools for this purpose.

Lynch acknowledges that some of this capabilities exists in current supplier networks. GE, for example,  uses Aravo but the suppliers have to individually go into the system and update their profiles — Volerro takes advantage of the fact that much of that information is already on the Internet to be leveraged.

One angle is that Volerro enables buyers to monitor profile updates and other activity streams from a single individual, a single company, or across an entire network. Just like you might want to dig deeper into a company you’re considering working for by monitoring the activity on LinkedIn (are people joining or leaving), this can have value for business intelligence around your suppliers as well.

I’m impressed by Volerro’s approach in that it treats social media both as a platform to use to connect and as a platform from which to learn.

Supply chain community: Do you have more examples of how social media (very broadly defined) is affecting your industry and internal company activities? Please comment here, and/or join us at the Social Media in the Supply Chain and Annual Collaboration Banquet. I have the pleasure of keynoting and would love to continue the conversation.

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