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"No man is an island.” That may have been written in 1624 by the English poet John Donne, but in 2015 it is probably still relevant to how we see collaboration in business. For every business that feels it is able to exist in isolation, there are scores of similar businesses in the same location that benefit and seek out closer collaboration. Why? Because in a competitive world there is always a need for support from people you understand and who understand you.

The idea of a common standard to assess how organisations use a collaborative approach to build effective working business partnerships is not new. What is new is that one of the world’s most respected inspection, verification, testing and certification companies is setting out a common standard to help businesses do this.

SGS United Kingdom Ltd was incorporated in the ICW BS 11000 Certification Validation Scheme at the end of 2014. Originally launched in 2004 as a pilot scheme aiming for a national standard, BS 11000 is in essence a strong determinate of the strength of business partnerships. How you talk, react and act with your peers, suppliers and competitors is determined by relationships that have the power to make or break these bonds. Being successful in business is often about building and maintaining these relationships.

Andrew Bury, Performance Assessment – Development & Delivery Manager at SGS, sees the new standard as vital to enhance the competitiveness and performance amongst companies. 

“The key point about BS 11000 is that it can help identify the key working relationships that eventually form the sort of strong partnerships that are often mutually beneficial in an industry or business sector. Collaborative business relationships can really help to drive increased innovation, improved risk management and better value for money. No matter what the size of business people are in, the standard sets out guidelines to help deliver continuous improvements from these relationships. Every business has competitors but they are not always to be avoided. In fact, the stronger an industry, the stronger the prospects for all involved in it.”

SGS is recognised as one of the UK’s few Institute for Collaborative Working (ICW) nominated certification bodies able to provide auditing and development training for the BS11000 standard. For Andrew Bury and SGS, it is not simply a case of auditing and then issuing a certificate, it is about the journey to that certification and what it can teach a business. The real power of the standard lies in the eight stage framework that provides a road map to make best use of BS11000.

“Unlike most standards this is not a static one. It is a continuously moving standard that will help organisations of any size maximise their partnerships effectively. There are three phases – strategic, engagement and management – and within these you have awareness, internal assessments, value creation, partner selection and working together. The value is in allowing organisations to decide what they want from a business relationship and guiding them to achieving it through monitoring and constant evaluation.”

Early adopters of BS 11000 have included Network Rail, Balfour Beatty, Costain and Lockheed Martin. Yet what they say about the standard reflects the suitability for even the smallest business; strong management and processes are important, as is the ability to add structure to a business culture. As Andrew Bury points out, “These things work even in smaller organisations as they provide benchmarks for future working practices. Our job is to support and guide companies through the audit and certification processes but also to explain why it matters. There is growing interest in this British standard and it will eventually move to be an international one. Now is the time to move forward and achieve compliance.”

So does it matter if you have BS 11000 or do you still think your business is too small or not important enough for this? That’s not a view Andrew Bury and SGS share. “Each business relationship is unique in terms of what it does; what it relates to and what type of business sector it is in. What remains true of all businesses is that to survive in a competitive industry, you need strong partnerships and relationships even with larger organisations. This new standard enables businesses to evaluate the benefits of collaboration, select partners to complement their objectives and develop approaches to common goals.”

Now there can’t be a lot wrong with any business wanting to do that.

For more information on BS 11000, go to