Businesses today are operating in a rather complex environment. They’re navigating new, disruptive business models and constant change. For one, customer behaviour is changing faster than the pace at which enterprises are evolving. Service expectations are growing as new entrants ‘unbundle’ the usual, accepted business models. And emerging technologies are going mainstream at a pace that organizations are not able to exploit.

As the definition of ‘fast’, ‘efficient’ and ‘accurate’ change in the customers’ mind, customer centricity is not just a goal any more, it is the new product and service, and the order of the day.

While there are many drivers to customer centricity, I believe that it can be best met through the power of collaboration. In one recent study by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, 86% business leaders agreed that customer experience is vital for success. Many business leaders are convinced that collaboration is the new innovation.

Collaboration can happen at various levels. It can happen directly with customers, through the open innovation route or with peers, and even downstream players. These possibilities can lead to entirely new customer experiences.

Image: Statista

We see lots of everyday examples of this around us. Amazon collaborates with customers for product reviews, which generate recommendations that help others shop with greater confidence. Language learning platform Duolingo recovers value from the translations users do when learning a new language. An algorithm learns from the translations. P&G has used open innovation to crowdsource and co-create new processes and products. Their Connect + Develop platform has resulted in some interesting new products, like the popular Pringles Prints.

Similarly, the idea of peer-to-peer collaboration is generating new business models. Cars, tractors, launderettes and even spare rooms in homes are being shared. On the back of a peer-to-peer sharing economy, everyone wants to grow like Airbnb.

Businesses can share data, infrastructure, technology, talent and supply chains. DBS Bank makes a fine example of collaboration by sharing its services and even its customers using an API (Application Programming Interface) that allows different systems to interact. In November 2017, the bank launched the largest API platform in the world in an effort to rapidly create new and competitive services without developing any of them on its own. It launched 155 APIs that allowed its Singapore partners in 20 categories such as real-time payments, rewards, funds transfer and property search to access services. This has made it possible for 50 major brands like AIG, McDonalds, PropertyGuru and start-ups like FoodPanda and soCash to create convenient customer-focused services practically overnight. In this case, DBS amplified its monetization capability through collaboration with customers.

The healthcare sector is another area where collaboration can make a big difference. A study of U.S. hospitals reveals that mobile medical devices such as ventilators, infusion pumps, and telemetry units that make up more than 95% of a hospital’s clinical asset inventory see a mere 42% utilization. The same applies to CT scanners, MRI machines, construction equipment, and more. Trucks ride empty 20% of the time. Office space is used only 30% of the time. These assets can be used much more efficiently if information about them, such as availability, location, condition, cost and ownership, can be captured and shared. Industrial mash-ups can boost utilization of assets by as much as 50 to 100% and bring down costs dramatically for customers, according to the Harvard Business Review.

The entire autonomous vehicle industry, which is rooted in convenience and in offering a simplified customer experience, is an outcome of large-scale collaboration between different technology providers ranging from sensor developers to battery manufacturers, mobile networks, telemetry systems, mapping services and regulators. One report suggests that shared mobility and new business models could expand automotive revenue pools by about 30%, adding up to some $1.5 trillion. In other words, collaboration has not only reduced development time for something as complex as an autonomous vehicle, but has also created tremendous business opportunities. If a single company were to undertake all the development required by an autonomous vehicle, the budget outlays alone would leave any CEO distraught.

Smart Cities make the ideal playground to demonstrate how public-sector collaboration can amplify liveability and sustainability. Last year, the Smart Chicago Collaborative, a civic organization has launched a model that places data at the service of people. It launched the Array of Things (AoT) project which consists of a series of sensors that collect real-time data on urban activity, infrastructure and the environment to enable collaboration between scientists, universities, local government, and communities in Chicago, leading to more customer-centric services.

Of course, collaboration is not a new construct. Businesses have been cooperating for centuries in a bid to find new markets and create new products. The difference today is in how they can use technology to scale collaboration at a pace they could not have imagined before. As businesses look for ways to remain sustainable, they can ride into the future and meet customer expectations faster by opening themselves up to a culture of collaboration.