The 21st century heralded the acceleration of the digital economy, an economy characterised by what's euphemistically termed 'disruption', but in reality, is evolving into the destruction of tried and tested business models by new digital start-up (and upstart) businesses.
Among the best-known examples of this: Uber, Amazon and Airbnb, which have changed the face of the metered taxi, book publishing and distribution, and hospitality industries, are just the tip of the iceberg. Even the financial sector is not immune, with the insurance industry and banking under growing digital start-up pressure.
Even highly innovative companies built on the back of relatively new technologies are having to rethink their business models. Think of GPS pioneer, Garmin. Founded in the 1990s, the company dominated the commercial GPS market in the early part of the 21st century.
Yet, the rise of the smartphone and the emergence of a plethora of new free-download GPS apps, led by prime-innovator Google, wiped out 90% of its turnover in just a couple of years. Garmin was forced to refocus or die. Today, Garmin is said to be holding its own, just, in the fiercely competitive fitness wearables arena, alongside a host of new start-ups. However, there are reports of storm clouds on the horizon as smartphone manufacturers start to muscle in on this territory too.
Denis Bensch, CIO of FlowCentric Technologies, maintains that no industry is immune to the threat of disruptive innovation.
Compounding the problem is the sheer pace at which change is occurring. Threats are arising faster than most established companies can respond, and opportunities, once identified, are often overtaken before they can be acted on.
"In other words, 'time to market' is no longer about affording companies a competitive edge, it's now a question of survival," he says.
Bensch believes one way in which businesses can respond effectively to threats, both unforeseen and predicted, is to take to heart an adage that's usually attributed to the ancient Chinese philosopher, Confucius: "To know what you know and what you do not know, that is true knowledge."
He points out that few businesses today have the full depth and breadth of knowledge, or all the skill sets required, to develop the innovative solutions that are required to deal with emerging threats and pursue new opportunities as they arise.
"If you are large enough, or wealthy enough, you may be able to buy in different skill sets, but finding those skills and integrating them into your organisation can be a time-consuming and expensive process. Far faster, and more cost-effective, would be to collaborate with other businesses that can immediately deliver the skills and knowledge you require. That's why forward-thinking companies are actively developing their partner ecosystems," he states.
Bensch recommends concentrating on your core business or skills, finding partners that are very good at what they do, and building amazing solutions together.
"Don't focus on making money from your partner; instead focus on creating solutions that you can sell to customers together," he adds.
Collaboration across industries
There are many global examples of successful collaborations by diverse partners leading to the development of all kinds of innovative products and services.
British pharmaceutical company, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), has teamed up with a digital health solution provider, Propeller Health, to develop a "smart inhaler" that tracks dosages and reminds patients to stick to their treatment regime, as the company seeks to expand its focus beyond the highly competitive therapeutic product market (which is placing drug companies' profit margins under increasing pressure).
Similarly, French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi has formed a partnership with health tech company, Verily, to try and tap its consumer software and miniaturised electronics expertise. On the drawing board are devices to improve insulin dosing and glucose monitoring.
In the technology sector, ICT solutions provider and smartphone manufacturer, Huawei, joined forces with China Telecom and agri-tech company Aotoso, to develop an IOT-based solution that enables dairy farmers to ensure their cows produce more milk.
Closer to home, FlowCentric Technologies co-operated with global mining software company, MineRP, to produce a cross-platform, real-time mine monitoring solution that utilises IOT-enabled sensors provided by a third collaboration partner, Sperosens.
"The collaboration was a perfect example of efficient integration of three distinct technologies from three diverse companies to produce a meaningful solution that went on to win the top accolade as MTN Business IoT Solution of the Year at the annual MTN Business IoT Conference and Awards earlier this year," Bensch says.
"FlowCentric Technologies has similar collaboration partnerships with other companies that have proved remarkably successful, delivering win-win advantages for all parties involved."
The company’s latest successful collaboration has manifested in the form of the Eldir: Digitised Security Officer solution from, Eldir (Pty) Ltd. The joint creation is set to change the way that the security industry manages both their human and physical assets, by combining leading technology with forward thinking practises.
Collaboration isn't without it's risks
Bensch warns that, while offering several benefits, collaborative partnerships should always be approached with care, ensuring the partner you collaborate with is able to meet your requirements in terms of service delivery and quality.
"If your partner doesn't deliver in time, on budget or delivers poor quality goods, the entire project could be put in jeopardy, and the reputations of each company involved in the collaboration tarnished," he says.
In collaborative projects, expect the unexpected. Back to the use of IOT devices and cows, albeit in a different application in another part of the world... In this "smart cow" project, IOT sensors were implanted in multiple locations under a cow's skin (a process requiring minor surgery with anaesthetic) to monitor the cow's health. The sensor provider partner said the devices were designed to operate without fail for at least three years. However, when an 800 kg cow decides to rub a part of its body where a sensor is located against a post or fence, that sensor is unlikely to last three minutes, a risk none of the project partners had considered. When the unexpected occurs, it is imperative that the partners in the project unite to remedy their customer's problem instead of attempting to assign blame.
"Finally, it should be made clear how everyone makes their money. Partners shouldn't be competing for revenue in the same opportunities, "concludes Bensch.
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