Businesses are constantly improving their internal business processes and competence. Digitalization through IoT, cloud services, e-commerce and many other new things bring up various incoherent demands to their IT systems. In this environment the challenge is to organize business processes with the external partners in a proper yet transparent way. External business processes mean intercompany information exchange that often may be multilateral. Several companies may work together each bringing its best competence to achieve a common goal. That’s called collaboration.
Collaboration is a business process of the community. It does matter how the competence is split between the community partners, how the best competence is directed to each task, how information and work flows work. Remarkable cost savings can be found through optimizing collaborative processes.
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. It means sharing and enhancing business information in mutually beneficial ways. One plus one truly is more than two.
The intercompany business relationships within the process industry plant lifecycle business ecosystem can be described by the diagram below. The participating companies play different business roles depending on the particular case:
Many process industry companies have so far been focused on developing their internal business processes and taking first steps utilizing cloud services for their internal purposes. Unfortunately, the intercompany business processes have remained out of development focus – except perhaps e-invoicing. Business processes in electronic invoicing have reached mature level mainly due to fairly standard information content needed and widely accepted universal business process. Companies have learned to work with e-invoicing network operators that are specialized in transmitting standardized e-invoice business documents.
As the process industry ecosystem is complex and companies play often several different business roles, applicable standardized open network for exchanging information in steps before invoicing hasn’t evolved so far. Of course, in established bilateral business relationships EDI messages have been applied for years to replace pure manual information exchange. As they are point-to-point solutions in essence, they haven’t become industry wide solutions. The three main keys in getting industry wide acceptance for open network information exchange are:
Industry wide standards are needed to carry and map business and technical information. Of course, different network participants still have their own data structures and new information content is continuously added but a common structure is needed to prevent different parties to compare my pears with your apples. A standard way of interpreting the delivered information allows participants to map their own data to one standard structure only. They are no more forced to do this separately every time they add a new partner into their network. The complex structure of the engineering and product information makes it necessary to employ standards to guarantee mutual understanding of the content.
A dedicated operator is needed to understand the specific industry content in order to apply the standards in a correct and sustainable way. The application and universal platform must stay independent of several parties’ interests, otherwise there is a threat that collaborative interests are not respected and the network effect is not achieved. Also, the operator should take full responsibility of the content of the transferred information and documents to help other parties to connect the external business processes with their internal processes and systems. Again, these operators have already emerged for e-invoicing but the industry specific content of technical information needs different understanding. For plant asset information management Collaxion is such operator.
Network effect is only achieved if big enough industry ecosystem follows common principles. Otherwise we are back to the point-to-point scenario – or something very close to it. From one network participant’s point of view the external world should seem unified. The network is not worth much if it only contains one or two nodes and the rest of the world still works traditionally. Those common principles based on standardization and open networks are therefore prerequisites for the growth. The demands to improve operational efficiency create constantly growing pressure to automate ecosystem business processes. One very actual example is the service business that is undergoing a major change in all fields of industry – in some fields the change is more rapid than in others. Services are no longer agreements between two distinct partners. There can be numerous participants delivering a joint service together and this creates new ways of doing businesses and operations.
Important milestone for process industry plant lifecycle business ecosystems was reached when a number of industrial partners got together a couple of weeks back for a workshop to start a unique community building exercise in the form of joint research and development to achieve above goals. The ecosystem is forming now between different actors in the already existing business network. Participants are now bringing their own expertise to create common good by participating in many projects to build different information transfer pilots along the common business process. They do believe that the cake is only available for eating after its been baked. The workshop was facilitated by Collaxion together with Metso and Digile.