Collaboration is a basic ingredient in helping outsourcing relationships get better. Sourcing buyers often underestimate the effort required for good collaboration. “To use the marriage analogy, your marriage goes sideways if you don’t work on it constantly,” says Peter Bendor-Samuel, CEO of Everest Group.
Alastair Mitchell, CEO of Huddle, a corporate collaboration platform, agrees.”All sourcing relationships today require collaboration from start to finish. Unless both parties work together hand and glove, the whole thing will fail.”
Why collaboration is important today
Reason No. 1: Today’s sourcing relationships are global, which has made collaboration not a nice-to-have but a must have. “We couldn’t have the kinds of sourcing relationships we have today 10 years ago thanks to enabling technology. Today we have 5,000 people working in one place and 5,000 people in another 5,000 miles apart,” explains Mitchell.
Jim Lundy, CEO and lead analyst at Aragon Research, says “Collaboration suddenly became one of a corporation’s biggest challenges when people had to work together but weren’t in the same building.”
Geography is just one collaboration challenge. Learning how to effectively collaborate is another. Collaboration can be tricky because the buyer and the provider sometimes have business agendas that don’t coincide. “When companies approach an issue through their own self-interest, friction occurs. The best way to achieve sourcing success is in a collaborative environment,” observes Bendor-Samuel.
A third challenge: the pace of change. “Today enterprises have to respond more swiftly,” says Mitchell. “It used to be: Here’s the problem. Contact us in three years when you fixed it. That’s not acceptable today. Colleagues have to be interactive and projects have to be iterative to keep up the fast pace.”
The fourth challenge is technology itself. Lundy says collaboration has moved from internal to external and is quickly shifting to digital. “Corporations are using collaborative technology as a weapon to outcompete their competitors,” he observes.
Fifty shades of collaboration
Collaboration is critical but not crucial when outsourcing a commodity-type process like accounts payable, payroll or travel expenses. “These processes revolve around their own axis,” Bendor-Samuel of Everest says. “Most people want them running silently.”
However, highly complex processes and processes that are unique to a business require a strong spirit of collaboration. “You have to constantly make adjustments as business conditions and people change. Collaboration deepens a bespoke relationship,” the Everest founder says.
He also points out that service levels, key process indicators and metrics provide useful data to measure a relationship. “But those performance numbers paint an incomplete picture. That’s not collaboration. They just form the basis for a discussion.”
How Huddle Helps Collaborators
The founders of Huddle, which is based in the UK, were tired of sending a single email to 50 people and then waiting for a response. “We wanted to slash the collaborative process from one week to one day,” the Huddle CEO recalls.
In addition, technology didn’t cooperate. “We had SharePoint but we wanted to collaborate on our tablets.” Of course, Microsoft products don’t work well on iPads.
Huddle’s leadership felt they could enable easier collaboration “if we could wire disparate groups of people into a central brain so they can work faster and on a bigger scale,” explains Mitchell.
Huddle’s cloud-based platform allows every user to see the same document from wherever they are; they can be on a plane or hard-wired into the office server.
The device used is irrelevant. “This is important because it is just as easy to use on a mobile phone as it is on a computer screen. Most first-generation mobile applications just mimicked capabilities available on a browser. This provides a different and more difficult user experience on a mobile device. Huddle, on the other hand, is good about mobile,” says Lundy of Aragon Research.
When one user saves a working document, every other user with permission to see it immediately sees the changes. Ditto for comments, which are designed to start conversations.
Lundy says the best feature of Huddle is its predictive business application. He says the software knows the context of use and will bring up documents you are working on automatically the next day when you open the application. “The machine recognizes you need this document at the front of your queue,” he notes.
The platform has been so successful that Mitchell says some sourcing buyers have told their providers they will not consider a Request for Proposal (FRP) if the responses have to be by email. Huddle is becoming an RFP prerequisite.
How Huddle enables collaboration in the real world
WSP in the UK is a region of Canadian-based professional services WSP Global Inc. Its 17,000 employees work in 300 different locations across the globe. Frank McLeod, Director and UK head of project technology at WSP, says better internal and external collaboration was a must because its projects were “becoming more and more diverse in their scale, complexity and geographic location.”
In the design-build universe, WSP’s people have to collaborate with their peers from other companies. “We develop a lot of concepts and constructs in the design stage, which generate a large amount of information. It was very difficult to manage that degree of collaboration without going to the cloud,” says McLeod.
Searching for the right provider, WSP wanted a platform that came from social media culture. It had to be intuitive and easy-to-use. “We need the technology to be invisible. We want our people to focus on designing facilities,” the technology director says.
The company sent out RFPs announcing the amount of money it would spend with each provider for 12 months; this was to be able to compare apples with apples. It asked each provider the functionality it could provide for that sum.
Some other systems tended to be bureaucratic such that WSP users didn’t want to use them. Now it found its people were communicating within the Huddle system. “Huddle has become the place to share your work,” says McLeod.
A benefit of working with a cloud-based service is more frequent software updates. The technology director says he gets up to four updates a year for on-premises software, whereas cloud-based companies can provide up to 48 enhancements year.
“Huddle replaces email and portals, making collaboration both highly secure and user friendly,” says Mitchell.