Connecting for a better future … What does it mean? And how do we do it? Take a morning in Hong Kong; blend in 125 business and technology leaders, season with half a dozen passionate presenters and bake in a Big Theme.
You have a good recipe for some powerful and memorable debate. And that’s exactly what was shared at the BT & Cisco Leadership Summit, 2012.
We are all familiar with the idea of global challenges – the Big Issues that everybody talks, reads and, all too often, worries about. Perhaps the biggest of them is the future itself, especially at a time when organisations are hard pressed just dealing with the present.
When what lies ahead looks so challenging, how do you do more than simply survive it, reacting to whatever happens next? How do you actively shape the future to be better than the past? And how indeed do you define “better” in the first place?
A good starting point suggested Kevin Taylor, president Asia Pacific, BT Global Services, is to listen to the current concerns of your customers and your market. BT has a unique listening post, provided by deep involvement at the heart of hundreds of global businesses and their ability to meet extreme challenges through network connectivity. What do those businesses, and their technology leaders, say are the challenges most likely to shape their future? And how do they recognise and exploit opportunities?
As Taylor stressed, there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of macro-level issues that business faces every day. Choosing a few does not mean ignoring or relegating the others. But it is interesting that a small number of global challenges recur, in numerous conversations with different technology leaders around the world. What are they?
In brief, the conversation is most frequently about the “unbalanced economy”, “instant globalisation”, “the power of the individual” and “the end to limitless resources”. Are these four Big Issues merely random? The linkage is not immediately obvious. Do they connect? The view from the Summit is that they do.
Whose “balance” is it anyway?
McKinsey’s Richard Dobbs shared the view that “balance” in the global economy has always been a question of perspective – it depends quite literally on where you are standing. Many of today’s high growth economies were the original economic powerhouses. So their re-emergence as a global force is history repeating itself, but hugely accelerated.
A significant historical trend used to take up to two or three thousand years to unfold. In the twenty first century, it’s down to around two or three thousand days, at most. Hence the pressing concern that is “instant globalisation”. Instant does really mean right now. You either go to the high growth economies, as part of your strategy for surviving the future, or they will come to you.
Luis Alvarez of BT Global Services explained that commitment to these economies is central to BT’s own strategy. The resulting improvement to network infrastructure and connectivity acts as an enabler for business. Organisations in high growth economies are not restricted simply to reacting to instant globalisation. They can be players as well. “There’s no such thing as a successful second class IT citizen, given the rigours of instant globalisation” Alvarez contends.
Chaotic? Or connected?
Realisation that the end to limitless resources has finally come is bringing some order out of the following instance of chaos: half the world’s sea containers actually contain nothing at all. Those in use can be up to two thirds empty. As fuel prices escalate, logistics companies and their customers pay to ship air around the globe as fast as possible. Desirable? No. Sustainable? Absolutely not.
The macro trends inevitably impact business thinking, creating desire for change. Out of that desire emerge practical solutions. For example, the supply chain of the future is connecting response with demand, improving resource allocation and reducing consumption of non-renewable energy. It is also helping to make sure that customers take final delivery of what they believe they bought in the first place. Traceability, and its underlying connectivity, helps turn authentic and dependable from a possibility into a promise. TNT’s Paul Witham explained how.
Communication to the power of one
Individual no longer means isolation. Connected devices and the social media platforms they access have elevated the power of the individual into a force to be reckoned with. Charleston Sin, Managing Director of Cisco Greater China, envisages 50 billion devices connected to the internet by 2020.
Newly empowered individuals blur the line between “work” and “play”. The highly qualified, highly desirable human resources of today expect to remain online, on their own terms, while in the workplace.Accommodating diversity of devices securely and flexibly is a technology challenge. The prize is a major contribution to creating the kind of workplace the best human capital demands.
Imprisoned by captive resources?
If the end to limitless resources has come, then we are just at the beginning of working out how to apply them most effectively. It is not just non-renewables that are running out. Other, less tangible, corporate resources such as customer loyalty are under relentless pressure, eroded by factors including the rise of virtually limitless choice and the flexibility of online and mobile phone-based commerce.
Technology leaders need to respond to an insatiable appetite for mobile commerce, while ensuring the privacy and security that consumers demand. As KPMG’s Clients and Innovation Partner, Egidio Zarrella noted, the technology challenge is to achieve “disruptive innovation” – in ways that consumers will accept and that organisations can afford. This will result in a re-think of expensive IT issues. Will corporate IT inevitably migrate to demand-driven consumption, leaving wholly owned, fixed assets and infrastructure behind?
When high isn’t high enough
In global financial services, the network is the supply chain. For T Rajah, CIO of CLSA, meeting the challenges of today and tomorrow is about continuous, not just high availability. The business is its transactions. The network is how those transactions happen. Therefore continuous network availability is an imperative not an option.
The challenge has moved on: from accommodating demand peaks to providing a constant and affordable service that is always resilient and secure. Instant globalisation drives demand ever higher. The end to limitless resources within the IT budget is causing re-examination of current practice, in key areas such as data centre management and security. If there is to be any resource left for innovation, such as applications development, these areas will have to be approached more cost effectively.
Connecting for a better future: where do we go next?
Individual market characteristics and demands remain, of course. But the world gets smaller. Events move fast, their effects are felt even faster. People are connected today. Tomorrow, they will be even more connected. One voice is quickly a million voices. Tomorrow, it could be a billion. The pressure on finite resources is relentless.The expectations of technology are immense: to innovate, to conserve resources, to satisfy everybody when ‘everybody’ will soon mean the whole world. In this context, the ability to successfully connect people, resources and ideas is the key to creating a better future.
This core idea of connecting for a better future drives our BT Global Services strategy. It is at the heart of what we do and what we produce. It is our core proposition – central to every conversation we have with our customers, business and government leaders around the world. In Hong Kong, this crucial conversation has begun. We look forward to continuing it …
Let us know what you think in the BT Let’s Talk LinkedIn Group, connecting for a better future.