Monday, August 21, 2006

How is the "FLAT WORLD" affecting your business?

By Dana Baldwin

A recent book, The World is Flat - A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century by Thomas L. Friedman, published by Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2005, raises some critical questions for many businesses, small and large. The author is saying that recently there have been a series of cascading developments which have changed the ways in which businesses of all sizes function. The result is that our "world" has been flattened as far as work, workflow, information and data transfer are concerned. This is important and should be incorporated in your strategic planning.

What effect will the "flattening effects" listed in the book have on your business? A few examples serve as good illustrations. Work flow software has changed the way we all do business. From the processing of credit cards at the retail store, to on-line purchasing and ordering at all levels, including the availability of data on-line means that we are now doing business in a much different way than we were prior to this occurring. Our business models and practices have evolved to embrace this technology advance with the result that we process data much more quickly with fewer people and better accuracy and completeness than we ever could before this occurred.

Second is the availability of information. The ways in which we research and process information have changed dramatically. People at all levels of a company can quickly go on-line and find the information they need with a few keystrokes. Search engines like Google make information readily available to all. There is a great leveling effect due to this change in our ability to find whatever we are searching for without the intervention of others, and is such a timely manner. A simple example is looking up an address or phone number in a city far away. Years ago, one had to go to a library or the phone company and pore through directories to search for the information. Now, we go on-line, type in a few words and the information comes up on our screens. The result is that we can do more in a given period of time, with more accuracy.

A third flattening effect is the portability of access to this information. A few years ago, we were tied to our desktops if we wanted to access the internet. Then came laptops, but we were still tied to wired access. Next our laptops could access the net through Wi-Fi, with an effective access radius of 100-200 feet. Today, our laptops and PDAs can access the net directly from nearly anywhere over a wireless broadband connection, just like our cell phones - which also can address the net. Each of these changes has increased the instant availability of communication including data, flattening the world we work in even more.

The implications of all of these transformations indicate that we must be aware of the evolution of our work world and, to the extent that each change affects how we do business, be willing to evolve our business's capabilities and practices to keep pace. Failing to do this could well mean long term negative consequences for the viability and profitability of our businesses.

Dana Baldwin is a Consultant with Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc. He can be reached via e-mail at