by Stephanie Overby

Cargo Firm’s Social Network Speeds Up Problem Resolution

Apr 30, 20123 mins
Database Administration

By using Tibbr, this Hong Kong-based logistics company is able to share short messages to resolve exceptions, reschedule deliveries and keep customers happier.

THE COMPANY :: Orient Overseas Container Line

THE PROJECT :: Implement an enterprise social network to resolve shipping exceptions at Orient Overseas Container Line (OOCL), a Hong Kong-based container shipping and logistics service provider.

THE BUSINESS CASE :: Unforeseen shipping exceptions — any situation that causes a delivery to be rescheduled — are a fact of life in logistics, and for one of the world’s largest container transportation companies, such issues can be complex, involving trains, trucks and cargo ships. “This is not the FedEx world,” says OOCL CIO Steve Siu. “There are multiple companies involved.” Poorly managed exceptions lead to unhappy customers and lost business. OOCL used a hodgepodge of communication tools — phone calls, faxes, email — to manage shipping exceptions. With employees at more than 280 offices in 55 countries, information was scattered and problem resolution inefficient. Siu reasoned that a social network could bring all essential parties — and their information — into a single, speedy system.

FIRST STEPS :: In August 2010, OOCL signed on as the first customer of Tibbr, the social networking tool from its middleware vendor TIBCO. It began with a pilot involving 15 social networking super-users and expanded to include managers in the company’s executive training program. “Those users became ‘seeds’ who went back to their regions to demonstrate Tibbr’s capabilities and champion broader adoption,” says Siu.

When an exception is detected, it’s automatically posted to a Tibbr subject that appears on the wall of relevant users in logistics, container shipping and IT, who can add comments or updates. Last September, the company enabled a pilot external customer to monitor its shipments via Tibbr, and eventually incorporated the tool into CargoSmart, the commercial logistics-management software that OOCL sells through a subsidiary. (Siu is CargoSmart’s CEO.)

Employees can now respond to shipment disruptions quickly, and customers can see what’s really going on. The short messages promote faster responses than email. The system’s charm is how it eliminates hierarchies that get in the way of problem resolution. The results led Siu to roll out Tibbr enterprisewide; 5,400 of OOCL’s 6,000 employees use it. Eventually, so will it’s supply-chain partners, including carriers, consignees, truckers and forwarders.

WHAT TO WATCH OUT FOR :: Social networking scares people. The first time upper management saw a Tibbr subject labeled “bad experience,” they got nervous. What if a customer read that? Human resources worried Tibbr would create an uncontrolled culture of reckless communication and wondered about privacy issues. OOCL leaders saw the subject-naming issue as an opportunity to change the overall mind-set about shipping exceptions — and changing the subject line to “recovery from bad experience” did the trick. The HR issues weren’t much more complex than those associated with any new technology. HR made it clear that corporate policies applied the same way in Tibbr as they did everywhere else, and IT handled privacy the way it did with email.

“You do have to make sure that social networking works in your culture,” says Siu, who adds that the phased rollout gave IT time to address concerns. Involving senior executives up front and identifying business unit sponsors also fostered widespread acceptance.