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Collaborative Insight July 2018 - ISSUE 46

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Discussion Corner

Collaborative Relationship with Smaller Companies

The publication of BS 11000 and its subsequent evolution to an International standard established a framework for collaboration. To date its adoption and implementation mainly been by larger organisations wanting to embed a more systemic approach and, in some cases, simply to be seen through certification as demonstrating their collaborative credentials. However, in many cases this adoption was focused on client facing relationships. Whilst this was not a bad thing the cascading of collaborative approaches down through the value chain was very limited. In the worse cases the professing of a collaborative profile was not reflected in how these organisations operated with their suppliers as has been evident in recent high-profile collapses at the top.

When you discuss collaboration with smaller companies two key factors come to the fore. First that standards are for big companies that have the band width and resources to support such initiatives and secondly that unless larger organisations provide a more receptive front the effort would not be reciprocated in better business.

The SME has community has for years been raised a crucial aspect of innovation and growth by both government and industry. Much has been written about the value of SMEs and their important contribution in these aspects but sadly it is evident that little real progress has been made. If this is to change then there needs to be a paradigm shift in thinking on either side of this perennial gulf.

SMEs need to consider not how to meet the requirements of certification but to evaluate where their activities can be enhanced by a different approach. In reality they should look at the principles behind standards integrate these and see certification if necessary as an outcome. This can be working with other SMEs to build more attractive value propositions either in one to one relationships or by creating networks or consortia of smaller companies. Collaboration can provide a structure to enhance resources and capabilities which might be constrained by investment limitations.

On the other side larger organisations including government bodies need to consider whether their existing policies and processes are a barrier to SME engagement. Complex tendering and contract approach limits the ability of SMEs to engage effectively and in many cases deters them from trying to work with big organisations. Current practices have been built up over many years but as they have become entrench little thought has been given to how these are seen by smaller organisations with limited resources and as such create obstacles real or perceived which deflect focus.

Most will recognise that innovation, flexibility and agility that characterises the typical SME are assets that many larger organisations seek to utilise. Governments have over the years advocated the importance of the SME but have failed to master the dichotomy of their actions and ability to provide a more flexible approach to engagement.

Collaboration and SME engagement have been repeatedly but independently voiced at the highest levels but never looked at together. If we are to bridge the gap and exploit the real potential then organisations of all sizes need to reconsider how they can find an alternative strategy.

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