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The Impact of Collaboration on Organizational Innovation

10/6/15 8:07 PM

When implemented properly, collaboration can improve productivity, communication, and innovation. That's one of the reasons why Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has made collaboration one of the key pillars of his strategy for the company, and why enterprise applications across every business segment are including native collaboration capabilities within their solutions, or partnering with external solution providers to take advantage of the latest collaboration technologies.

Organizations that leverage the knowledge and experience from across their employees, and even their customers, have a distinct and measurable advantage when it comes to innovation.

In a recent Forbes magazine article (Big Ideas, Small Scale, July 20, 2015), staff write Joann Muller explored the advances being made at GE Appliances through the use of crowdsourcing through GE's online community, FirstBuild. Muller shared the story of the creation of a new ice maker appliance, which went from concept to production in four months, with up-front costs some 20 times less than a traditional product rollout, which can cost on average into the tens of millions of dollars.

According to the article, FirstBuild went live just over a year ago, with GE using the site to challenge their community to suggest and design new appliances, even submitting their own projects for feedback. If there is enough support for an idea, a team of "inventors, tinkerers and seasoned engineers" are able to quickly generate prototypes for testing, as well as limited production runs of the product for online sales. If the product is successful at a small scale, it can quickly be moved to full-production.

According to Natarajan Venkattakrishnan, head of R&D for GE Appliances, the FirstBuild community allows the company to try new ideas and "fail quickly", allowing them to learn from their mistakes and iterate on their innovations much more cost effectively than in the past.

The example of GE Appliances highlights the value of collaboration as a crowdsourcing activity, but there are also many cases where the increased use of collaboration, combined with machine learning capability, has helped companies better leverage their knowledge assets within more automated scenarios. A great example of collaboration improving innovation through automation is clothing manufacturer and retailer Zara. Much has been written about how Zara uses machine learning to capture real-time data around customer purchases so that they know exactly what is being purchased and where. Through detailed analytics and process optimization across their entire supply chain, Zara can deliver new designs to every one of their stores around the world within an astounding 3 weeks, creating more than 11,000 new clothing items each year.

But what makes this forward-thinking company successful is not just the level of analytics and automation being used, but because they are able to improve visibility across stores, and between the field and corporate teams through more meaningful interactions. Store managers and product managers are in constant contact, monitoring the tastes and purchasing behaviors of customers, using this data to collaborate on new designs. This tight communication and automated feedback helps Zara determine whether a new clothing item will be successful in a matter of days. Combined with the speed at which they can create their new designs and deliver them to stores, collaboration technology saves the company millions of dollars each year that would otherwise be lost in unpurchased inventory and supply chain costs, which has resulted in Zara becoming the world's largest clothing maker.

These are just two examples of companies that have successfully leveraged collaboration technology to increase innovation. While the underlying technologies they use are not one-size-fits-all, there are several core scenarios and capabilities which are common across them -- much of which is available through SharePoint, although with several gaps. Where Beezy can help is in enabling your organization to deploy the right combination of collaboration tools to meet your unique business requirements and cultural needs, closing the collaboration gaps. Beezy is built on SharePoint, for SharePoint -- but we extend and enhance the out-of-the-box features to provide you with a comprehensive collaboration solution that will provide measurable improvements to your business.

Find out more about how Beezy can improve collaboration and innovation in your organization. Contact us today for a demo.

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