Stop. Collaborate and Listen

[From iSource Business, September 2001] "Collaboration" may be the most over-hyped e-business trend since e-business itself, but Jack Maynard has a blunt answer to anyone who would question the utility of online collaborative design: The marketplace is getting very punitive, says Maynard, a research director with Boston, Mass.-based technology consultancy Aberdeen Group. If you put out a bad product, you might not get a chance to put out a second one. Collaborative designing is about getting it right the first time.

A small but growing number of companies are coming to share Maynard's view, and they are beginning to adopt technologies that allow them to involve their customers early in the design process. Driven to get their products to market faster and at a lower cost, early adopters, such as manufacturers Goldman Industrial Group and Square D, are finding that collaboration involves more than simply installing some software. In fact, issues of customer readiness and business culture are overshadowing technical challenges in these dawning days of collaborative product design. Still, the pioneers aver that collaborative design is inevitable, and they are moving to gain an edge on their competition by bringing customers into the design process.

The Tool Set

The movement to involve customers in the design process is a natural outgrowth of the shift from a product-push business model to a demand-pull model, which places a premium on the ability to do mass customization. (See Leap of Faith