Communication Technologies Support (and Require) a New Balance of Cooperation and Competition

The following article is contributed by my colleague Philipp Bohn, service market and competitive intelligence, Siemens Enterprise Communications. Thanks for this enlightening article Phillip.


"Cooperate Or Lose." That was the title of a recent issue of brand eins, a German business magazine. Expanding on that topic, one article describes how companies like the mid-sized producer of heating elements, Friedrich Freek GmbH, increasingly cooperate with competitors in select areas. To answer increasing competition from new markets and adjacent industries, companies increase their investments in innovation resulting in more complex products and services. Thus, many tasks become too big or costly for a single company to deal with on their own. "We have fought against our competitors for decades," said Stefan Kaiser, Freek GmbH's general manager. "Now we cooperate and it pays off for everyone."


Many companies need to navigate new, unfamiliar market environments, and technologies like unified communications (UC) and communications-enabled business processes (CEBP) must help them do this in an efficient way. However, even the technology providers must have closer cooperation to develop solutions with higher business impact for their customers.


Established tools of coordination and communication-namely email and standalone telephony-prove increasingly inefficient when dealing with massive communication volumes within fragmented and complex environments. We all experience that on a daily basis when checking our inboxes. UC makes the coordination of fragmented workflows much easier. As an example, presence status makes it possible to reach partners via phone or instant messaging when they're actually available. Presence status complements the open door or burning light in offices just across the street, as some of those offices can now be located in a different company on the other side of the globe.


Even more sophisticated concepts, like CEBP, make communication an integral part of business software used to develop new products and manage joint value chains. For instance, UC solutions can be integrated into product lifecycle management (PLM) software like Teamcenter or Dassault Systèmes V6, that are widely used in the automotive and other manufacturing industries. Using the converged solution an engineer can look at the rendering of a car engine and click on a particular part of the engine to see the relevant contact people for questions about that part. Colleagues and partners working together in distributed environments should be able to communicate in a seamless process-oriented way with the tools and platforms they're already using to do their jobs. There should no longer be any need to look up and jot down phone numbers or make multiple contact attempts to discuss important milestones with an outside supplier.


Managing competition is not only a challenge for many users but also for UC providers themselves who need to think and act in new terms. For example, the Unified Communications Interoperability Forum (UCIF) joins companies who are both partners and competitors in that space. One of UCIF's goals is to make UC solutions interoperable and enable users to communicate across organizational boundaries, for example through presence federation. Federation makes it possible to see the presence status of inside and outside partners irrespective of the technology they're currently using within their organizations. Closed protocols, interfaces and platforms might have been competitive advantages in the past, but now they often stand in the way of technological and organizational openness. This makes UCIF itself an example of selective cooperation between companies that are competitors in many other arenas. As the industry is realizing, that's the only way to deal with challenges getting too big for single players.


The examples of Friedrich Freek GmbH and UCIF illustrate how traditional concepts of competition, innovation and production are evolving towards more open forms of cooperation. Company and market boundaries continue to dissolve with very real implications for daily work and the way people communicate. Integrated communication solutions like UC and CEBP must be implemented with these market realities in mind. That's when technological openness and process integration enable inside and outside partners to cooperate, and win.

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