Competitive Advantage Through Information
SEVERAL REASONS PULL me to OpenCoffee sessions in Ireland. Getting competitive advantage by exchanging information has to rank as a strong recurring theme. However, the information bubbles out only in exchange for some engagement. In my case, I engage with an alert system (a calendar item from Upcoming), then I sync the alert into my mobile phone and I scroll through the week to remind myself of an upcoming OpenCoffee in Limerick or Cork. It takes some effort to get to these casual meet-ups since both involve 80-minute trips on Irish roads. Like a train running on schedule, all the activity ends quickly at 1PM and the reflection begins. In my case, important follow-up continues on the heels of our Irish OpenCoffee sessions because we're trading information on potential collaboration. It appears that three companies from Limerick OpenCoffee will jointly produce a piece of technology that integrates elements of their own into a mash-up of their services. When this happens, we will have an excellent example of building a product through information sharing.
Enterprise Ireland and Shannon Development, two Irish development agencies, try a range of tactics to spark innovation. I've attended dozens of seminars purporting to showcase best practise, best design, and best innovation. All have varying degrees of usefulness but none are as participatory as the OpenCoffee sessions I've watched emerge on their own in several Irish cities. The big cost: time. It takes time to travel to an OpenCoffee session and going off to shoot the breeze with people you may not know invokes an opportunity costs as well. But as many attending Limerick's sessions in The Clarion Hotel discover, sometimes the coffee is free and the advice is free as well.
The Limerick meeting deviated from the small clusters of people chatting when we unfurled the concept behind three companies collaborating to jointly develop a piece of technology that borrows on the strengths of each of the three participants. Principles of collaboration vary in different scenarios. If you work collaboratively, you learn to pick up tactics that will probably work from one situation to another. If you are successful, you actually glean competitive advantage by leveraging the information you acquire over time.
Anyone new to the space of joint project management would have enjoyed listening to how we propose to define a separate company to serve as an entity to (1) receive a research and development grant, (2) record invoices for services, (3) be defined by articles of association under company law. Proceeding down this road moves the concept from a coffee conversation to a platform for Alpha development. Based on the design pattern we sketched out between us, we should be able to test drive a web service before the end of August. I won't reveal any more details of the project in this space but it's worth mentioning that the Limerick OpenCoffee sessions have served as a springboard for discussion about the merits of the technology, its business case and the immediate challenges in the three months ahead.
As a third level educator, I listen to accreditation agencies encouraging the infusion of real-world examples into the curriculum. Students attending Irish colleges and universities get generous grant aid and tuition assistance. Their academic lives are much easier than mine ever was. When you don't have to worry about the money and just have to live within a student's budgetary constraints, it's often easy to focus on learning new skills. Learning how to take an idea into a group project phase to test phase to deployment is a skill we hope to incorporate to our creative multimedia degree at Tipperary Institute. That goal provides me significant motivation to learn how to leverage competitive advantage through the meaningful exchange of information. This is happening now in Limerick OpenCoffee. It would not happen just through the efforts of the three companies involved in the current initiative.
All good coffees have secret ingredients. At home, my home-brewed coffee benefits from beans harvested at high altitude. In Limerick, the crew mingling in the lobby of the Clarion Hotel on Steamboat Quay benefit from the benevolence of some non-bloggers. One has ensured Limerick OpenCoffee enjoys free wifi access to the internet. Another has arranged for the free use of a break-out room when needed for greater discretion. A third has offered up his expertise as the ear to an angel investor. Everyone attending--managing directors, entrepreneurs, developers, technologists, educators, designers, students--offer constructive commentary and engaging discussion. Congeniality rules during our coffee chats. If the summer proves as successful as OpenCoffee converations suggest, the Limerick OpenCoffee group will have a web service that originated along the banks of the River Shannon. There's no reason the same could not happen from the banks of the River Lee or along the banks of the River Liffey.Irish OpenCoffee Backchannel needs some juice.
Note to James Corbett: Readers request the Ultimate Irish Channel and that sounds like a Grazr implementation, doesn't it?