Like any good buzzword, “collaboration” has been used and abused enough that its literal definition has all but completely eroded away, leaving in its place a vague sense of what the word once meant
At SPI’s Fall Meeting in Chicago, Dan Sanker, founder and president of CaseStack, sought to reaffirm collaboration’s definition, acknowledging the importance of a word that has served as the operational basis of his company, which optimizes shipping of goods among manufacturers, OEMs, retailers and distributors.
Per the company’s website:
CaseStack combines an advanced transportation and warehousing system with proprietary, web-based software to enable customers to reap the benefits and economies of a sophisticated, global logistics system without all the infrastructure costs.
In plastics, he sees similar opportunities in another “sophisticated, global logistics system”, describing the sector in his speech as a “complex, dramatic, big industry with a lot of trading partners.”
“If you happen to be in a large, complex industry that seems chaotic at times,” Sanker noted, “that can be a huge opportunity.”
The consumer’s role
In a job that requires the day-to-day management of supply chains, Sanker has become acutely aware of the consumer’s ability to influence activity up and down the chain.
“The consumer is at the very bottom of the supply chain,” Sanker noted, “and when they they go shopping, that dictates everything that happens up the supply chain,” adding that companies up the chain that respond to consumers are the ones that succeed.
Success for Sanker, in part, has meant collaborating with the world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart. He discussed how the 1300-plus consumer product companies that surround Wal-Mart create a new kind of business cluster, rife with the chaos that can lead to opportunity, describing a “collaborative ecosystem” that is ultimately consumer driven.
Sanker broke down true collaboration into four steps:
- Networking (share information)
- Coordination (take action)
- Cooperation (share resources)
- Collaboration (shared risks/rewards)
In his business, which involves linking various parties with common interests (albeit at times competing goals), Sanker noted that true collaboration has been key, explaining the power of groups with a simple equation.
In a group with 2 participants there is 1 collaborative opportunity, while in a group with 12 participants, there are 4083 collaborative opportunities. How large of a collaborative network could you build?