Globalisation, innovation and collaboration

Hands holding and protecting a globe In a business sense, the world has grown. Globalisation has redefined the modern economy and revolutionised the ways and means of conducting business.

This has not just been to the benefit of large multi-national organisations, it has provided the opportunity for all sizes and types of businesses to sell, work and establish a presence within new and growing markets. Graham Wylie, Steljes, explains how IT has revolutionised engineering design company Cundall's approach to operating effectively in today’s global marketplace.

Not only has globalisation fuelled unprecedented levels of growth and wealth creation, it has also created new challenges in effectively operating and running a business that has multiple offices and a customer base that is spread across the world.

We now operate in a 24-hour global economy where instant communication is a basic currency of doing business. As soon as one market shuts another one opens and trading continues; it simply does not stop.

As well as seriously impacting the work-life balance of the majority, it has created a sense of immediacy where having to wait for a significant amount of time for a response or for something to be delivered is not an option for a company that wants to stay in business.

The development of a more 'agile' approach to working is a direct product of this. Initially founded on the basis of creating new software development methodologies for the modern economy, its central principles are based on a core set of simple values; the desire to see individual interactivity over processes and tools, the championing of working software over comprehensive documentation, the belief in continual collaboration with the customer rather than negotiation, and the ability to rapidly respond to change rather than being constrained by a formulaic and stringent plan.

This has acted as a catalyst for the development of distributed and dynamic agile working teams; the equivalent of corporate special forces, that can react immediately to customer demands to deliver specific projects anywhere in the world and at any time in order to meet the demands of globalisation.

In 2003 Cundall embarked upon its own growth strategy to access this global marketplace. Not wanting to follow the multinational model with distinct national operating companies that ruled for much of the 20th century, Cundall decided to develop an integrated, co-dependent, single global operation able to respond to business anywhere in the world, from anywhere in the world.

Every project is unique and to ensure that the outcome of any design matches the client's vision in terms of function, efficiency and visual impact, it is critical that the company draws on the design, experience and knowledge of all team members. Limiting themselves to the resource in one particular office or region seemed short sighted.

They recognised that central to the success of this strategy was the ability to maintain effective communications between geographically distributed teams and not lose the high levels of dynamism, creativity and interactivity that remain central to the organisation's approach.

For many companies with multiple locations and a dispersed client-base, a heavy carbon footprint is a sacrifice that has to be made, as it seems there is no alternative solution or replacement to face-to-face interaction. However sustainability is at the heart of Cundall's operation and a core competency, therefore the environmental impact of travel, as well as the inherent cost and associated inefficiencies of 'being on the move', had to be kept to a minimum.

The identification of a solution started with the basic premise of understanding what actually happens when colleagues get together in the same room. The company started to explore how to support the same levels of dynamism, inspiration, creativity and interaction that stimulate innovation, new ideas and great decision-making. 

As well as being in the same room, a key ingredient in recreating this environment is having immediate access to data with the ability to instantly capture and manipulate information in real time that enables the continuous development of thoughts and ideas. From a technology perspective, it is about combining the current solutions of voice-based communication with device-based applications.

Cundall discovered that in attempting to solve this cultural change issue, a plethora of technologies have emerged; the key requirement being to facilitate and simulate a meeting environment from multiple locations.

Although tele, web and video conferencing have tried to support this, the level of engagement they provide simply isn't sufficient and often creates a one dimensional and dysfunctional meeting environment. While these technologies may solve the travel issue, they realised that they actually fail to achieve the creative collaboration needed for its design processes.

The company's engineers need to be able to draw out their ideas on a shared board or highlight items in a shared document or drawing to recreate the same dynamism, interactivity and productivity that is generated from face-to-face meetings.

The organisation's research eventually lead to the discovery of an alternative - collaboration technology from SMART Technologies. Their interactive displays and applications create connected 'meeting rooms' where dispersed team members can quickly set up a data conference, use touch screen commands, write in digital ink over applications, generate and integrate data, share desktops, and write and save notes immediately with colleagues anywhere in the world.

Running parallel with video conferencing systems, Cundall has installed SMART Boards and Bridgit conferencing software in its offices around the world.

As an engineering company, drawings are the bedrock of their workforce and using the collaboration solution, engineers in multiple locations can view, discuss, amend and manipulate the same engineering drawings in real time, reducing the amount of time taken to achieve a final, agreed version.

It is allowing the workforce to collaborate quickly and easily on projects, alleviating the silo mentality that they know will act as a barrier to future security and enabling experienced staff to mentor others around the world.

Matching the pace of global business and managing challenging market conditions requires business in general to achieve a seemingly disparate set of goals; decrease costs, reduce travel, realise efficiencies, improve communication, condense project timelines and maximise resources.

This new means of collaboration has been driven by a desire to improve efficiencies, performance and the way that the business operates; enabling the company to continue to benefit from the opportunities of globalisation, whilst maintaining a streamline organisation and safeguarding its environmental commitments.

The old adage of 'think global, act local' is, for Cundall, replaced by 'create global, deliver local'. And collaboration is the key to cracking this new world order.

September 2009