Recently, I wanted to use some frequent flier miles for a trip on a U.S.-based airline’s international partner. When I called, the representative told me that to use my miles on the partner airline, he would need to enter my requested flights into the reservations system. Then he would need to send a message to the partner airline requesting confirmation that the seats were available using miles. The agent asked me to call back in 24 hours to learn whether the booking would be confirmed. In 24 hours, I called back and learned that there were no seats available. I then selected other dates, repeated the process and got the same result.
After four tries, I decided to call the partner airline directly to find out available dates. The agent informed me that the dates I wanted had wide open availability for miles-based tickets. So, I tried calling the U.S.-based airline again to request those dates. Again, the result was “unconfirmed.” There was clearly a partner collaboration problem, and systems seemed like the likely culprit.
I called senior leaders of the airline. When the partnership manager investigated, he determined there was indeed a systems-not-talking issue. Nobody using miles could book any flights on the partner airline. My call was the first indication to the airline that there was a collaboration issue involving systems. I didn’t send a bill, but I did get the seats.
For that same trip, I submitted hold requests via the Web or automated phone systems for three daily newspapers and the U.S. mail delivered to my home. I entered a hold date one day before my travel date, so that I could make sure the papers and the mail would stop. Of those four requests, only The Wall Street Journal stopped delivery as requested. The other two newspapers plus the U.S. mail came despite my request.
This was a security risk in that a pile of newspapers and mail overflowing from the letter slot is an invitation to burglars. In this case, the information I entered into systems was not reaching the newspaper delivery people and the letter carrier. These were internal collaboration issues involving systems, and the lack of collaboration was jeopardizing customer relationships. An easy way to lose a customer is to compromise the customer’s security.
Collaboration involves breaking down barriers and silos. For this to happen, both people and systems must talk. Unnecessary manifestations of hierarchy, fear and formality create barriers that poison collaboration. I made that point on the first episode of CNBC’s “Collaboration Now.” You can view that video clip from the show here. Sometimes, though, we take the systems part for granted. Highly-collaborative organizations get the culture part right, but they also make sure that the organization uses common systems and processes. Proprietary systems and processes accessible to a single function or business unit reinforce information hoarding, which inhibits collaboration.
Within enterprises, common systems and processes are key to collaboration. Among enterprises, systems need to talk for collaboration to succeed.