Clamping Down on the Cloud

Whether you’re determining if a social media strategy is right for your business, or if you’re already in the thick of it, you’d be wise to get a handle on your customers’ and prospects’ plans and proclivities.

Regardless of where you fall in manufacturing supply chains, you should take notice of “cloud” computing and its evolving impact on your customers, your suppliers, your productivity and your bottom line.

For those unfamiliar with the cloud or cloud-based computing and storage of data, the New Oxford American Dictionary defines it as “… the practice of using a network of remote servers hosted on the Internet to store, manage and process data, rather than a local server or a personal computer.” Think of sites and services such as YouTube, GoogleDocs, and other ubiquitous Web-based businesses.

This past year, The Cincinnati Enquirer printed a story titled “Procter & Gamble Puts Clamps on Web Surfing.” According to the story, P&G has blocked Pandora and Nexflix based on bandwidth issues within the company. It seems so many employees had been downloading music and videos from the “cloud” that it was dramatically slowing down P&G’s network, impacting its performance and productivity across the enterprise.

But buried in the story are references to other issues that the cloud and social media access are forcing companies to deal with in draconian ways and that all of manufacturing should be aware of.

I’ve written quite a lot about social media and manufacturing recently myself—hey, it’s what I do. But the truth is that many marketing and communications strategies for manufacturing are formed without first considering how they are actually being used (or not) by the most valued nodes in their supply chains. And never once have I ever mentioned “bandwidth,” as P&G cites as its primary reason for limiting or shutting off access to the Web from its network.

The Enquirer piece goes beyond the bandwidth/IT issues and points out some interesting evidence from other local, large manufacturers and their motives for controlling Web and social media access for their employees via company-owned networks, connections and equipment. From the Enquirer article:

At GE Aviation, where 7,500 work, Pandora, YouTube and Facebook ‘are fundamentally blocked,’ said spokesman Rick Kennedy. Employees who need to use the sites for work can get access.

(I’d sure like to see GE’s definitions around what constitutes an “employee who needs it.”)
“Kroger restricts access to social media sites mainly because of the risks to Internet security,” said spokesman Keith Dailey. Kroger employs 339,000 in the United States, but many are store employees or manufacturing workers who don’t have regular access to desktop computers at work.

“TriHealth, which runs Good Samaritan and Bethesda hospitals and employs 10,400, blocks all social media sites except for YouTube, which is used for employee training,” said spokesman Joe Kelley.

Now, ask yourself about all the companies you believe your marketing and promotional strategies are actually reaching, and how they’re really using the Web for their jobs.
Or better yet, ask them. Uh, you have asked them, right?

Any social media strategy should begin with a survey or (at the very least) a random sampling of customers and prospects to determine who’s there, who’s not, their motivations for determining internal policies for actual access to outside media channels, and future plans for adopting or using social media platforms for business purposes.

There’s no question that the game’s changing quickly. Eventually, bandwidth issues will be overcome and will become less of an issue. Technology has a way of doing that.

But things like productivity, security, industry directives and internal guidelines are gonna be around a lot longer than these current bandwidth costs and limitations.

Whether you’re determining if a social media strategy is right for your business (and you should be) or if you’re already in the thick of it, you’d be wise to get a handle on your customers’ and prospects’ plans and proclivities.

Don’t get burned by a clamp down you didn’t see coming.