From internal process tweaks to cross-organization alliances, there's gold to be extracted.
Collaboration generally means working with others to achieve a common outcome, but how much value you can achieve from collaboration depends on where you apply the discipline within an organization.
At the micro-scale, you're focused on efficiency of current processes. Think about document co-authoring. Switching from email attachments to check-in/check-out with a SharePoint site can cut the process time in half and reduce email storage requirements by 90% (since you're not storing the same attachment multiple times). Taking the next step to real-time document co-editing in the new Microsoft Office Web Apps in SharePoint 2010 could shave another 10% to 20% from the process time, as well as eliminate the stress of merging and collating feedback from multiple people.
Macro-value from collaboration is a whole different ballgame. It involves rethinking what work should be done inside your organization in the first place, and only then how best to optimize the work. That analysis could lead companies to exit particular lines of business through a divesture and leave service delivery to a new group of suppliers.
In New Zealand, a proposal under government review is to establish a mega-call center for all citizen-facing functions. Rather than each citizen-facing government agency or department having its own call center, there would be a common one. One of the key reasons for the proposal is to break down government silos; another reason is to deliver a more integrated service. Estimated savings are more than NZ$100 million per year, on a total current cost base of NZ$800 million. That's the power of collaboration at a macro-level.
Or consider the Star Alliance, the largest airline alliance program in the world (and the one I'm most interested in as a result of having earned its Gold status). By collaborating on flight routes, airport lounges, and code-share flights, individual airlines (including United, Air Canada, Lufthansa, Air New Zealand, US Airways, Singapore Airlines, and about 20 others) gain significant benefits. Costs are reduced in multiple ways. Each airline has to pay for only a portion of the expenses incurred in running airport lounges; members gain passengers without directly marketing to them; and members can collaborate on flight routes rather than duplicate seat availability between particular airports. Passengers benefit, too, with equal treatment for baggage allowances, greater lounge access, priority seating, and other benefits that become significant when you travel a lot.
Collaboration changes the competitive dynamics in the airline industry--the power of macro-level collaboration at its most obvious.
Michael Sampson is a collaboration strategist and author. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or +64 3 317 9484 (New Zealand).
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