Blue 2.0

By Joe Shepley posted 06-23-2011 21:39


In the last few months I’ve been working with a number of consumer product group (CPG) and manufacturing organizations. These are verticals that traditionally have been cold on enterprise content management (ECM) because, unlike financial services, insurance, banking, or pharma—all early ECM adopters—their core value chain activities were not document- or content-intensive.

But two factors are driving an increased interest in ECM in both of these verticals. First, CPG and manufacturing organizations are only recently crossing the holy cow we have enough documents to choke a horse (or sink a company) threshold that more document-intensive industries crossed years ago.

Second, and more germane to this Enterprise 2.0 forum, CPG and manufacturing organizations are realizing that social media (SM) and enterprise collaboration tools and techniques have the potential to transform their line employees (whether in the plant or involved in the supply chain) from being solely process workers to being process-knowledge worker hybrids. And this transformation promises to deliver massive benefit to the organizations that can accomplish it, not the least of which is significant competitive advantage over their peers.

Let’s dig in a bit to exactly how this transformation is shaking out today at the most forward-leaning CPG and manufacturing organizations.

Nothing’s changed

The first thing to realize is that SM and enterprise collaboration technologies have not fundamentally altered the situation on the ground in CPG and manufacturing—they are simply offering new modes of capturing information that has been there as long as there have been shop floor employees and deliverymen.

Everyone who works on a line or helps deliver goods from one point to another, if they’re good at their jobs, is an analyst. From how the machine they’re operating is running today or how the current batch of materials is performing to the levels of stock actually on hand or the pace of consumer demand, these line employees have their finger on the pulse of the business as it’s happening now, not how it looks in retrospect via reports generated hours, days, or weeks later out of enterprise systems.

This has always been true—ask anyone who works in a plant or distribution center and they’ll tell you about the lag time between what they see happening under their noses and what management reads in their reports.

A sticky wicket

Historically, however, there hasn’t been an easy way to tap into this line worker knowledge. Computers are expensive and impractical to install on the shop floor. Not to mention, anything that slows line employees down is a no-no: a system for capturing their front-line knowledge would have to do so without impacting their production efficiency in the least.

With the near ubiquity of both consumer social media (like Facebook, online banking, and ecommerce) and mobile devices, the situation has fundamentally changed.

Free your mind

Line level employees, who are typically considered to be technologically backwards, tend to be as (if not more) adept with social media tools than their 40-, 50- and 60-something white-collar counterparts, fewer of whom are active participants in social media. And given how inexpensive and ubiquitous powerful mobile phones have become, it’s a good bet that many (if not most) of these line employees have sophisticated mobile devices that they regularly use throughout the workday to check personal email, participate in Facebook, and text friends and family.

But far from being something to be lamented as a time waster and shut down, this mobility-driven SM participation offers tremendous opportunity for CPG and manufacturing organizations…if they can harness and channel it.

A cloudy, unreliable crystal ball

Now I’ll be the first to admit that the use of SM and enterprise collaboration techniques and tools among CPG and manufacturing organizations is still in the early stages of emergence. So it’s not possible to point to tried-and-true best practices or sure bets for how to leverage line worker knowledge with SM and enterprise collaboration.

But given the what I’m seeing at organizations out in the field and where SM and enterprise collaboration technology is going in general, we can hazard a few educated guesses.

  • Mobile is going to be core to CPG and manufacturing organization’s efforts – installing kiosks, PCs, or laptops is simply not feasible. Rather, as we’ve seen in the second and third world, mobile devices will offer the possibility of bypassing computers all together, allowing employees to access files, data, and rich media (like video) without having anything more than a smart phone. If I can get an iPhone 3G for $69 bucks from AT&T, how much is a Fortune 500 manufacturing or CPG organization going to pay? And the TCO of this iPhone will be vastly lower than even the least expensive laptop or PC.
  • Conversation-based collaboration will be more important than document-based collaboration – the knowledge that line employees have is neither contained in documents nor are documents best suited for capturing and communicating it. Newer methods of interaction, such as microblogging, forums, and wikis be the dominant mode of capturing and operationalizing line employee knowledge.
  • Community will be king – the transformation of line employees from process workers to hybrid process-knowledge workers will never happen without widespread adoption. And widespread adoption doesn’t happen without folks being invested in the use of a technology. And there’s no better way to get folks invested in a technology than creating a community around its use. Facebook has 500M+ users not because of its functionality, but because of the way it creates and nurtures a community of members. The same must be true of business uses of SM and enterprise collaboration.

The final word

This is an exciting time for manufacturing and CPG organizations. It’s also scary, because the organizational structures and operating assumptions that have served them very well up until now are going to be less and less viable. Those organizations that accept this reality and work to transform how they do business will reap tremendous benefits, not the least of which is competitive advantage over their slower peers.

But this transformation will also have a profound (and perhaps more significant) effect on line level employees. Management has traditionally viewed them almost as extensions of the machinery they operated, despite the fact that they are in reality the most important resources in the organization.

Mobile devices combined with SM and enterprise collaboration tools and techniques hold out the promise of elevating the status of line level employees at CPG and manufacturing organizations, acknowledging the importance of their contribution to the organization alongside those of their white collar peers.

#manufacturing #CPG. #SM #e2.0 #ECM