By Claire West

Having undergone a quality revolution in the 1980s and a productivity revolution in the 1990s, business practice in the UK is about to undergo another revolution in the 2010's: that of innovation through collaboration.

That is the view of John Hill, the Chief Executive of PERA Innovation Network. Mr Hill was one of the speakers at 'Collaborative Working with Government', the latest PSL (Partnership Sourcing Limited) Executive Partnering Knowledge Network conference. The event, held at the Churchill War Rooms in London, was sponsored by EMCOR, a key member of the PSL Executive Network.

Hill said: "It is vital that you understand what you want from 'collaboration' as a group of organisations. In particular, it's important to be careful what you measure - because you may not be measuring what's really important or what's needed.

"It's also important to realise that sharing risk in a collaborative relationship is not the same as delegating risk to others. Ultimately, delegating risk doesn't - and won't - work," he added.

While 'Collaborative Working with Government' encompasses all areas of Government, the PSL event focused primarily on defence and property / facilities management.

These two high profile areas are tasked to find a way to deliver 'more for less' by reducing inefficiencies and wastage while preventing short-termism. This approach has taken on a new emphasis in the light of the Government's recent Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR), which was published the day before this event took place.

In his keynote address to delegates at the PSL event, Barry Sheerman MP explained that: "As politicians, we need to know what's going on the real world. If we don't - and if the senior civil servants who advise us don't - the result is bad policy and short-termism."

This drives the need for businesses to share their knowledge and experience and strengthen their relationships with Government at all levels. Policy Connect, an organisation which Barry Sheerman chairs, provides just such a community where business and Government debate the big issues.

Taking up the issue of the Government's CSR, allied to the need for the Government to significantly reduce the budget deficit, EMCOR's Nick Morris discussed the increasing financial pressures on Government departments. In turn, these Government departments not only pass on these cost pressures to the service sector but also, in a competitive market, have higher expectations of the service levels that they will receive - in other words: 'cost down and service up'!

In Morris' view, the best way to respond to these trends is through devoting significant resources to key account management, especially taking time and trouble to understand customers' business drivers, operational requirements and cost pressures, as well as encouraging a constant focus on 'value' rather than merely 'task'. He added: "That's what collaboration is all about. Partnering with Government is a philosophy, not a contractual requirement.

"It puts personality into the corporate relationship and needs commitment on both sides for it to work. Using a collaborative approach, employees understand that they are in business because of - not despite - their customers.

"Moreover, it changes the role of the Government from a deliverer to a specifier - and provides clarity on issues of value and cost," he concluded.

Karan Mangroo, Operations Director - Exchequer Partnerships, pointed out that the Government is the largest tenant / owner of land in the country - some 10.1m square feet, which has a total operating cost of some £3.3bn a year. He outlined three efficiency drivers for managing these assets: sustainability, getting better value for money; becoming more environmentally friendly, and reducing the budget deficit, coupled with transparency and the new management culture of 'optimised asset management'.

Paul Martin and Robin Singleton are joint chairs of the MoD Partnering Implementation Working Group (PIWG). The PIWG reports to the MoD's Commercial Policy Delivery Group, as a joint Ministry of Defence (MoD) and industry body which has been set up to collect and share good practice for partnering arrangements between the MoD and industry.

Martin reported that PIWG has formally adopted the principles of BSI BS 11000 - the world's first standard for collaborative business relationships, which was published recently. The BS 11000 framework comprises methodologies supported by a wide range of tools and guides which have been established over some 20 years' experience in business relationship management.

"BS 11000 gives consistency to the MoD approach," commented Paul Martin.

Robin Singleton, the other joint-chair of PIWG, identified a number of key areas which could drive benefits through innovative collaboration: process and policy; project team structure - thinking of projects as a joint venture, full 'role integration', rather than two separate organisations co-ordinating their approach. Singleton added: "Asking people if they are willing to partner with others is like asking people if they have a good sense of humour. Everyone always says 'yes' - but reality is a little different.

"Getting PAS 11000 - the forerunner of BS 11000 - was not an end in itself; merely the end of the beginning. The launch of BS 11000 will not only allow organisations to adopt and work to these standards but will also encourage greater innovation in collaborative working."

Copies of the standard - which is the brainchild of PSL (Partnership Sourcing Limited) - are available from the BSI website.