Global Collaboration--Worth Striving For

Successful implementation is not trivial; it involves getting people in many different locations to cooperate meaningfully.

Businesses today face increasing pressure to boost innovation, accelerate time to market and reduce costs. To compete on a global scale, manufacturers must keep finding more and better ways to streamline collaboration between globally dispersed product design and manufacturing teams.

Recall the challenge Kodak, the photo giant, was facing a decade ago. George Fisher, then the relatively new chief executive officer, recognized that Kodak had better come up with a good digital camera fast, or risk losing market share to Casio, Sony and 100 others. Fisher asked the Kodak development group how long it would take to develop a new digital camera and they said three years—quite reasonable in a conventional sense. In late 1996, he gave the job to a rookie manager—who came up with a new digital camera in six months and put it into high-volume production to be available on the shelves by Christmas 1997, the same year.

How was it done? The results came through round-the-clock, Internet-based project management and product development teams at several Kodak development centers and alliance partners around the world.While some slept,others were working and handing off results to others in the chain. Modern technology and new concepts of manufacturing alliances provide the answers.

Plethora of tools

In the decade since, the concept of global collaboration has expanded much further. A plethora of software tools is now available for all phases and stages of business processes. Because technology continues to accelerate, control concepts such as feed-forward, as well as feedback (once considered only the realm of arcane process-control theory) are being used in business processes—feed-forward to alert downstream operations of innovations and changes in materials and processes, and feedback to stabilize the supply chain.

Collaborative software is a big thing these days. However, the obvious advantages are still only being bandied about. Without total commitment, from management down to operating levels, collaboration only gets lip service and does not lead to anything more than the futility of remote blame.

Consider another trend in recent years—offshore outsourcing. This is really just a form of global collaboration. It includes not only manufacturing, but extends to innovation, design, engineering and other functions. It is not relevant whether the work is outsourced to a local or globally remote organization, owned by the company or completely independent. The results are the same.

Recently, I visited Wipro in Bangalore, India, arguably the world’s largest software outsourcing company. While I was there, my hosts took me on a tour of the “Wind River” software development facility.

Wind River is the leader in embedded software, based in Alameda, Calif.; but this was their software lab, run completely within Wipro and employing about 75 to 80 people. The entrance signs and everything inside said Wind River, and many of the employees sported Wind River tee shirts. They have their own management, schedules and budgets, all reporting directly to Wind River headquarters in California. There was strict security, and only someone on the inside could admit us. The computer room was a mass of wires and winking lights, and I wondered whether people knew whether the colleague they were communicating with was at the next desk in Bangalore, India, or in Alameda, Calif,, or somewhere else in the world. It was an eerie feeling.

Today, collaborative enterprises with global scope are winning the game. They streamline end-to-end business and supply chain processes, distribute information across various businesses to boost mutual responsiveness, agility, and customer-centricity.

Jim Pinto is an industry analyst and commentator, writer, technology futurist and angel investor. You can e-mail him at:jim@jimpinto.com. Or review his prognostications and predictions on his Web site: www.jimpinto.com

More in Control