Sunday, January 2, 2011

'Collaboration': The word which would redefine the Business World

Collaboration has been a sort of buzzword for long with companies and consultants gravitating towards it alike. Collaboration is now much more than social networking which caught the attention of business folks in first place.
Following only gives a glimpse of the limitless potential of 'Collaboration' to address business complexities of today.

Internal Collaboration: Organisations are divided into silos of departments. However value chain cuts across departments (dept.). Hence came the concept of internal customer where every department tries to serve the downstream dept. best. Collaboration extends the reach of an individual depts to literally any other dept far off in value chain. A design dept. is not longer limited to marketing and engineering but can also talk to manufacturing and field service.

Supplier Collaboration: Made popular by Toyota Production System, supplier collaboration is now reaching new heights as companies move towards outsourcing and off-shoring to gain competitive advantage. Present day challenges include aligning a contact manufacturer in China with business strategy of the company, aligning proprietary equipment design to your design process, to build responsiveness and flexibility at supplier to move towards open configuration products and mass customisation.

Customer Collaboration: This is another frontier which has opened up where companies are trying to engage their customers to design better products and services. A must for 'Engineering to Order' companies and a competitive advantage for 'Make to Order' and Service oriented companies. 
Customer collaboration also helps in building brand and loyalty. Agriculture firms are leveraging new technologies to reach out to farmers and help them to improve the yield.
Customer collaboration also holds key to product innovation.

Strategic Partners Collaboration: No longer individual companies compete. Its the networks that compete with each other. For a company to grow, it needs to have a network of strategic partner ranging from Govt. agencies to NGOs, independent researchers and academia. Some examples can be:
- Collaborative Research or Co-creation: Companies can stay ahead in technology trends by engaging with independent researchers. 
- Crowd-sourcing: To tap into collective intelligence of public to identify new trends, ideas and outsource research, product testing and innovation.
- Pro-active Public Image Management: Collaborating with activists, NGOs can help to identify areas where a proactive action can pre-empt any possible public backlash.
- Competitor collaboration: Sometimes collaboration with competitors can help to usher the whole industry into new era and create new market opportunities and avoid threat of substitutes.

Overcoming Geographical Barriers: Companies now operate with a complex web of geographically dispersed design teams, field service team, sales personnel, customers,manufacturers, tier 1,2 and 3 suppliers. The challenge has always been to promote interaction between geographically dispersed stakeholders as good as face to face interaction.

Overcoming Systems Barriers: Many companies grow with acquisition and hence end up having diverse systems and processes within the organisation. The barriers would include different IT systems to completely different organisational procedures. Monolithic and disparate ERP systems, CAD systems within the organisation and outside the organisation with suppliers hinder organisational  alignment towards business strategy. System barriers become more prominent as organisation try to move towards mass customisation and wants visibility and control throughout the supply chain. Monolithic systems handicap executives in gathering Business Intelligence for effective decision making.

Information flow is key to enable collaboration. IT systems are now gearing up for the challenge and SOA (Service Oriented Architecture), Cloud Computing and others are gaining prominence. IT systems now allow both synchronous and asynchronous collaboration. Platforms like SharePoint which are both open and scalable are purpose made for collaboration. Concepts like Enterprise 3.0 incite companies to go further and connect seamlessly to IT systems of supplier itself onto one Service Bus.

Even with limitless potential and developing support systems, collaboration wave has not swept the industry as predicted. The lukewarm reception can be attributed to many reasons like
- How does it help me in doing my job better?
- I don't have training to do this kind of thing.
- Are these things worth investing in?
- Looks more like bling-bling to me.

The companies are not yet able to establish direct relationship with bottom-line and has been guarded in their approach. A clear business impact and direct relevance to ones job at hand is critical to acceptance and adoption. 


  1. Great Info, Well Written,