The Emergence of the Real World Enterprise

    August 16, 2005

Large companies have begun planning infrastructural and organizational responses to the increased velocity of business change and internet-accelerated data flow.

This real-time responsiveness is long overdue and will make corporations more able to flex with changing business requirements. However, I believe that many real-time enterprise initiatives will fall short of their goals because they fail to account for a major change in how giants like IBM, Merck, and Toyota operate on a planetary level.

No longer just multinational, these supranational “world enterprises” gird the planet with development labs, centers of competence, adaptive manufacturing plants, and customer service centers. Ideally they develop goods and services from inception to meet the needs of many markets; they rely on in-country subsidiaries to identify the value and adapt world-ready products to appeal to national tastes. These companies design their wares, manufacture them, and manage supporting data and document repositories to comply with national legislation and conventions from cradle to grave.

The Real World Enterprise Does Not Stop at Borders

Aspirants to becoming a world enterprise must deal with a flood of code, content, and data that does not respect national borders. They have to create language and locale-independent processes to transform this content into a form, language, and style appropriate to the needs of consumers in disparate markets and roles. Three realities will drive forward-thinking companies to become real world enterprises.

  • Many corporate IT groups already operate like software development houses. Java, microprocessors, and Linux continue to creep inside an ever widening array of devices. Manufacturers of cars, medical devices, phones, and MP3 players must choose LCDs that display Roman, Arabic, Cyrillic, and Chinese characters. Worldwide roll-outs of complex offerings like BMW’s iDrive depend on localized variants being available in all markets at the same time. These IT groups will come to resemble independent software vendors in composition, metrics, and schedules.
  • Global marketing pivots on websites. Consumers in So Paulo can see products and prices on your domestic website as soon as you post them. At best, this crossborder transparency creates demand. At worst, it embarrasses you by showcasing products that you can’t deliver because you don’t have a Portuguese interface or a Brazilian distributor. To avoid embarrassing inconsistency and confusion, real world enterprises will harmonize branding and messaging across their global sites.
  • The real world enterprise flows across borders. Most companies will consider “foreign” operations to be outside the scope of the real-time enterprise – until the next unwelcome surprise originates in a business unit that operates in a language, currency, and practice unknown at headquarters. Real world enterprise executives should never be surprised by chaotic economic conditions, aggressive competitors, restrictive legislation, international supply chains, and traumatic shifts in customer demand. These factors demand the monitoring, analysis, and transfer of huge volumes of information wherever your company operates, putting a new burden on database, knowledge, and enterprise resource management systems.
  • What does this mean in practice? To deliver on the promise of the world enterprise, companies will have to think less about being an American or German company and more about structures, products, organizations, and applications that work globally first, nationally second. To execute on this vision hey will need to adopt and adapt the techniques of simultaneously shipping digital deliverables, products that embed multilingual content, internal dataflows, and inter-company communications across international boundaries. This won’t be news to larger software and computer hardware suppliers that “simship” products to many international. However, this effort will put a strain on development, marketing, and support organizations long accustomed to simple product roll-outs within a single national market.

    Donald A. DePalma, Ph.D., President and Chief Research Officer, Common Sense Advisory

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