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Collaborate with the competition? Yes! Why coopitition is a win-win

By Charlie Bess, HP Labs Fellow


No one can be good at everything. That is the nature of business. Combine your strengths with those of a competitor, however, and you’ll embrace not only an unexpected ally, but a sharp business model that plays to your strong suit and minimizes your shortcomings.

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Think of it as the team approach or collaboration among competitors—coopitition. It is a strategy that the military and public sectors have known about for years. It is also quickly becoming the “new normal” for everyone else across the globe. Instead of duplicating services, enterprises are coming together for short and long-term projects with incredible results.


Consider this: In today’s rapidly changing market, every organization must be an Instant-On Enterprise, capable of leveraging resources and reacting on a moment’s notice. Sharing resources not only increases your ability to draw new business, it can increase your flexibility to respond to a crisis.


Coopitition’s benefits and risks


What are the biggest benefits of working with your competitor? If done well, more innovation, less redundancy, and fewer risks. When global giant Sony wanted to produce an Internet TV project, it did not try to reinvent the web, but partnered with Google instead. The same holds true no matter how large, or small, your enterprise. I’ve found that from your customer’s perspective, the source of an idea is less important than the end result.


So let us consider the risks. Exposing your weaknesses could give your competitor an advantage. And even as you cooperate on one project, it is natural, and even likely, that you will compete on others. But the answer isn’t to avoid working together. It’s to work smarter. Lay the ground rules for a relationship that profits both sides. Clearly state how information will be shared, what data will be divulged, and what to do should disaster strike. Communicate, yet take advantage of the capabilities of document and digital rights management or intellectual property rights.


Collaboration’s shifting rules


What do business leaders need for a successful partnership? When it comes to coopitition and collaboration, relationship management is key. I think these three factors play an important part:

  • Relevancy: Organizations should come together naturally, not be forced together by a third party. Relationship management is important here, especially in this age of everything as a service (XaaS).
  • Compatibility: Next, beyond if the skills are aligned, consider if the culture of both enterprises is compatible. If you are unable to manage the partnership in a way that leaves both parties comfortable, the victory of winning a pitch or RFP will be short-lived.
  • Competency: For the purposes of the project, both parts of the team need to be able to respond to the client’s needs at the same skill level within their area of expertise.

Address real problems early, with transparency and a focus on the common-end goals. Remember, when it comes to coopitition, it is not a case of “you against the world.” Enterprises with a “you and the world” approach win out in the end.


Charlie Bess is a contributor to HP Innovation INSIGHT and The Next Big Thing blog. For insights, discussions, and special events, join the exclusive Innovation INSIGHT LinkedIn Discussion group.

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