According to Wikipedia Collaboration is a recursive process where two or more people or organizations work together in an intersection of common goals — by sharing knowledge, learning and building consensus. Idealistically, teams that work collaboratively can obtain greater resources, recognition and reward when facing competition for finite resources.
The business collaboration means cooperation, where two or more companies work together for a common business target. Typically, the incentives for the collaboration parties are financial – one of the companies wants others to help to reach better productivity or lower the production costs. The others will share their knowledge by selling their resources and solutions – they will be paid based on the valuation of their services. By doing this way companies expect (or at least hope) that competent resources will be available when needed at an acceptable price. The acceptable beneficial price typically means resource costs that are lower compared to the costs to sustain and develop own corresponding competence.
In the end the final results will always be claimed collaboratively. And that is of course the main issue to dispute – what is the fair way to share the possible savings and other benefits between collaborating companies? Open books and commonly agreed profit margin for the service provider? Added value shared by the companies? At the end there remains lot of different alternative ways.
This is what the companies have done forever, so why Collaboration is now an issue? The main reason to this is that global commercial competition drives companies to seek effective new strategies:
Many companies are rushing to web-enable their customer or partner front-ends by building sophisticated procurement and other portals to receive partner information or to share information with customers. Business communication and information exchange has already been migrated to the Internet. However, it is not enough just to imagine that the flexibility and cost efficiency of the Internet will really give the strategic answer to companies to define how this collaboration should be managed. Even more important is to realize that Collaboration is a business process that needs to be defined in detail in every individual business case.
The Internet is after all just a powerful tool to automate business-to-business collaboration. The importance to agree detailed collaboration rules is now more important than ever before as different types of ERP- and other systems are managing business processes on both sides. The commercial and judicial agreements cannot be based on detailed rules, but rather they should give the framework and basic performance indicators for the collaboration. As the judicial agreement should define the costs, conditions and responsibilities the detailed collaboration rules should describe the roles and collaboration business processes related to the agreement.
In some industry segments these facts have been recognized, and good examples of successful supply chain integration solutions have been reported. Automotive and aviation industries for example have been forerunners in this change towards collaborative manufacturing management and similar solutions have been established also in their operations and maintenance functions. The gigantic manufacturers have been forced to streamline the collaboration processes in their supply chain under the extremely tight global competition in order to reach an optimal business performance. Their key subcontractors plays crucial role in the performance. Even though the manufacturers can really dictate the collaboration business rules to all subcontractors, they always must assure the availability of their entire collaboration network.
The process industry companies however have succeeded to adopt these principles so far quite poorly, especially in operations and maintenance. Even though suppliers, vendors and different service providers play important roles in maintaining and improving the manufacturers’ production performances similar success stories have not been reported yet. Why it is so? What are the main differences between process industry companies and e.g. automotive industry companies? Are supplier and servicer provider networks within process industry looser? Are the dominant players missing? Is the segment fragmented to too many different types of process industry areas so that the suppliers, vendors and service providers cannot focus properly to anyone?