I recently came across this feature on the Sourcing Focus site that describes in detail a number of ways different outsourcing and software providers are attempting to create social networks within their customer base. Among them is BravoSolution, a provider with a strong base in the public sector that created a tool known as BEN, or the BravoSolution Education Network, to initially help public sector employees in the UK to share information and knowledge. As someone who follows social networks quite closely, I found the concept quite interesting when I initially learned about it earlier this year. In the above-linked article, Sourcing Focus suggests that the platform serves as a foundation for "public sector procurement managers to pool and share information on their own sourcing and as a result become more effective".
As far as I can tell, BEN is probably the most successful closed social network in the procurement sector so far in terms of usage and members (which now stand at 1,100+). Moreover, while groups on Linked-in pertaining to procurement certainly count more members in a public setting, BEN appears to be the first to have gained material traction among a captive customer/user base. John Shaw, who runs education for BravoSolution, notes in the article that BEN has "enabled people to share information around Standard Policy Documentation from EU Directives, local legislation and best practice for organizational procedures". In his words, it's "a sort of Wikipedia for public sector professionals". But how did BravoSolution set about building it?
According to Jim Wetekamp, who runs solution strategy for BravoSolution, "the platform is open source" and "the community design, management, and related content management / material management are our own", he noted to me in an email exchange earlier this year. The network is not unlike a closed version of what MFG.com tried to do in the past with its own network, MFGx, which is currently undergoing significant rework and enhancements. I suspect that other solution vendors will follow suit with similar private social networking sites in the Spend Management world in part because I'd suggest that practitioners are more likely to network and share information together in a private setting. In my view, as these sorts of tools become more ubiquitous in the public domain, it will become incumbent on solution providers to foster similar yet more targeted information sharing among their users if they want to help enhance, steer and learn from the customer conversation.