Collaborative working and the SME

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Oct/Nov 2013

Carla Whyte, EMEA product marketing manager at BSI, gets under the skin of this valuable business tool.

Collaborative working is not new. Although on a business front it was once seen to be the prerogative of large organisations, that is no longer the case – and increased access to services and improved tender opportunities are just a few benefits.

Since its development in 2010, BS 11000 (Collaborative Business Relationships) has proved to be an essential tool in eliminating the known pitfalls of poor communication. It defines roles and responsibilities and supports collaborative decision-making resulting in mutually beneficial relationships.

Trust is key to the lifespan of any collaborative business relationship. If we explore the commercial transaction, we see that traditional buying practices are adversarial and often based on gaining short-term advantage over the supplier, leading to distrust between customer and supplier.

According to David Hawkins from the Institute for Collaborative Working, a change from adversarial to collaborative  working is essential for growth.

Hawkins (who is a contributor to RTM and a judge at the UK Rail Industry Awards in the Collaborative Working category), said: “Problems caused by an adversarial approach include wasted time, resources and cost overruns which need to be paid for – these are organisational/cultural inefficiencies add considerably to the cost of delivery and ultimately the selling price offered by all suppliers. To put this into context, Network Rail as an early adopter of BS 11000 has targeted 30% saving in the cost of major infrastructure projects largely through collaborative working.”

Adversarial contracts have traditionally been used to manage risk by the buyer through loading all the risk on the supplier – perversely increasing the cost of delivery through inefficiencies and increasing the probability of failure. You have someone to sue when it all goes wrong, but the adversarial approach is predicated on an expectation of failure, not success. In the collaborative world, all parties are on a level playing field and the idea of working closely together to achieve a common aim in the most efficient way possible represents a practical approach that benefits all involved.

Having established some of the challenges an SME can face, it is important to note the outweighing benefits. Andy Harrison, director of Daventry Business and Consultancy Services Limited, says that BS 11000 is growing in popularity in the UK amongst clients, contractors and suppliers. Principally this has been driven by the engagement of Network Rail, but it is now being used within other sectors as a route to delivering innovation and value improvement for client and supplier alike.

He added: “While the initial take-up was via large companies, there is now increasing momentum for smaller organisations.”  (In this context, smaller refers to turnover

He continued: “BS 11000 requires organisations to undertake and follow an overall business process starting with strategy development and working right through to realisation. This requirement allows organisations to step away from an individual or a small group of people carrying the business ‘in their heads’. By documenting the development of strategic considerations, knowledge is shared and wider management is enabled; a critical factor in allowing businesses to grow.”

For all companies, the challenges faced in surviving and growing include intensity of competition, global scale of markets and remaining responsive to business trends. There is no doubt that BS 11000, in particular the Strategic processes in Stages 1-3 (Awareness, Knowledge and Internal Assessment), facilitates organisations in considering their position in their marketplace, and how they will identify and address their own challenges.

Smaller organisations operate in an environment where clients and customers seek to benefit from an end-to-end solution or ‘one-stop-shop’. They are also seeking to realise savings through reduced risk and shared costs, but with greater innovation and speed to market.  BS 11000 specifically requires an organisation to consider these, thus aligning it with customer needs.

It is important to recognize that smaller organisations are also customers in their own right. They have their own supply chains – more so, as they are required to be a single source for their clients. BS 11000 supports robust identification and selection of supply chain and industry partners enabling them to demonstrate best practice in this area.

The above identifies the benefits of utilising the processes contained within BS 11000. But there are also significant benefits associated with gaining certification, which can:

• Act as an enabler of cultural and behavioural change within staff

• Drive a more consistent approach to dealing with customers, suppliers, and other partners

• Provide and support the demonstration of collaborative credentials to stakeholders

• Deliver a credible external benchmark as to corporate collaborative capability

• Help identify opportunities for continual improvement

As more sectors realise the benefits of formal collaborative working, it has never been more important to challenge traditional working practices and to explore new opportunities.

For the smaller company seeking to move onto the next level, BS 11000 not only offers tools for collaboration; it also prompts senior management to apply best practice process to strategic and business decisions at all levels. 

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