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An enterprise’s ability to bring products to market is determined largely by its collaboration with suppliers, customers, design agencies, regulators and other third parties.

These ecosystems are increasingly global and complex.

This complexity can be seen as the flip side of the same coin that brings the cost and efficiency advantages of sourcing innovation globally – the complexity of managing people and things who no longer reside in your organisation and whose ability to deliver on commitments is subject to dependencies beyond your control.

As a major aerospace OEM learned, it is not to be underestimated.

Committed to outsourcing the lion’s share of work for its next-generation civil airliner, it decided to acquire a smaller supplier of critical parts in order to affect tighter control over that supplier’s activities.

With most suppliers lying beyond line-of-sight, the only way to coordinate activities and exchange information is through IT systems.

Enabling and managing collaboration across the fragmented, heterogeneous IT systems that characterise most manufacturing environments can be a daunting challenge that demands skills and expertise in systems security, access, identity management and the optimisation of data flows and handovers.

Having burnt their fingers over the last decade on complex ERP integration projects that were rarely delivered either on budget or to the originally agreed schedule, many CIOs struggle to see how traditional IT tools and methods – that have proven difficult to apply within the four walls of the enterprise – can be applied across complex and dynamic global ecosystems.

There is light at the end of the tunnel.

Recent advances in information technology promise to make collaboration across ecosystems easier and more intuitive.

The ‘unified communications’ offerings of Microsoft, Cisco and others allow extension of presence-awareness, find-me-follow-me, click-to-call and other communications tools to third parties.

Along with video conferencing and document sharing they can be integrated into a common environment – which could ultimately be deployed as a ‘virtual collaboration room’ – where members of the ecosystem can share information, regardless of the application landscape, with those they invite into the room.

BT envisages that such collaboration rooms will be built on ubiquitous, standards-based, off-the-shelf technologies.

Many organisations will probably find that they already own licences for the software upon which the collaboration room is built- all that is needed is the integration expertise to bring them together.

The IT landscape in manufacturing companies usually features a wide variety of application and platform systems from CAD and PLM through to instant messaging and web meeting tools.

Utility systems such as email, calendaring, voicemail, phone systems and network storage add to the complexity and it is not unusual to find that these companies ‘own’ many more systems than are made available to users.

Virtual collaboration rooms will exist to connect, enhance and use the enterprise’s existing assets by combining existing tools and applications, enabling the user to maximise the value of existing investments while minimising the disruption and cost associated with new systems.

Vendor- and business-specific systems that would otherwise remain in silos will be brought together and made available to the designers and engineers charged with developing products and bringing them to market, on schedule and within budget.

BT Global Services

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