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Sleeping with the enemy: Australian business pioneers are hungry to collaborate with competitors

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New research from cloud-based video collaboration provider Blue Jeans Network indicates that a small number of Australian businesses are willing to collaborate with their competitors in order to advance the industry they work in, drive innovation and build the market.

While most businesses (57 per cent) see an advantage in collaborating with external partners to improve access to new markets and customers, one in seven (14 per cent) claim the biggest benefit would come from working with their competitors to drive the industry forward.

The findings come at time when unlikely behemoth partnerships between conflict companies like Netflix and Amazon have put a spotlight on competitor collaboration at an enterprise level.

Regional business pioneers are collaborating more

You might expect city workers to be more at ease with collaboration in the workplace but the research reveals that more regional businesses are taking risks to innovate and grow.

Perhaps driven by the increasing use of collaborative technology platforms, 39 per cent of businesses outside of the mainland capital cities are likely to collaborate on a regular basis, compared to just 24 per cent of businesses in capital cities.

Showing a thirst for disruption and growth in a more challenging environment, 50 per cent of these regional businesses saw benefit in external collaboration to broaden their business offering compared to just 34 per cent of those in mainland cities.

Commenting on the research, futurist and technologist Mark Pesce said, “While it may seem counterintuitive for competitors to work together, at a smaller scale establishing the industry and customer base is priority and these businesses are smart to consider doing so.”

He believes there are multiple benefits to collaborating with competitors from both an SMB and enterprise level: expanding core competencies and solidifying strengths, learning from each other, expanding the market for both, benchmarking against a real peer and sharing common tech.

Missed opportunities

Broadening the business’ offering was a primary driver (42 per cent) for Aussie SMBs to collaborate with another business. Despite seeing the business benefits, only one in four small business owners (23 per cent) collaborate with others outside of their business on a regular basis, while a third (34 per cent) admit they rarely or never collaborate.

The perception that collaborating is logistically difficult and time consuming deterred 42 per cent of business owners with a further 42 per cent claiming it could be difficult to access the right partner.

Blue Jeans Network’s Kelly Seelig remarked that the old world of business has shifted and mindsets have turned to more collaborative approaches at all levels of business.

“The rules we used to play by are changing; we’re seeing growing competitor collaboration driving innovation and growth in other markets and it’s inspiring to see SMBs taking the first bold steps here.”

Gen ‘Y not collaborate’

The shift in business culture to more collaborative working methods has been driven in part by the arrival of a Gen Y workforce, which expects real-time collaboration and face-to-face video as basic working tools.

Weaned on a diet of instant messenger apps, cloud-based social platforms and iPad video calls, 43 per cent of Gen Y entrepreneurs are attracted to external collaboration because it can accelerate the development of new products and services.

In terms of internal business collaboration, a third (33 per cent) of Gen Y entrepreneurs see great value in being able to connect to experts and ensure they are constantly learning, much higher than the 21 per cent average for baby boomers and Gen X SMB owners.

The research also revealed that small business owners recognise the benefit of working collaboratively with colleagues, peers or people within their business.

In small businesses with three or more employees, the key benefits of internal collaboration are brainstorming to drive new thinking (59 per cent) and working in a group environment to get different viewpoints (50 per cent).

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