Heard the one about the car that thought it was a spa? Hailed as the first 100 per cent electric ‘spa car’, the Renault Zoe concept was unveiled in 2009, complete with a beauty-boosting climate control system developed with L’Oréal.
But the Renault Zoe is no joke. Cross-sector partnerships are flourishing as rapid advancements in digital technologies dissolve industry boundaries. Research shows that most top executives think this is the most important structural shift for businesses over the next five years.
The same study reveals a preference for collaboration over mergers and acquisitions as a means of expanding into new sectors. Thanks to digital analytics, businesses can gain consumer insights that will help them pick the right partners to work with – even if they’re not the obvious choice.
Chalk and cheese
While consumers enjoy collaborative outcomes such as innovative products, joined-up services and enhanced customer experiences, each participating business reaps the rewards of exposure to – and, often, direct communication with – new audiences.
Tech start-up Artfinder, an online art marketplace, teamed up with boutique hotel brand My Hotels when it curated a food-themed exhibition for the launch of a new hotel restaurant. Artfinder’s business development manager, Angela Roldan, describes how the unlikely pairing has paid off:
“Our partnership has allowed us to reach new audiences who might not have even thought about art as part of their lifestyle or who were unaware that there is a way to buy original art directly from independent artists online.”
Strength in numbers
A collaborative approach often leads to bigger incentives for consumers, even in a challenging marketplace. In the wake of last year’s EU referendum, a new partnership between UK independent airline group Monarch and multi-currency payments service FairFX helped holidaymakers get better value for money. While Monarch promoted FairFX international transfers, cards and travel cash, FairFX offered all Monarch customers preferential exchange rates.
Creative England, a not-for-profit national agency dedicated to unlocking the creative potential of our country, is a strong advocate for cross-sector collaboration. It encourages creative entrepreneurs to connect with the corporate world so both can prosper in the digital economy.
Chief executive Caroline Norbury explains that the proliferation of digital technology is generating ‘an explosion of cross-sector ventures that draw on the skills and business practices of small businesses in the creative industries’.
The most exciting tech in the world is nothing without the creative vision to apply it to new products and services. And last year’s report by the World Economic Forum on the impact of the technological revolution on employability skills found that creativity will be even more important to future economies: it will rise from 10th place in 2015 to become one of the top three skills employers look for in 2020.
Even industries that might traditionally be considered scientific or technical, such as healthcare, will see a greater focus on creativity and communication as complex technological advances are ‘translated’ into clear, useable information. Creative England has already done pilot work with the NHS to reimagine patient care and information in the context of new digital opportunities – using apps and online communities, for example.
The collaboration between small digital studio Citrus Suite and entertainment giant Disney is another melding of health, creativity and technology. Citrus Suite developed an immersive fitness app designed to get families active, with the added motivation of Disney characters as rewards.
Caroline Norbury believes UK businesses are well-equipped to meet the growing need for creative talent: “One of the things we’re really good at in the UK is original, creative ideas,” she says. “And our creative products travel – thanks to our language and culture, which has provenance that goes back centuries.”
She adds that while we may have a trade deficit in terms of manufacturing and physical goods, we have a surplus in terms of IP: “Take Dyson, for example – a British company that is considered a manufacturer, but most of its parts are made abroad. But it’s the ideas behind the technology, and their intellectual applications, that create the real value.”
Creative England’s recent investment in Evidential is further proof of the rise of ‘blended’ companies, which combine science and creativity. This revolutionary company, a provider of expert witness services, uses augmented and virtual reality to recreate crime scenes for juries in courtroom proceedings.
Thanks to a diverse staff of expert witnesses, designers and software developers, the Evidential team produces innovative presentations of complex evidence – such as 3D reconstructions of crime scenes that can be explored virtually.
Exponential growth in the number and types of digital technology applications is creating big change for the workforce, too. Not only do digital work environments and collaboration tools – such as social media, video conferencing, online file sharing, intranet and web browsing – promote flexibility, accountability and productivity, they also offer unprecedented opportunities for networking.
Artfinder’s Angela Roldan has described how the idea for the collaboration came from a colleague who had met an employee of My Hotels, and how she followed it up using LinkedIn to contact My Hotels’ founder and chief executive.
The social scene
Many of us regularly use social networks in our personal lives. As the line between our work and home lives continues to be eroded, it’s not surprising that we demand this level of interconnectivity in the office too.
At work, enterprise social networks (ESNs) help ‘smart, agile businesses make personal connections that lead to great partnerships,’ according to business strategist Rita Trehan.
Of course, not all networking is productive and not all connections will be beneficial, but ESNs also promote transparency and openness, making it easier to get to grips with a potential partner’s culture, values and reputation. So, even if they’re chalk and you’re cheese, it could still turn out to be a perfect pairing.