Collaborative networking can take many forms. From strategic alliances and partnerships to business networks, development networks or even regional and national collaboration.
These involve businesses working together for specific purposes where the collaboration has identifiable and measurable benefits to all participants in the network. Key features of a business network are:
- a group of businesses as the core (although members may include academia and other organisations)
- a restricted membership
- agreed co-operation between members
- common business objectives likely to boost mutual competitiveness and financial gain
These are the most basic forms of networks consisting simply of businesses associating with other businesses. Their activity is often confined to:
- the exchange of information
- shared services
These networks are usually informal and unstructured. They are also less likely to have a purpose linked directly to financial gain or competitive advantage for the members.
Regional business network
These are geographically defined groups of companies, educational institutions, local councils and economic development agencies connected by linkages across sectors. They can make up business clusters which share a common regional location, where 'region' is defined as:
- a geographical area
- a labour market
- an economic unit
Regional networks often bring benefits to businesses but this is not always their sole purpose. They are often motivated by broader goals of regional and national economic development. Find Northern Ireland business networks.
Different manifestations of collaboration networks
Some common forms of collaboration networks include:
- Virtual organisation - this type of partnership uses technology to collaborate and relies heavily on telecommunications.
- Virtual enterprise - this is a temporary grouping of businesses that come together to solve a problem or respond to a particular business opportunity, co-operating via computer networks.
- Extended enterprise - this is collaborative working between participants in a supply chain concerned with providing goods and services to the market. Companies can work independently (eg through the open market exchange) or cooperatively (eg through agreements and contracts).
- Virtual organisation breeding environment (VBE) - this is a cluster of organisations that make themselves available for opportunities. They agree to the main working and sharing principles to enable them to create dynamic virtual organisations that can respond to rapid changes in the market needs.
- Business ecosystem - this is a network of businesses (eg suppliers, distributors, customers or even regulatory bodies) involved in delivering a product or service through both competition and collaboration.
With technology and many industries changing rapidly, ways of collaborative networking continue to evolve. The key thing to remember is that all businesses behave differently and that successful business collaboration doesn't rely on a single definitive model.
The ultimate aim of collaborative networking, in whatever shape it takes, is to gain access to skilled labour, additional resources and opportunities for sharing ideas and growing profit. See more on the benefits of business collaboration.