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The open enterprise: Why companies need to learn to share

Key takeaways

  • Delivering exceptional customer experience is a key driver of business success.
  • What the customer wants, they may not be able to get from an enterprise operating alone.
  • Opening up to collaboration and data-sharing can fuel agility, spark new revenue streams and ignite innovative solutions.

There are few concepts that run counter to conventional business wisdom like the notion of sharing with outsiders. Pooling resources with competitors and striking collaborations with partners goes against the logic of a business world aimed at generating profits and wresting market share from rivals. After all, if companies give away all their secrets to their competitors, how are they expected to grow?

But, over the last few years, the growing importance of things like data, innovation and speedy adaptability when it comes to delivering an exceptional customer experience has meant that adopting a collaborative mindset has increasingly become the key to future success.

The open enterprise is a model that, at its very basic level, entails the sharing of resources or information between entities. Further along the scale, it invites businesses to work with other companies within a synchronised ecosystem. The rise of application programming interfaces (APIs), hardware and software that enables controlled access to a central technology platform, has made this even easier for businesses to achieve.

Opening up better customer experiences

Although companies have spent decades cultivating business models that build a loyal customer base and secure competitive advantage, they can often undervalue human-centred design.

Today, being a customer-centric business means ensuring that the customer journey is frictionless at every touchpoint. This means opening your mind to partnering with other businesses that may have access to the capabilities or technologies you require in order to achieve the right mix.

In June 2016, Microsoft was reported to be partnering with coffee giant Starbucks to enable Outlook users to schedule meetings at their nearest Starbucks outlet¹.

The collaboration, which also allows customers to gift and redeem Starbucks cards, reflects a world in which consumers increasingly work remotely and schedule on-the-go meetings. It wins points for anticipating the way customers interact with clients and eliminates the logistical challenges of arranging meetings in unfamiliar cities.

Starbucks isn’t the only company plugging into other businesses in order to help deliver an improved customer experience and reduce some of their pain points. Another example is how Uber teamed up with restaurants to offer the UberEATS food delivery service, or with merchants to offer UberRUSH purchase delivery.

Data sharing as usual

Arguably, the most valuable resource when it comes to enhancing the customer experience is data. Government is one area where data shows great potential.

As part of Australia’s national innovation agenda, launched in December 2015, non-sensitive public data is being opened up to businesses, researchers and academics. The idea is to help make government more citizen-focused, drive innovation in products and services, and increase efficiency.²

For businesses, it’s also becoming clear that openness isn’t actually antithetical to generating profits. Sharing information can help brands tap into new markets, give rise to new forms of revenue and set the stage for growth.

In June 2016, Airbnb chief executive Brian Chesky talked about potential plans to partner with other brands to share data gleaned from its 60 million users. The intention of his expansion, leveraged by APIs, would be to move beyond the booking site’s remit as simply a marketplace for accommodation.

“We don’t have an API that companies can plug into,” said Chesky. “I think going forward, though, we are really interested in becoming a platform. What companies plug in probably remain to be seen. But we’ve been pretty open that we see ourselves moving beyond just the home, toward an end-to-end-trip [platform], so you can probably connect the dots on where that leads us.”³

We’re already seeing signs that the culture of privacy that sees businesses hold data so close to their chests is beginning to change. A September 2016 article in IT News reported that Australian banks could be forced to use APIs to relinquish their customers’ transaction histories to fellow banks and other technology providers by July 2018.4 This mandate to share, which aims to give customers greater control over their private information and empower them to make smarter financial decisions, is proof that the open enterprise isn’t an abstract concept. It could be the future of doing business.

Realising opportunity through open enterprise  

Ultimately, setting the stage for the open enterprise is less about blindly sharing your products and services than it is about radically rethinking your relationships with customers and working with brands to deliver customer experiences in new and compelling ways.

Sure, larger companies might struggle to compete with the agility or the lean pricing models associated with the stars of the startup world. But by identifying ways in which they can differentiate or deliver a more superior customer experience, and then investing in partnerships that provide the right capabilities for such innovations, the door to new revenue streams will be opened.

The first phase of embracing the open enterprise involves accepting that sharing is the secret to securing the future of your business. As customer expectations escalate, there are powerful opportunities for those brave enough to keep up.

Interested in collaboration? See how PwC Australia is investing in the next generation of collaborative spaces in order to connect and innovate.

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