Luis Alvarez, CEO of BT Global Services, shares his thoughts on the sharing of knowledge through technology.
I’ve sat through a few presentations on the global economy in the past couple of years where I could be forgiven for thinking the world’s about to end.
There’s no doubt business leaders have sensed that times are changing. And anyone who feels their position in the world order is under threat is entitled to feel gloomy.
But I believe things can get better.
Yes, there are serious challenges, from the debt crisis, an ever-increasing global population, urbanization and an ageing workforce. But among all this is a wild card – disruptive technology – and luckily for me, it’s at the heart of my business.
“Disruptive” is a controversial word here. It’s normal to feel uncomfortable with disruption. But in this climate, we should welcome it. Disruptive innovations, like Internet telephony, mobility and the cloud, can shake us from our old patterns. They can change the way we work. Change the way we use transport. Change the way we use resources. They allow us to work on the move, communicate instantly around the world and be more efficient.
So we have a wild card up our sleeve as we enter what the management consultancy firm McKinsey calls “the age of uncertainty”. Their experts predict that, for the next 20 years, emerging markets will drive global markets, capital will be more expensive, resource prices will be volatile, and there will be mismatches in the labour market, along with more government intervention, austerity and debt.
These are all pressures that business leaders feel. We’ve held a series of Leadership summits this year, in partnership with Cisco, to listen to what market leaders are thinking. The summits revealed four big themes: the changing global economic order, the end of limitless resources, the increasing power of the individual and the possibilities of instant globalization.
At our Istanbul summit, 68% of business leaders said these issues are already influencing their corporate strategy. In Hong Kong SAR, 49% agreed, followed by 41% in Bogota and 36% in Singapore.
It’s been interesting to see how attitudes vary with each of these four locations. In Istanbul and Hong Kong SAR, business leaders’ biggest focus area is the changing balance of the world economy while, in Singapore, leaders are most concerned about the opportunities of instant globalization, and in Bogota their focus is on the rising power of the individual.
So we face rapidly changing times. Things will be less comfy and less familiar, but I think it’s something we can all tackle if we seize the opportunities that are out there and keep up with the latest developments. Let’s face it: the old world order had its faults. There are huge global inequalities, many people have waited a long time to see growth take off in their regions, and we’ve used up many of the planet’s scarce resources.
Now when I travel to high-growth markets around the world, I feel a sense of empowerment that wasn’t there before. In Latin America, for example, I feel a positive spirit that gives me energy, and the region has companies with big ambitions and enviable skills.
What the new disruptive technology can bring is new ideas and we have examples of companies who are doing amazing things. People who have never had access to medical help can now reach doctors through telehealth facilities. Global shipping companies can use data to analyse the way they’re using containers and make sure they’re only transported when full. People in the fashion industry can use virtual fitting rooms to test out new designs, rather than flying around the world for meetings. There are new possibilities for collaboration and innovation in every field.
This is a time for bold and innovative leadership. And it seems CEOs and managers are up for it. Our research shows they’re leading the way in taking up the new digital technologies. And I welcome the trend, away from the old command-and-control hierarchies, towards more flexible organizations that respect the abilities of individuals.
My goal is that in a few years’ time we can have a new classification; that this “age of uncertainty” will lead to an “age of equality”, where more people have access to a good life, and we share our knowledge – via our new technologies – to build a better future.
Author: Luis Alvarez is CEO of BT Global Services and is scheduled to participate at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting 2013
Image: A man holds a phone while he walks in a street in Shanghai REUTERS/Carlos Barria