The Collaborative Enterprise

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Most of you have savored, at one time or another, the delights of a truly spectacular restaurant ," one with succulent and plentiful cuisine and an efficient, attentive staff.

Such establishments operate under a collaborative spirit. In doing so, they meet one of the key requirements for attaining operational excellence ," defined by the Dedham, Mass.-based ARC Advisory Group as "consistently doing the right things well."

These establishments stay in touch with customer wants and preferences by regularly soliciting feedback, and then draw on that feedback to fine-tune the menu and decor. They understand that their staffs are not the sum of disparate parts but instead are interconnecting human assets working toward the same ultimate goals. Moreover, they seek out partnerships with key suppliers to continuously improve everything from the wine selection to food storage.

Chemical manufacturers could learn a great deal from these culinary overachievers.

"Build it and they will come" no longer holds true in today's ultra-competitive environment. Continue to operate "it" with tunnel vision, and "they" will stay away in droves.

Today's chemical plant must establish and nurture relationships with customers to gain insight into their unique needs. Perhaps Web-enabled ordering with lightning-fast delivery is at the top of customer wish lists. Or maybe customers are looking for a product-plus-service approach ," they don't just want great paint; they want an expert to apply it to their widgets as well.

Also crucial to future success is the creation of a collaborative culture within the organization itself.

Andy Chatha, president of the ARC Advisory Group, calls operational excellence a "journey, not a destination," and a goal that should be part of every employee's job. Speaking in Boston during ARC's Driving Operational Excellence Forum 2002, he stressed that a collaborative culture is an important part of that journey. Although Chatha's remarks largely were geared toward IT achievements, they can be applied to virtually everything a company sets out to accomplish.

A collaborative culture also optimizes technology selection and encourages subsequent collaborations with key suppliers ," suppliers that increasingly double as consultants, especially in the IT area.

The Dow Chemical Co. recently anno-unced a partnership with ABB to implement ABB's process control solution across all its sites. Among the many benefits of the collaboration, said Margaret Walker, director for Dow Process Automation, are the joint influences on product and solution development and commitments for service and support.

What can you do?

As plant-level decision-makers, you probably cannot turn your facility into a collaboration champion overnight, but you can serve as an instrument for change.

Know your customers. Share any ideas you might have for enhancing customer relationships.

Speak up. Encourage a collaborative approach to problem solving and goal setting, both inside and outside plant walls.

Seek out top-level support for technology investments. Think about how the company might better integrate existing systems.

Don't underestimate the skills and knowledge of your suppliers. They can help you put into place the equipment and technologies you will need to compete.

Kathie Canning

Executive Managing Editor

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