Imagine the following situation:
You're involved in a project to lower the operational costs by deploying a web platform where your customers can place their orders which automatically show up in your own ERP system, allowing you to immediately work on the orders without having to manually enter the order details in your ERP. In exchange you are willing to share information about stock levels and order status with your customer. This would illustrate a typical give-to-get scenario.

After a few months of specifications, developments and successful testing you're thinking: "This is going to be good; we can save a lot of money". Sales force is sent out in the market to promote the platform as the ultimate way to "collaborate" with your customers. However, after a few weeks the first sales managers are returning with feedback from your customers: they are not willing to use the platform due to a variety of causes, i.e. user friendliness, speed, missing information, etc. This is actually the first time in the process you're hearing any feedback...

Now you need to go a few steps back: Before your customers are willing to work with your solution you probably need to gather around the drawing board and re-design your solution which initially costs a lot of extra time and money: You need to find out what is missing/wrong in the current solution, what your customer really wants, structure detailed specifications and go through an entire development and testing phase. Eliminating this essential phase however will bring you straight to an inescapable position: a few months later and a few thousand euro's lighter you have exactly what you could have gotten right in the first time if you would have paid enough attention to what your business partner really wants - and that for a fraction of the costs that you have to pay now!

This story above is maybe a bit exaggerated, but this is what I continuously observed in several projects when I first joined the industry. The reason why you should collaborate with your customers is nowadays clear, but what makes it so hard to actually collaborate with your customers in a good and effective way?

IT investments often cost a significant amount of time and money. You don't want to know how much I want to deny this, but unfortunately it's true. There is often little or no understanding from the management that resources need to be dedicated to develop IT solutions in an effective and –of course- efficient manner. And very often this is where the problem lies. This is not only at the supplier side, but also at the customer side.

Customers rarely invest time in a "collaboration" solution with (one of) it's (perhaps many) suppliers. Still, a common way of thinking is that the customer is expecting to be treated as the king. This is such a wrong way of thinking! By collaborating you should also allow your business partner to get better from it. This should be done in a way of giving and taking, that's what it's all about in collaboration. The focus of the project should be on the long term benefits for both sides, not only for you. However, the cost benefit is often the major driver behind the project, so often the focus is on short term benefits to make the management happy and the result must be implemented quickly. This time pressure interaction between the parties involved is often skipped, which results in a suboptimal solution which might require much re-work and thus inflates the final bill.

When do you actually involve your customers in the collaboration process? Do you already (think to) know what they want or do you only know what you want and how you expect your customer to "collaborate" with you? Ask yourself: "why does the customer want to collaborate with me", not only "how should we collaborate" or "what should we include in the collaboration". The latter are questions that will be answered in a later stage, not in the beginning. If you involve your business partner in an early stage you will not only get important feedback in the beginning of the project, but you can also use it to create trust and goodwill from the customer.

I think the situation above describes this point very well. Your customers shouldn't only be involved in the design phase of the project, but also (and not the least important) in the testing phase to get feedback before the actual roll-out. In a testing phase you're still in the situation that you can change things easier than when you are already live. Speaking of which, this is going to be a subject for a blog later this year.

In the end it's all about the time and the money. Projects need to be developed in an efficient and effective way, but when you forget to focus on the target of the project, the actual collaboration, then you might end up with a much higher bill and vanished customer goodwill than initially expected. At Quyntess we offer services where we take over the interaction with your customers. After we have analyzed your needs and advantages we do the exact same with your own customers. By this approach we can work out the best win-win situation and thus allowing collaboration to really work.

How have you set up collaboration with your customers? Contact us at Quyntess and we will be happy to support and exchange experiences with you.