by Ben Worthen

Collaboration Headaches

May 01, 20022 mins
Collaboration SoftwareSmall and Medium Business

The Problem

If you’re going to have a truly integrated supply chain, one that allows you to see your partner’s inventory while your partner is immediately aware of the demand on your end, you need tools to facilitate that high degree of transparency and connectivity.

The Hype

Collaboration tools are becoming a standard piece of the modern Internet, with everything from instant messaging for individuals to collaborative workspaces on B2B sites.

In theory, collaboration tools and practices allow every company involved to benefit from their business partners’ product information?such as inventory, price and the manufacturing schedule.

The Facts

Soviet Communism worked in theory, and we all know how that turned out. In a sense, collaboration?in its truest cross-supply-chain form?strives for business communism. At the very least it requires companies to give up their greatest competitive advantages, the aforementioned information and knowledge. And that’s assuming that the technological hurdles presented by a company’s own systems can be overcome. Simple collaboration is happening. Jim Wicker, vice president of information technology for Dynamex, a Dallas-based same-day transportation company, collaborates with FedEx and other shippers through XML connections and Web interfaces. It’s a good way to do business, but Wicker says that anything more than purchases and orders would require too many cultural and business process changes to be feasible. And this level of collaboration is an option only if a potential collaborator doesn’t have information trapped in legacy systems. If your own systems aren’t up to snuff, “what is the point? Why should I open my kimono and show you my data when I know that my data isn’t any good?” says Andy Macey, vice president of supply chain for consultancy Sapient in Cambridge, Mass.

Even if your data is in an easily exchangeable form, it probably isn’t in an industrywide standard format. Without standards, suppliers have to tailor their data to each business partner. And even if they could do that, letting their customers know how much they paid for a certain product, or how much they have in stock, flies in the face of accepted business practices.