The Future Of Business And Social Networks

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Michael Brenner of the SAP Business Innovation Blog interviewed me as part of a series of interviews with thought leaders on the topic of the Future of Customer Experience, Work and Resource Optimization.

This kickoff interview was about the future of business and social networks and how they are transforming the future of business, and was first published on the SAP Innovation Blog.

As the economy becomes more global, supply chains become more complex. How can companies manage this growing network of suppliers and partners?

Supply “chain” makes modern commerce sound more linear than it really is – especially with deep customization and consumer co-creation. It has to be as easy to work with a partner or supplier as you could with a department of your own company. Crucially, what has changed is that information flow between companies is now vastly more sophisticated.

Will the increasing inter-connectedness of people around the world push companies and governments to become more open and transparent?

Consumer sharing of information has certainly forced a lot more transparency in terms of the quality of goods and services – if you have a bad product, you can no longer hide it. Consumers now expect lots of deep information to be available online for any product. But this doesn’t (yet?) necessarily extend to the companies themselves – for example, Apple has thrived on a culture of almost total secrecy.

The “sharing economy” has emerged from the monetization of our social connections. How do you see that evolving?

I’m not sure about the wording — I certainly don’t think people sat around looking at their social connections and wondered how they could monetize it. Rather, a culture of sharing information naturally extended to physical goods, and reduced the perceived dangers of sharing with “strangers”. In the future, more and more products will turn into services – but companies will fight back for their part of the market. For example, there are now companies that let you rent out your car when you’re not using it — but there are also car companies that will efficiently let you use a car whenever you need it. The net result might look very similar.

What are the implications of having a truly networked supply chain where everyone is connected in real time?

History shows that as soon as you make the supply chain more efficient, people find new ways to make it even more complex. The ability to do things in real time will above all result in much more customized products and services.

Many companies are struggling to find their voices in social networks. How do they change that?

It’s just part of modern business, like struggling with your supply chain or financial systems. How do you change that? You decide it’s a priority.

As companies outsource more and more to their supplier networks how will this affect their ability to innovate?

The ability to use the wisdom of many suppliers to do things in brand new ways is now increasingly cited as a reason to have a supplier network in the first place – e.g. Airbus reaching out to suppliers for the next generation of their planes, co-innovating with those who have the most expertise.