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Collaborating with business partners successfully is not just about talking to them when there is an issue to be resolved. Rather, it’s a long-term commitment and work ethos that fosters an environment of trust between organizations and people.

Imagine organizations around the world thriving together – it’s easy if you try. With today’s ever-changing business climates, companies can achieve more by collaborating. Collaboration can usher companies into success in a myriad of ways, but what exactly does it take for organizations to collaborate? And what is the real bottom line for business?

Air traffic controllers at work in the Heathrow Airport air traffic control tower.

Step inside the Heathrow Airport air traffic control tower.

The world keeps changing, and big challenges call for big solutions. Climate action requires countries and industries to work together in order to lower carbon emissions by 2050. Fighting off large-scale conflicts compels everyone to cooperate. Upholding human rights and equality for all requires policy solutions from government sectors around the globe. One thing is clear: no one organization or individual can do it alone. And that is why collaborating is inevitable as a means of achieving the world’s most important goals.

From a business perspective, organizations will often seek partners that complement their capabilities to ensure that they meet the expectations of their stakeholders and, at the same time, gain access to new markets. Collaborating in business requires a commitment amongst parties to co-create opportunities that would lead to mutual and fair benefits for all. A recent study (2018 Global CEO Outlook) conducted by KPMG reports that global CEOs favour strategic alliances as the most important strategy to drive growth, making it an imperative for organizations to learn how to collaborate successfully.

However, successful collaborations don’t just happen overnight. While there is absolutely no iron-clad rule on how to collaborate, ISO 44001 presents a framework to assist an organization of any size, industry or region to develop its internal and external business relationships – opening doors for greater innovation, competitiveness and successful outcomes.

A management systems approach

Air traffic controller's hand on ramp departure console.

ISO 44001, Collaborative business relationship management systems – Requirements and framework, provides the overall components of a management system for business relationships as well as operational process requirements. It bridges the gap between organizational cultures to form a more robust partnership or alliance, provide confidence to participants and lay a strong foundation for collaboration. The International Standard features an eight-stage life cycle to ensure a disciplined approach to collaborative relationships which includes operational awareness, value creation, knowledge, internal assessment, partner selection, working together, staying together and exit strategies.

David Hawkins, Chief Operating Officer at the Institute of Collaborative Working and Chair of ISO/TC 286, the technical committee for collaborative business relationship management that developed the standard, says the publication of ISO 44001 has established a recognized framework on which to build and sustain collaborative working: “The need for organizations to work together has perhaps never been more critical in today’s economic environment, to meet the demands of the market and growing global competition and the impact of technology and in particular communications and transparency of markets. We see today a marketplace where success is more about what we bring to the market rather than simply what we produce as individual organizations,” he says.

Collaborating is easier said than done, and perhaps some of the key factors organizations might consider are: What would be the scope and boundaries of the collaboration? What would be each partner’s role in it? And how do we monitor and measure its success ? These points are all very relevant and important to bear in mind, as even the most strategic alliances often involve organizations with very different cultures. Parth Amin, Head of the US Delegation of the same ISO technical committee, says that despite increased awareness of the importance of strategic alliances in the corporate world, most organizations still lack the knowledge and management capabilities to realize the full potential of collaboration: “This is where ISO 44001 comes into the picture. For the very first time, there is now an International Standard that any organization can use as a strategic tool in making collaborative relationships and alliances work,” he says.

The standard is applicable to both private and public organizations of all sizes and follows the same overall structure as other ISO management system standards (known as the High-Level Structure), making it easier for any organization using multiple standards to integrate it into its management systems. Since its publication in 2017, organizations worldwide that implemented the standard have reported that, with a systemic approach to collaboration through ISO 44001, relations are strengthened.

Breaking new ground together

Two men talking at a conveyor belt on the factory shop floor.

When something works really well, it’s quite easy to assume that you can always make it even better. That was the vision of NATS, the UK’s leading provider of air traffic control services, when it collaborated with Leidos, a global leader in information technology, engineering, and science solutions and services.

With London Heathrow having some of the busiest airport runways in the world with an average of 1 300 aircraft landings and take-offs per day, it faces a big challenge on disruptive impact of weather – particularly strong winds affecting airport operations and mainly its passengers. Together, NATS and Leidos have pioneered an innovative solution, enhanced Time-Based Separation (eTBS), a technology which separates arriving aircraft by time instead of distance, in order to cut delays caused by strong winds.

Through this collaboration, the results were multifold: not only were the aircraft landing delays addressed and reduced by 62 %, it also allowed two additional aircraft landings per hour average, which is equivalent to extending Heathrow’s operating day by over 30 minutes, with a bonus on overall cost savings of EUR 23 million a year. This paved way for NATS and Leidos to deliver valuable operational resilience, enhanced on-time performance and a better passenger experience. Adrian Miller, Head of Supply Chain Partnerships & Collaboration at NATS, says: “We expanded our thinking on where we could be more together as partners, and in order to find new business opportunities, we had to fully collaborate with Leidos.”

Early last year, the NATS/Leidos partnership, alongside Heathrow Airports Limited, was recognized at the annual Jane’s Air Traffic Control Awards in Madrid for its contributions to enhancing the capacity and safety of its stakeholders. Following the success of the eTBS implementation in Heathrow, the same technology and partnership is now set to benefit Toronto Pearson Airport in Canada and Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands – a concrete testament that collaborative business models, when managed successfully, can help companies reach greater heights and be replicated by other players in the same industry and beyond.

Think win/win

85 %

of companies view partnerships and alliances as essential to their businesses

only 33 % of them have a formal & clear strategy for collaboration

Let’s keep it real though: Regardless of the type of model, the process of forming an alliance is not easy. Most collaborations fail because of competitive self-interest, lack of trust and absence of shared purpose among partnering organizations. A study conducted by the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council and the Business Performance Innovation (BPI) Network reports that while 85 % of companies view partnerships and alliances as essential to their businesses, only 33 % have a formal and clear strategy for collaboration, and almost half of them still report failure rates of 60 % or more. To fully collaborate means that all parties should be willing to look beyond and see what more could be achieved together, in order to realize that the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts.

A collaborative relationship can only produce desired outcomes if both parties meet the expected levels of performance and demonstrate the right behaviours. According to Miller, what made the NATS and Leidos collaboration truly successful is that they created a 50/50 balanced partnership wherein both organizations will benefit equally. “We recognized that the best way to ensure a successful collaboration is to guarantee mutual benefits that are fair and shared. We maintain a focus with our partners to ensure that our collaboration delivers the results all of us expect,” Miller noted.

A shared purpose

Airplanes line up on runway for departure.

Competition is growing. Consumers make smarter decisions, influencing the way organizations should behave, both ethically and in terms of sustainable responsibility. The business world is forever changing to meet these challenges. Despite new technologies opening up new avenues for organizations, at the core of these will be the ever-present need to ensure that the relationships between them and the individuals involved will have a significant effect on stability, resilience and performance. “In this turmoil, one factor remains constant: relationships are a core ingredient for successful business,” Hawkins adds.

What organizations need is a structure that supports their alliance strategy. ISO 44001 endorses that approach, with its structured framework designed to help organizations identify potential key partners, develop shared policies and processes, and promote the culture and behaviour required to establish successful collaborative relationships and to drive continual improvement.

Collaboration is at the core of every successful business. Whilst every business relationship is unique and there is no “one size fits all” solution for everyone, ISO 44001 provides a roadmap that will enable organizations to consider the implications and benefits of collaborative working. Collaboration is not a solution in itself but more of a means towards a common goal driven by a shared purpose. Just keep in mind: if you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, better go together!


 

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