The Value of Working Together

Practical considerations for building a business greater than the sum of its parts


Non-integrated tools, like spreadsheets, are isolated from the core business system, making it difficult to monitor and measure progress. Integrated analytics and activity monitoring reveal additional insight into core processes that businesses need to close the feedback loop, creating ample opportunity for continuous improvement. This allows for the long-term focus to remain on "evolution" rather than "revolution." As Henry Ford's quote at the beginning of this article suggests, building a more collaborative organization is not a destination, but a journey. Properly monitoring and measuring progress will keep the organization on the right path.

Conclusion

Paper files have given way to centralized secure documents; inter-office mail has been replaced by instant messaging; and personal, paper-based calendars are giving way to shared digital calendars. The goal is to move away from storing valuable information in silos and toward one version of the truth that is available everywhere in a single repository. By capturing this information and making it visible to both internal and external stakeholders, companies can begin to identify which processes are repeatable, allowing them to increase efficiency over time.

A unified business strategy will push results to the bottom line and provide an advantage over the competition by strengthening ties to customers and suppliers and promoting efficiency and cost-prudency by replacing manual and paper-based processes with digital counterparts. Collaboration projects successfully help companies do more with less, work leaner and greener, with fewer resources and lower operating expenses. Becoming more collaborative is truly a process, and keeping an eye upon continuous improvement efforts is essential. By combining these basic principles with the right collaborative technology, an organization will definitely find itself working together more effectively. And like Henry Ford said, "Working together is success."

Collaboration in Action: UFP Technologies

Building a collaborative infrastructure is critical to UFP Technologies. A designer and custom converter of high performance packaging, parts, and products from foams, plastics and natural fibers, UFP operates three distinct brands in 11 facilities throughout 10 states. The plants share customers, processes and materials, but a lack of communication, data sharing and general accountability hindered company-wide efficiency.

In 2006, UFP implemented a collaboration software suite to increase communication, knowledge sharing and accountability across its divisions. According to Bruce Wright, director of IT at UFP, the company's productivity correlates with its ability to cooperate internally, externally, interdepartmentally and within divisions. For example, UFP's collaborative software suite allowed Wright to develop a three-step process workflow to manage requests for new quotes. The request for quote (RFQ) workflow ensures that key stakeholders from four separate departments (Account Management, Customer Service, Engineering and Plant Management) are either notified or requested to take appropriate action before the process can be completed. This ensures that the quote request is delivered in a timely manner and is properly reviewed and approved. The process is consistent and repeatable, with an audit trail to ensure employee accountability along the way.

In the last two years, UFP has created 30 process workflows to streamline activities and unify departments in the service of customers and has seen its sales increase 31 percent between 2005 and 2008. "UFP communicates well, both internally and with customers and suppliers," says Wright. "We have the systems in place where we're sharing information effectively. We're evolving into a more unified organization, and it couldn't happen at a better time."

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