Collaboration Is the Key

Software has become an essential tool for the improvement of manufacturing plants. There is a plethora of choices in almost every category—MRP, ERP, MES, CRP, CRM, EPM, EQM, SCM—and a host of other acronyms.

These choices cover the spectrum from resource planning to execution, customer relations, quality and supply chain management. Few companies have incorporated all of these, or have integrated them optimally to operate seamlessly. The more likely scenario is that they were installed at different times by different parts of the company, each to solve their own, isolated problems.

Trying to integrate the hodge-podge of legacy systems often generates difficulties related to duplicated applications, redundant data and nonstandard technologies in different parts of the company. Disparate systems that must be integrated cause inefficiencies and escalated costs. Valuable time is spent on maintaining, patching and fixing numerous variants, rather than developing innovative new systems. One often wishes that the old systems could simply be written off, to make a clean start. And the larger suppliers will recommend just that, because their systems include most, if not all, of the functionality. But this involves prohibitive costs—both upfront as well as for education and implementation.

There’s another big problem. Today, the pace of business is so rapid that few can predict its twists and turns. Change happens so quickly that even long-standing relationships may falter. Yesterday’s valued supplier may become tomorrow’s competitor. Or, large customers may suddenly disappear, victims of rapid technology shift or offshore transfers. A dependable software supplier may suddenly be a merger casualty, making already-installed software a casualty of obsolescence—e.g. Peoplesoft is being acquired by Oracle; Baan was acquired by Invensys and then divested.

With continued, accelerating change, how does one stay abreast? In my opinion, collaboration is the key. This means the sharing of business information rapidly and effectively with suppliers and customers—and perhaps even suppliers’ suppliers and customers’ customers. Collaboration brings major benefits for all the companies involved.

To collaborate effectively, company employees must work in extended virtual teams comprising colleagues, as well as customers and supplier partners. Just as collaboration between separate departments within companies proved to be very effective in the past, now collaboration must be extended beyond conventional corporate boundaries. Working in multi-company environments, transcending international boundaries, people must be assigned to establish collaborative relationships. These may be short-term, project-focused or long-term, multi-project planning staff. Strong mutual inter-company benefits will build relationships and yield results.

Expanding borders

An effective enterprise collaboration solution must provide the technical systems’ links for people to work together in distributed, cross-organizational teams. Effective communications must be enabled across distance, time zones and company borders, encouraging team members to discuss, analyze and review information collaboratively.

This kind of collaboration expands the conventional borders of the company. People can utilize the work experience of others in the extended enterprise and learn organizational practices and methods from peers in collaborating companies. Team members should be available from anywhere, at any time through an Internet browser. As a result, the team and the companies will grow smarter and add more value every day as they refine and reuse their knowledge.

Expand your horizons, by expanding the borders of your company through collaboration. The question is—with whom can your company collaborate? The answer is relatively simple: your best suppliers and your best customers. Collaboration increases revenues and profits for all of the participants.

In the next few years, your enterprise will be collaborative, or it won’t exist at all.

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

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