For the past half century, the business world has watched IT take on an increasingly central role in practically every organization — slowly at first, but with stunning speed and ubiquity in recent years. Nearly all organizations, across industries and around the world, now rely on IT for the operation of fundamental business processes.
Among the most critical capabilities that IT provides is collaboration. Whether e-mail, instant messaging, wireless connectivity, virtual workspaces or videoconferencing, technology dramatically shortens distances between people and frees up the flow of intellectual capital, enabling employees to work and respond much more quickly.
In the "IBM Global CEO Study 2006," 75 percent of respondents ranked collaboration as a "very important" part of innovation — and of business success in general. The study found that extensive collaborators tended to outperform their peers in key business performance indicators such as revenue growth and operating margins. What's more, companies collaborating with external sources reported higher revenue growth, on the whole, than companies not collaborating with external parties.
IBM's findings are not unusual. A survey performed by Frost & Sullivan measures the effects of collaboration capabilities and collaboration quality on key performance indicators through what the firm calls a "collaboration index." The study finds that collaboration has a stronger correlation with overall business performance — including innovation, productivity, customer satisfaction and profitability — than does strategy orientation or market turbulence.
By sharing information across separate lines of business, employees naturally tend to drive business innovation from the ground up. These activities can be a powerful source of insight and action — and many organizations already benefit from a more connected, informed and flexible workforce.
Collaboration should extend beyond the traditional enterprise as well. An increasing number of business leaders now reach out to partners and to customers — important players who can and should influence strategic direction. In fact, the "IBM Global CEO Study 2006" survey shows a correlation between revenue growth and external collaboration — with partners, customers, consultants, competitors, associations and academic groups.