It was not all hard work at the recent IT directors' forum on board the cruise ship Aurora. There was even a bit of time for a few games.
One piece of fun labelled "The IT Directors' Challenge" asked delegates from diverse industry sectors to form groups and identify new market opportunities by combining their core competencies, products and experience from within the team. It is rather like fusion cooking - blending what might appear to be incongruous ingredients to create a melting pot for ideas with a clear profit potential.
"Unlikely alliances and peculiar partnerships characterise many of today's new business relationships. Competitors co-operate, cement factories talk to flower shops," says Neil Kellar, chief information officer at co-sourcing specialist Allied Worldwide and host of the event.
"If you are in a traditional market there are only two ways to go - either grow your business or look for new market opportunities, and in a lot of areas traditional markets are grinding to a halt," he says.
The Aurora challenge forced the IT directors, who were carefully grouped to produce challenging combinations, to look at business issues rather than just technological ones.
"Technology should be like switching on a light - it is a commodity but when you start to look at processes and workflow you can start to add value to the company," he says.
"IT is at the centre of this so should be ideally placed to see the new potentials of the business. IT can play a strategic role - using the information it manages to provide new revenue streams and opportunities leading to profit. Companies are now expecting IT to produce profit rather than being a cost to the organisation."
Keep an open mind about potential business collaborators
A recent white paper produced by IDC on behalf of BT identifies some clear steps for making business partnerships more successful
- Develop a partner strategy. In order to take advantage of opportunities in the market, a structured process to identify, access and monitor collaborative activities should be implemented
- Choose collaborative partners wisely. By recognising facilitators such as similar cultures and mindsets key partnerships can become competitive accelerators
- State objectives, set goals and measure results. Ideally tie metrics to the bottom line. In today's environment, a return-on-investment metric needs to be implemented at a minimum to win management approval from both parties.
- Continually monitor technology solutions. Although seen as a facilitator, the pace of change makes technological assessment necessary in order to implement, maintain and evolve the partnerships
- Maintain open channels of communication. Trust-building needs to be managed and nurtured.
Implementing a policy on the type (e-mail, intranet, extranet or virtual private network), the volume, and the level of communications will send a clear signal that your organisation takes partnering seriously.
- Tie partnerships to business strategy. A portfolio of partnerships should be determined according to the goals of the organisation. Align collaboration commitment with those partnerships that make strategic sense
"The increased pace of technological change and the complex array of opportunities to engage new markets and new approaches to reducing costs make partnership a natural response for any organisation," says Hugh Merrill, director of strategic partnerships at BT.
However the report found that collaborative activity with competitors may have a certain contradictory tone to it. Many organisations may believe that opening up to competitors would be the greatest risk to their business and compromise market-share. But 87% of the 250 companies involved in collaborative projects with competitors say that this has been beneficial and almost 40% of those say that the benefit has been financial.
"With an increasingly complex arena of options, there are clear benefits to formalising arrangements with industry players, including spill-over effects such as standardisation, development-cost sharing and self-regulation," says Merrill. "Partnerships, looked at in this way, can actually turn competition and co-operation into complementary rather then conflicting activities."
Winners use combined expertise to prepare marketable products
- The winner was Team Seven: Mark Chivers from Rutland County Council; Phil McCallum from British Bakeries; Richard Gray from Kingspan Environmental Containers; and Paul Blackwell of NovaChemicals International Services.Their idea was to develop a kerbside recycling bin called "Ecobin". Their marketing message was "Do us all a favour - use the Ecobin." The idea was to produce a wheelie bin with compartments for recycling paper, glass, plastics, and metals that would be collected in modified trucks to capture the ready-separated recyclable materials. The usual cost of sorting and separating would be removed, providing fast and economic recycling operations."Ecobin is very simple yet realistically and immediately marketable," says co-sourcing specialist and host of the event, Neil Kellar.
- First runner-up was Team Six, featuring IT directors from the Royal College of Art; Jaguar Racing; the Ministry of Defence; and Burson-Marsteller, a PR and global communications company. Their new business idea was "Hot Seat", a simulated virtual reality game model which combines digital TV with broadband Internet delivery. This would produce home-based fully interactive games for Formula 1 races, army battles, aircraft and driving simulators, including "smoke" generators and surround sound functionality.
- Second runner-up was Team Five with directors from Ford; Vodafone; brand marketing company WCRS; and Virgin retail. Their offering was called "Infomotion", which would provide a fully-mobile work and play environment from the car. Kellar says, "The functionality potential is huge in offering virtual office and personally controlled leisure functionality from downloads while on the move."