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Friday, 10 December, 1999, 18:43 GMT
BUSINESS IN THE 21st CENTURY: THREE VISIONS
For the debate on business in the 21st century, The Money Programme invited three leading thinkers to offer their ideas on what business would do in the decades ahead, how companies would operate, and the constraints on enterprise. These are the summaries of their thoughts.
Imperial College Management School, London
What business will do
In the next Millennium, business will undergo a profound revolution. The success of a business will not be determined by the products or services it offers, but by the customers it cultivates.
The only thing we know for certain is that tomorrow's customer will have more information and less time, and what that customer will want, will continually evolve.
It's easy to predict some individual developments of the future; intelligent fridges, mobile internet phones, e-banking. But most new ideas cannot be anticipated, and will be superseded - sooner rather than later.
In this environment, the 21st Century customer will no longer see things in terms of individual products or services that they may want, they will be looking for results over time. By results, I mean the total experience.
Increasingly, companies are realising this. For example, Direct Line doesn't just offer its customers motor insurance, it's gone into the breakdown business by offering car collection and repair services as well.
In this way, they provide the total experience of 'car care over time', rather than just cheap insurance.
Providing customers with a total experience will see industries converging. For example, in the new millennium, customers will not be shopping for, say, the next Sony Walkman, or Nokia mobile phone, they will want a total experience; in this case mobile information.
So the company that provides the hardware and the news and entertainment, plus anything else that is relevant - will win customers. The worth of the future company will be measured by the lock it
has on its customers. Any company that expects to prosper in the old way, by concentrating on its core products alone, will struggle.
University of Kent at Canterbury
The company and the workplace
Mobility is the key to the future -for both companies and individuals. Mobile in terms of where they are based, and flexible in the way work is done at every level. The Information Age, the technological revolution which will enable this, is already here, but the implications have not been fully accepted by most businesses.
Consider this story - I recently met the owner of a software company with clients in Australia, Europe and North America. Where are they based ? Fiji. That's some commute - or it would be without the internet. The global marketplace means the death of distance.
Most employees do not really need 'to go to work to work'. They could work online from home, apart from occasional team meetings. Only results matter; not how many hours you put in at the office.
This will save huge amounts of time and money, by cutting travelling and office space. The companies who have the confidence to give their staff this new freedom will be more efficient. But cost is not the only driver.
Individuals will have a new self confidence, putting them in control. Self employment and growth of small businesses has been dramatic recently; that is the model. The young entrepreneurs of today do not think in terms of a career with one company or jobs for life. They will be the people driving change - their creative skills are all that count. With employees like this, the companies of the future will not be traditional hierarchies.
Think in terms of co-operative networks, strategic alliances and partnerships of groups sharing knowledge to keep up with the pace of change. Everything from accounting to manufacturing the end product can be out sourced to anywhere on the globe. All a company needs is their core competence.
The uncomfortable fact is that manufacturing jobs will be mobile in a different way too; all but high-tech, specialist plants will leave the UK. The knowledge based industries will take over, employing almost half of the workforce.
Forum for the Future
Business and the environment
As we enter a new millennium hardly a month goes by without new evidence of serious environmental disruption, including, most recently, freak storms that battered the Eastern United States and floods which have inundated the Indian state of Orissa. It is clear the natural world is under unprecedented pressure.
It's business that often gets the blame, but I believe that only it can resolve our environmental crisis.
Consumers can demand greener products. But, as the present argument over road policy here in Britain shows, we are not prepared to make radical lifestyle changes that would make big differences to the environment.
Economic growth will continue. Most of the world's people are not even on the consumption bandwagon yet, but they desperately want to achieve western standards of living.
We all look to governments to resolve environmental problems, and we are likely to see more calls for business to be regulated and controlled. But it is increasingly difficult for governments to establish effective measures to protect the environment. They are warned by businesses not to damage their international competitiveness, with threats to move abroad if regulations make life too difficult.
At the World Trade Organisation meeting in Seattle, the battle was about getting the environment on to the agenda at all. Businesses have acquired enormous influence over government policy, which enables them to play a blocking role with regard to new policies, if they are so minded
But if people are reluctant to make sacrifices and government regulation is unrealistic, then it is actually up to business. If industry responds positively to the new challenges of environmental responsibility there are real opportunities. They can free themselves from conflict with government or public opinion. They can become more efficient and gain new competitive advantages by developing the technologies to stave off catastrophe.
We are heading for environmental disaster. Unless business takes the lead, our future is bleak.
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