World Business Essays 2006: Convergence - The convergence challenge

BT is one of the world's leading providers of communications solutions, serving customers in Europe, the Americas and Asia Pacific

by Allen Ma, president, BT Asia Pacific
Last Updated: 23 Jul 2013

If you run a business that's dependent on technology - and, these days, most are - you are probably bored of hearing from innovators who believe they have something truly revolutionary to offer. In truth, many top executives are ambivalent about new technology, preferring to leave their IT managers to "just make things work". Often, that's just the right thing to do - after all, the board focuses on strategic business issues, not technical detail. When it comes to convergence, however, delegation is dangerous.

Convergence started as a purely technical phenomenon - the progressive elimination of the differences between voice and data, fixed and mobile, and IT and entertainment that once required delivery over separate networks. Now, however, that phenomenon is combining with other global trends to create an economic revolution we call the digital networked economy. Four trends are particularly relevant.

The first - and most advanced - is the switch to digital. Business documentation, marketing materials, live communication, graphics and video all exist in digital form, stored in databases and moved quickly from place to place through global data networks. Among other benefits, this allows work to be moved to people, reducing the need for people to travel.

The second trend is globalisation of the workforce. India, China and other countries in Asia Pacific have invested heavily in their people's education. At the same time, the skills and experience of Eastern European countries and Russia have become easier to access. The result is a global pool of highly skilled people who, now that high-performance data networks have reached most parts of the world, can be employed as easily as those available locally.

Third is the rapidly escalating power of computers and IT. Linked by networks, IT systems not only allow customers to serve themselves, but can automate the tasks a business must complete to deliver its products and services. Computers connect supply chains, negotiating deliveries. They can turn services on and off, configure them to the customer's requirements and arrange billing and payment. They can speak to customers and, in limited situations, even understand their replies.

Finally, there's the trend towards outsourcing. Outsourcing isn't new. It has never made sense to do everything in-house, and probably never will. But today there's more work that can be outsourced - especially 'back office' tasks such as payroll administration, purchasing, software development and customer support centres. For many businesses, outsourcing brings higher quality and a lower cost.

Each of these trends is significant on its own. Because all are happening simultaneously, the opportunities, challenges and risks in this converging world are extreme. What will savvy executives do? They must brave the new world and find a way to make convergence, in all its forms, work for them.

Naturally, the answer will vary for every organisation, but one important thing to recognise is that the changes can be made incrementally. It's a journey rather than a destination. And it's a journey that can deliver incremental benefits along the way. It's also a journey that is best made in good company. The ability to choose the right partners is fast becoming one of the most valuable - and crucial - skills in business.

These trends depends on high-performance networking. To gain advantage, you need a network that can carry whatever you need to move to wherever you need it to be - quickly, reliably and securely. It isn't something you can leave to chance, and it's something few in-house IT departments are equipped to deliver.

That makes your choice of a partner to deliver the networked IT services that will connect your world one of the most important decisions your business will ever make. Is it one you can really afford to delegate?

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