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The art of collaboration

Find out how a close collaboration between organizations and their customers can drive future business transformation.

In a world where the competitive spirit is high, technology is changing business models, customer expectations are being proactively met, market conditions are becoming increasingly unpredictable and investors are unsure about what will happen next. In this scenario, what can set you apart in terms of operating a sustainable, resilient firm? How can profit margins be maintained without jeopardizing innovation budgets? How can businesses increase customer loyalty when the switching costs are near zero? Though the answers to these questions demand complex and in-depth operational analysis, business experts would undoubtedly advocate the need for transformation and innovation aided by collaboration. But with whom and how? Let us explore.

For several decades, top companies such as Unilever, Ikea, DeWalt, Lego, Heineken, DHL, Anheuser-Busch, BMW, General Mills, Coca Cola, and more, have analyzed the benefits and drivers of collective thought and collaborative problem-solving with customers. In fact, many of them have already established centers of co-creation and incubation with startups, academics, designers, and customers.

An organic metamorphosis resulting from such collaboration has the potential to drive future business transformation. The key here is "mutual innovation" by fostering collaboration in contrast to the siloed ways conventional businesses work. Because of its integrative nature, this approach brings processes, strategies, feedback, and insights together. It also enables firms to serve and retain customers more effectively.

Though the benefits of this approach seem to be appealing, the path to success is challenging. But there are ways to mitigate the risks involved. Let us look at some of the constraints, trends, and key modules that enable collaborative solutions.

Focus on mitigating constraints, the first step towards collaboration

Of course we can crush the boulder in one shot, all we need to know is where exactly to hit. Primarily, there are three main barriers that make businesses unwilling to create a distinct solution vision.

Cost & operational drivers – when the processes define profitability

Multi-customer collaboration is an interactive process in which stakeholders with diverse points of view work together, implementing collective action, and sharing risks, resources, and responsibilities. Divergent vision and communication are the two bleeding drivers breeding maximum operational challenges. This has its own repercussions on planning and project management, resulting in the need for capacity utilization strategies.

Bridging data sharing and interest conflicts – when policies shape organizational cooperation

Techno-functional challenges such as policy making, defining mechanisms for decision-making and creating spaces to manage problems, require a series of strategically planned discussions and contract management. The same holds true for rotating roles to generate empathy with other individuals and working groups, defining responsibilities and activities of each customer. Though there is little scope for a digital influence in this area, we have AI-Blockchain-built processes that are exhibiting tremendous scope in re-shaping how we form policies or sign contracts. Our experts have prototyped solutions to protect, analyze, and visualize data through intuitive dashboard analytics applications that can be integrated into a wider IT landscape, thereby enabling seamless data exchange. Services such as data excavators, AI Solution Factory, and Cloudifier programs can deliver a high-quality impact to organizations through value assessment and delivery approaches.

Organizational inertia

The most commonly encountered problem which requires discipline in the sense of "art of collaboration" is the resistance to try something new – a result of organizational inertia. Because collaboration with customers demands a change in existing structures, processes, technology landscapes, and more. Business model innovation, open innovation, and corporate performance are all impacted by organizational inertia.

Customer collaboration needs to be looked at not just as a mere operational solution, but it must also serve in its effects as a set screw for new revenue streams. The close linking of innovation with collaboration into one package would be seen as a new business model that alters the core functionalities of business administration, giving rise to a whole new world of innovation.

What’s next: collaboration as a business model

Collaboration as business model.

Collaboration is not new. However, the technology explosion in the current era has opened up new avenues for collaborative solutions. IT organizations have been at the forefront of identifying, creating, evaluating, and delivering state-of-the-art collaboration units, tools, APIs, platform integration services to cultivate near-real immersive experiences for all the collaborators within and outside the organizations.

Technology enablement forms a part of every organization’s vision and strategy, but should we use it to explore the possibilities of new revenue streams and business models? The answer is a big, bold YES. The rise of co-thinking, co-building, co-selling, and how well we do it to hold a mutually inclusive project center is the key here. Today, nearly 60 percent of businesses worldwide are driving innovation through co-creation projects.

Is the investment justified? The question can only be answered by each company itself as it assesses the value of what the outcome will be: Customers as an alternative channel of marketing, as partners across geographic regions enabling greater reach of products and services, or as innovators sharing the best of ideas and implementation techniques. I'd say the classic "cost-utilization" math works out. This is because, at the same time, the expenses of customer lifecycle management, customer acquisition, and customer retention are almost eliminated, because customers are now stakeholders in the company's success rather than simply interacting with it as customers. The possibilities are limitless: all that is required is the intent to explore them further.

My colleagues in our in-house Innovation Team have been brainstorming such concepts and the results have been very encouraging. The Virtual Innovation Center and Virtual Sales Room as well as Flex Port solutions are designed to deliver high-impact output in terms of intensity, persuasiveness, credibility, and authenticity in customer meetings and sales conversions in a near-seamless process. And as Andreas Droste, Senior Innovation Manager at T-Systems International, explains, wearable tech such as Google Lens or Microsoft Lens with an amalgamation of mixed reality solutions further enhance the experience, reducing costs and saving the time of the associates involved.

“These tools not only facilitate communication, but also enable users to work together to formulate tangible outputs. For instance, repetitive and monotonous tasks such as documentation, contracting, clearances can be done at the click of a button, saving several man hours.” In the future, Droste’s outlook is that nearly every contract award will be underpinned by blockchain technology, which will make it possible to retrieve reviews, validations, records, etc., in a unique way and in real time.

In fact, AI-driven meeting organizers and governors are next in line to drive the future of meetings and video conferences, and provide a further boost to virtual collaboration platforms.

Collaboration strategy: from vision to reality

Collaboration strategy: from vision to reality.

How can we do it easily? We build a customer den — an easy framework to drive a high-quality impact from collaborative co-innovations with your customers. What does it entail?

Binding people, process, data, and systems

“To bind or not to bind” is the question where the game theory approach applies aptly. Though it is vital to build a contractual obligation to protect and safeguard data privacy, there is also a need to ease the restrictions and cultivate a culture of trust to engender greater coordination, communication, and build a co-innovative space outside of organizational boundaries. A careful, end-to-end examination of people, processes, data would drive a seamless collaborative strategy.

Technology and system integration

Tools, platforms, and application layers pertaining to processes such as vendor management, performance management, relationship management, make it easier for people to work together in groups, both in the office and remotely.

Using next-generation technologies to devise new solutions would further reduce the costs and time associated with supporting group work: from defining roles and duties to routing in-process documents to inspecting and approving project components. T-Systems offers a wide range of easy digital technology integration frameworks in the SaaS mode, enabling the connection of collaborative tools into a single-window usage system. These offerings have the potential to unlock the collaborative technology of the future.

Marketing Operations

Marketing operations is a relatively new function in the collaborative spectrum that uses people, processes, technology, and data to enable the department to run efficiently and fulfil the intended business goals. While conventional abilities such as strategic and creative thinking are still required for marketing operations, technical and analytical skills are also necessary. At T-Systems, building trust; creating perceptions, integrated promotional offers, communication plans for cross-selling through telemarketing and telesales campaigns; expanding communication networks; nurturing the existing partner and customer base form the key result areas for the marketing competency teams, which are also the key factors driving the customer’s den.

Integrated OT & IT layers

As with end-to-end digitalization, where a comprehensive networking strategy is the key driver in an organization, cross-functional, cross-departmental, and cross-organizational secure integration of IT & OT layers on consistent common terms is critical for each participating organization. This is the tough part where differences in leadership thinking, customer data points and security, legal and geo-politically inclined organizational policies pose major challenges. At this point, expert consultancy partners can help by analyzing these constraints and providing a solution. For example, IoT devices integrated with AI solutions combined with 5G & edge computing algorithms help derive real-time dashboards. These dashboards showcase key performance indicators along the business and operational processes and increase the speed of delivering information to the decision-making layer across organizations.

In addition, our Campus Edge Potential programs offer a wealth of solutions that can be tailored specifically to customers' needs based on edge technology and 5G. We truly believe the future of data computing is now at the Edge.

What the future looks like

Frictionless collaboration with customers is crucial to a company's success. Customers may utilize technology, strategy, and operational preparation to generate new income streams from a co-innovation standpoint. When provided with the best technological tools for working together, relevant customers may build on each other's abilities – without compromising on the integrity of their respective intellectual property – to improve the value of the work they do for their companies.

Even the slightest defect in communication can have a major impact on a company's bottom line, its work culture, revenue streams, or even reputation. Therefore, the need of the hour is to create a mutual innovation technology platform, where users can collaborate with their vendors, partners, and more importantly, the customers for co-creation’s sake, along the full length of the innovation and implementation pipeline.

When employing such methods of collaboration as Design Thinking, Rapid Prototyping, Lean UX, and Agile Development, we can redesign analog and digital processes so that they can be used to develop viable digital products and services. With the aid of elements such as digital ecosystem analyses, trend progression, and scenario modeling, organizations can aim to evade technology shocks and be a step ahead of their competition.

I’m sure we have more to share and learn from each other, as we build and enhance our capacities and continue to delve deeper and dedicate ourselves to the art of collaboration. We look forward to your insights and opinions. Write to me and I’ll be happy to have an insightful discussion around co-creation and collaboration.

We look forward to your project!

We are happy to provide you with the right experts and to answer your questions about planning, implementation, and maintenance for your digitization plans. Get in touch!

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About the author

Sanju Nair is a Management Consultant with 20+ years of experience in digital transformation, customer experience, corporate strategy, business planning, innovation and marketing. He heads the Digital Solutions marketing unit at T-Systems.

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