To arrive at collaboration, companies will need to get over their win-lose mentality, and solve a host of technical and cultural challenges. Here's a road map for the journey.
The value of working together, or collaborating, has been instilled in us since kindergarten. And in this era of globalization, outsourcing and tightly linked supply chains, you'd think few companies would even contemplate going it alone. But companies aren't kindergartners. When the CIO of one of the US's largest insurance companies (who asked not to be identified) floated the concept of collaborating with several major insurance players to create an industry-wide billing system, the idea was rebuffed. IT executives at the other insurance companies viewed their individual billing systems as strategically competitive, a notion the CIO found absurd. Billing, after all, is a quintessential back-office utility.
Such conservative - perhaps antiquated - notions of competitiveness, along with lack of trust, security concerns, cost and complexity, have prevented business-to-business collaboration from becoming the next big business wave for some time. But this is starting to change.
"As communications costs fall, it becomes possible and desirable for many more people and organizations to collaborate in ways that would never have been feasible before," says Tom Malone, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, founder and director of the MIT Centre for Coordination Science, and author of The Future of Work.
Nate Root, a collaboration analyst at Forrester, concurs. "It's undeniable that electronic communication and collaboration between companies is increasing. It's not too much of a stretch to call supply chain automation - electronic integration with suppliers and partners - a form of collaboration. When you cast the net that broadly, collaboration technology is on a screaming increase, and has been since the dotcom boom."
But how wide should we cast the net? Is every intercompany communication worthy of the collaboration label? Not only is the definition of collaboration itself controversial, but as more companies get serious about partnering, the best practices are still being defined. Despite the uncertainties, CIOs need to have collaboration on their radar now, since technology plays a key enabling role in successful collaborations. "Collaboration is becoming more and more important and higher on my agenda personally and for IT in general," says Filippo Passerini, global business services officer at Procter & Gamble. "We must be able to network with other organizations, companies and partners in a collaborative fashion."
For CIOs in the aerospace industry, where next-generation jets are being designed by engineers working together from around the globe, collaboration also figures prominently on the agenda. "Collaboration is, in this decade, what MRP II was in the 80s or supply chain management and CRM were in the 90s," says Boeing CIO Scott Griffin. "The technology is getting to the point where you literally can work together as if you were in the same company."
To help would-be collaborators understand the lie of the land, this guide to collaboration offers an overview of types of collaboration and their benefits, a look at potential challenges, and a roundup of collaboration best practices and technologies that companies such as Procter & Gamble, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, BAE Systems and Visa are leveraging to make collaboration pay off.
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