The future belongs to those who collaborate

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Por Elizabeth Gasiorowski Denis
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In today's ever-changing world, companies can achieve significantly more through collaboration. The term is being bandied around more and more in both industry and government circles, offering a timely opportunity for ISO's move forward with a collaborative business relationships framework. This will open doors for greater innovation, competitiveness and successful outcome.

Collaboration is the new buzz word in business and government, touted as the answer to the demands of our increasingly complex modern world. But let me quiz you first. Working in isolation puts companies at a disadvantage. True or false ? Absolutely, unequivocally true ! Companies working in a “silo mentality” are synonymous with power struggles, lack of cooperation and loss of productivity.

Here’s the reality. Many of the problems we face today are so overwhelming and widespread that no one organization or agency can solve them alone. Natural disasters, for example, require dozens of organizations to deliver crucial services to victims quickly. Without some level of collaboration, services can easily be duplicated while other needs are missed altogether.

Strength in numbers

In today’s turbulent business environment, there is not a single organization, company or individual who can provide the complete solution to our global problems. But when organizations get together to work collaboratively at all levels – particularly on major products – significant results are achieved.

In this unfamiliar climate, as businesses become increasingly mobile, companies must seek ways to drive additional revenues and profits through increased collaboration – by this I mean the sharing of information and joint planning and projections. A study of over 2 000 decision makers from 12 countries across government, business and NGOs found that nine out of 10 believe greater collaboration between business, government and other sectors is essential for global economic recovery.

This should come as no surprise. Collaboration – defined as “working together” or “willingly cooperating” – is not a new business trend. As a matter of fact, it has been around for a long time under a variety of business models, including alliances, consortia, partnering and outsourcing programmes, and the increased focus on supplier relationship management.

Doing more with less

Companies working in a “ silo mentality ” are synonymous with power struggles.

So what has changed ? Quite simply, business leaders today are confronted with the challenges of boosting results at a lower cost. In this “do-more-with-less” reality, it takes ongoing teamwork to raise the odds of amazing things happening. The Harvard Business Review reports that a 5 % increase in customer retention can result in a 25 % to 95 % rise in profits from collaborative relationships.

Still not quite sold by the need to cooperate ? I sit down with Mark Beardmore, Senior Project Manager from CH2M HILL, a UK consulting firm that swears by collaboration. “To ensure a well-delivered solution in many of our projects,” he says “we work collaboratively with our clients, partners and supply chain, learn from experiences, and leverage the best tools and processes to provide innovative and holistic solutions to complex problems.”

Beardmore says that working in a collaborative approach has yielded innovative, cost-effective and targeted products and services. And the benefits are huge :

  1. Cost savings : USD 29 billion taxpayer dollars were saved (compared to original estimates) in the clean-up of Rocky Flats
  2. Time savings : 30 working days were shaved off the timetable – half of the allotted 60 days – for work completed for the US Air Force Academy (USAFA)
  3. Award-winnings : The Prairie Waters Project, providing water supply solutions to Aurora, Colorado, residents, was completed two months ahead of schedule and USD 100 million under budget, and received the 2011 Project Management Institute’s prestigious PMI® Project of the Year Award

Best of all, Beardmore tells me, collaboration is not only the fastest and most effective way to get results, it gives clients peace of mind – a priceless reward. And he’s right. Who wouldn’t be delighted with these spectacular results ? No wonder Beardmore is all smiles.

Easier said than done

Back to reality. Collaboration can be tough to achieve. Bringing people together and then nurturing a collaborative effort is difficult and time-consuming. It requires moving from individualistic goals to collective action ; it means a lot of toing and froing with colleagues about strategies and ideas ; and it often leads to working in new ways that may not be comfortable or easy. Given these difficulties, most teams find it easier to talk about collaboration rather than do it. This is where an International Standard providing good practice for managing collaborative relationships will help.

Good practice for managing collaborative relationships will help.

According to David Hawkins, Operations Director of the Institute for Collaborative Working, ISO’s move to develop an International Standard for collaborative working relationships could not have come at a better time.

“As organizations seek to drive value from their existing relationships, promote innovation or create new value propositions, the rigour of adopting a standard framework provides a platform for more effective and sustainable relationships. The assistance provided by an International Standard will create consistency for deploying these collaborative models and bring greater economic benefits,” he says.

The future ISO 11000 standard aims to support the effective identification, development and management of collaborative business relationships for organizations of all sizes. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), in particular, can see benefits from these partnerships as a source of innovation and competitive advantage. Close collaboration with supply chains can also help SMEs foster more sustainable and efficient relationships. In fact, large contractors working to collaborative approaches are more likely to support SMEs in their supply chain.

Surprisingly, however, more collaborative efforts are needed to raise awareness of the new project committee ISO/PC 286, Collaborative business relationship management – Framework, not to mention greater stakeholder involvement.

The bigger picture

In this day and age, we need to think outside the box. Going it alone is simply not an option. The complexity of forces required for success call on multi-disciplinary skills, competencies and experiences by which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In practical terms, this means sharing business information, resources and experiences rapidly and effectively with suppliers and customers – and anyone else in the supply chain that counts.

The word is out : organizations need to pull together. Yet most have no idea where to start and are understandably wary of opening up to the competition, fearing loss of control and clashes in business philosophies. There is an urgent need to point them in the right direction. ISO is doing just that with ISO 11000, which will offer a collaboration-building framework that is flexible and mindful of different cultures. Soon organizations will be getting all the help they need.

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Elizabeth Gasiorowski-Denis

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