As recently as decade ago, the idea of collaboration, including with competitors being a prescription for an increasingly competitive business set-up may have seemed absurd. That is not to say collaboration didn’t happen but instances of it relating to key legislation, global standards and the like are giving way to a far broader array of issues on which competition and collaboration are merging. There is a growing appreciation that collaborating to solve the toughest business problems will require building relationships and tapping into new ecosystems for ideas, talent, and potential solutions. For example, ‘…Amazon and LinkedIn have welcomed competitors onto their respective platforms, recognising that expansion of their network was its own reward[i].’The mechanisms of collaboration, curation and crowd creation will therefore become critical skills and processes for businesses – and how to organise technologically and culturally for this will be critical.
Any future approach to collaboration is likely to feature talent. Given the breadth and speed of technological development in comparison to relatively slowly changing educational curricula, it is unlikely that any single organisation of size will be fully able to meet its future digital or STEM skills demand. Talent platforms and trusted third parties from within a businesses’ ecosystem are likely to feature as businesses identify and engage outside firms or individuals that can round out their existing skill set. Collaboration is also permeating processes for industries less advanced on platformizing their offerings than Amazon and LinkedIn. Some 60% of European financial service providers have open innovation initiatives and studies show that the success rate emanating from open innovation is some three times higher than traditional in-house R&D.
There is, however, a reason to suggest that efforts to collaborate externally may be limited by internal structures. Some ‘…25% of market-share leaders fear that company-wide collaboration can lead to tension among company departments[ii].’ Can businesses be expected to collaborate effectively externally without being able to do so internally? There are signs that employees desire it – of the 86% of unauthorized cloud apps in an average organisation, the majority are used for collaboration[iii]. A key problem is that less than one in ten companies report being very effective in their alignment of business and I.T goals. If this cannot be achieved internally, it could be harder to craft meaningful and effective external alignment. Or, perhaps free of legacy constraints, external collaboration could become a key driver and template for internal renewal? Either way, the balance of competition and collaboration -both internally and externally- looks set to help determine the winners and losers in the emerging connected economy.