Collaborating in the cloud and the networked enterprise

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Business has become more social, more collaborative and more technology driven.  This is both a reality for industry thought leaders and an imperative for executives charged with building high performing businesses.  In the 2012 IBM Global Chief Executive Officer study, 71 percent of CEO respondents cited “Technology Factors” as the top external force that can impact their organization over the next three to five years.  Combine that fact with the 71 percent of CEOs that cited “Collaborative” as the top employee trait and the 57 percent of CEOs that identified “Social Media” as the second most essential way to engage customers (behind face-to-face meetings), and the picture starts to becomes clear.

With these insights in mind, I recently served as a panelist on a live webcast titled “Connecting People with Collaborative Business Networks through SaaS” (replay available here), the third installment in a three-part software as a service (SaaS) webcast series.  This event featured IBM client Karolyn Schalk, VP IT Infrastructure with Apex Supply Chain Technologies as co-panelist, and noted cloud analyst Jeff Kaplan, principal of THINKstrategies, as moderator. As we discussed in the live event, aligning people and business in the cloud takes on two distinct, yet complementary, forms:

  1. Embracing the social enterprise model
  2. Enabling collaborative business ecosystems

There has been much written about the social enterprise framework and underlying technologies and organizational constructs.  Our panel discussion drilled into these themes with personal anecdotes and recipes for success.  As a front line leader who has embraced social business strategy for her company, Karolyn Schalk offered powerful perspective in this quote:

“When you see tribal knowledge become your social capital, it’s easy to get behind social collaboration.”

Karolyn further described how Apex transformed how work gets done through social business investments including cloud-based document and file sharing, private communities tied to projects and processes, and mail and calendaring delivered as-a-service.  In the case of Apex, the social business value extends far beyond the reach of employees, crossing into the realm of supplier and vendor communities.

Enabling collaborative business ecosystems builds off this last critical point: the intersection of cloud and collaboration crosses company lines, supporting intricate networks of information and transactions.  These collaborative networks are typically purpose-built cloud solutions made available as SaaS that aggregate thousands of trading partners around a specific business process and sometimes specific industries.

One example I shared in the webcast is a collaborative network to support the trade promotion management process in the retail grocery industry.  Each year, according to advisory firm Kantar Retail, more than $100 billion flows between CPG manufacturers and retailers to help secure promoted prices, preferred shelf placement and prime ad insertions for brands.  This business process has been transformed through purpose-built SaaS that aggregates a single retailer with its community of CPG trading partners to plan, negotiate, settle and archive trade promotions in a highly collaborative, networked environment.

Another, more horizontal industry example can be found in the enterprise procurement space.  Here thousands of buyer and supplier organizations leverage purpose-built SaaS to discover, negotiate, execute and settle billions of dollars in indirect spending in a collaborative, networked environment.  The underlying theme in enabling collaborative networks is mapping a business process to a SaaS business model and aggregating an ecosystem of trading partners to transact.

Both of these strategies for collaborating in the cloud—embracing the social enterprise and enabling collaborative business ecosystems—have become commonplace across industries, geographies and businesses large and small.  What’s most exciting to see is how these investments have helped transform business by connecting people—individuals and teams—in a way that wasn’t previously possible.

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