The development and implementation of a collaborative architecture for SMEs : executive summary
Small manufacturing based businesses compete in an increasingly competitive global market, a "market which is under pressure to deliver more complex and advanced engineering solutions and more complete services to their customers. In the automotive sector for example, a trend is the change from the purchase of individual components and products to the outsourcing and supply of complete engineered systems. In order to compete and grow their capability SMEs (Small to Medium sized Enterprises) need to find and collaborate closely with complementary partners in order to acquire new skills, technology, resources, tacit knowledge and know-how. To address these difficulties the author developed, implemented and tested a Low Cost Virtual Teaming (LC VT) Collaborative Toolset and more importantly a Collaborative Architecture or business model specially for enabling e-business within manufacturing based SMEs. Both the Toolset and the Architecture are supported by a Collaborative Process methodology, containing rules and protocols. The research methodology followed close interaction with many organisations working within the field, and the" use of a number of research methods to gain balance and rigour. Additionally, feedback from the field resulted in improvements where required and kept the model up to date and relevant. A mixed methodology approach was taken to give a broader and complementary view of the issues to ensure balance within the research leading to a more comprehensive understanding of the issues. The research presents an architecture that provides an industry independent e-marketplace to facilitate the communication and collaboration between the OEM and SME supplier groups to enable the pooling of information and knowledge. The Collaborative Architecture considers the whole cycle of the work processes from identifying and finding new suppliers and winning new orders, through to collaborative product development and to providing production order information. Initial research projects, undertaken by the author, provide key research results, which helped secure secondary funding for a second phase project which was over £3.6m. The West Midlands Collaborative Commerce Marketplace (WMCCM) is an integrated e-business infrastructure project for enabling the West Midlands manufacturing SMEs (1,800 SME members) and facilitates finding new business, finding complementary partners, and also creating and supporting collaborative activities. WMCCM brings together the outputs of the research from the AutoLean III and Autocle@r projects through an integrated collaborative business model. SMEs that can find new sources of work, form partnerships to pool their expertise to help undertake it, who have the know-how to form effective Virtual Teams and can access tools to support collaborative working, are more likely to succeed in the continuing competitive times which lie ahead. The Collaborative Architecture aids SMEs to meet this paradigm.