Global Experience Should Improve Domestic Performance

By Marianne Broadbent  |  Posted 08-05-2005

Global Experience Should Improve Domestic Performance

Okay, so you're an executive at a large corporation with operations around the world. How "developed" are you, really? To what extent are you learning from the integration of technology in everyday experiences around the globe? Have you looked recently at how your colleagues in other parts of the world are applying technologies effectively?

And have you attempted to integrate those approaches into how you do business at home? Why does it seem so hard for many U.S. companies to really "see" and integrate those experiences.

I travel more than most people, which I see as a wonderful privilege. And I continue to be amazed by how few companies take advantage of the experience and expertise of their people around the world as input into their technology strategies.

I don't mean "IT strategy" in a narrow sense, but rather how these companies innovate and improve their customer offerings by drawing on the rich experiences of employees in the countries in which they operate.

I sometimes find myself suggesting to the executives of companies for which I consult that they should look at what their Italian or Brazilian or Canadian staff is doing, because it might really help boost their competitiveness, their productivity, or their responsiveness to customers.

The various opportunities and different ways of deploying technologies are often occurring right before our eyes. Too often, however, we can't see the trees for the forest.

At the risk of annoying a significant number of readers, I would like to share some experiences from outside the U.S. that involve the integration of technology into everyday life. The technologies underlying these examples are usually relatively stable and applied to standard processes—or what my Gartner colleague Mark McDonald refers to as "persistent business needs."

Let's start with Australia, my home country. When I call a cab from my house, the dispatcher knows where I am calling from, provided that I have called from there at least once before. The booking is completed through a simple voice-recognition process.

I answer a series of questions—"How many passengers?" "Are you ready now?"—and the cab is dispatched. The cab driver has received no verbal instructions; instead, global positioning systems are used to dispatch the nearest cab.

It is always a jolt when taking a cab in the U.S. to remember that you usually need cash. Even on some parts of the West Coast, where you can pay by credit card, the drivers still use old-fashioned paper forms. All cabs in Australia take credit cards, and this is done using a point-of-sale machine like those used in supermarkets. It's been this way for at least seven years.

Bank payment systems are another fascinating area. A few months ago, a business colleague received payments from two U.S. clients in the form of a paper check. This meant someone had to actually visit a bank to cash it.

How very tedious. He had to explain to his U.S. clients how to do direct transfers to the bank account—instructions which were printed on the invoice but which had been ignored. In fact, the whole use of checks in the U.S. continues to baffle me. Few other developed countries generate the amount of paper in payments as the U.S. does.

And let's not leave out mobile phones. Advertisements in the U.S. for mobile phones offering one phone number in a variety of countries are a real source of amusement for visitors from most parts of Europe and Asia. I, for one, could not have done my job over the past eight years if I hadn't had a single worldwide number.

Next page: Easy Pass, International

Easy Pass, International

When entering Australia, I use "Smart Gates." As a frequent traveler, I had the option of having my facial image scanned and stored for easy recognition. Now I just go to the Smart Gate machine, put my machine-readable passport number on the screen and look straight ahead.

When the machine recognizes me, the gates open and I walk through. No questions, no explanations, no small talk, no queuing.

I also used to have an INSPASS for entry to the U.S., which involved giving the U.S. immigration service my fingerprints. That option, however, was only sporadically available after Sept. 11, and then it was eliminated altogether. Reports in the past several weeks indicate that U.S. and Australian authorities are now working on whether they can read the microchips in each other's electronic passports.

When I drive on the CityLink toll road from the airport into Melbourne, where I live, my CityLink Access pass debits my account, which is linked to my credit card. But I keep driving at 65 mph. I don't slow down at all. To do so would cause a major accident, as there are no toll booths, just cameras overhead to catch my number plate if the debit isn't recorded.

The result is a much smoother flow of traffic. Companies that run toll roads in different parts of Australia now recognize each other's systems, and the same technology is being deployed elsewhere in the world.

Well-known, standard technologies being applied to mainstream business processes. How many similar examples have you encountered from amongst your executives around the world? How has it changed what you do? Have you tried to integrate such experiences into how your organization uses technology?

One company that does this consistently is Citigroup, which is headquartered in the U.S. What's important is that Citigroup's growth was not predicated on a large domestic base. It was always an internationally focused financial services firm. In the 1990s, Citibank used its expertise in Singapore as a base for the consolidation of data centers.

More recently, in the development of an Asian credit card, Citibank did not take the approach of either transplanting U.S. experience or developing the card solely from their Asian experiences. Rather, they looked more widely, taking what they had learned from around the world and using it as input to shape the Asian product.

Yves Doz, a professor at INSEAD, the international business school based outside Paris, refers to "metanationals." To the metanational company, globalization is not about taking home-country know-how to other national markets around the globe.

It is about efficiently fishing for knowledge in a global pool, harnessing that knowledge for innovation, and then harvesting its value for its stakeholders. Often, executives at these metanational companies have lived and worked in different parts of the world, and they are invariably curious as to why developments in one place are not being applied elsewhere.

Yes, sometimes cultural and political considerations need to be taken into account. In countries where there is an expectation of face-to-face contact to complete a customer process, for example, innovation can be slower.

And it is harder for countries to be metanationals when they have a large domestic customer base, as is often the case with U.S. companies. You are more likely to see metanationals emerge from midsize and smaller countries in Europe and Asia, where growth from their domestic base alone may be insufficient.

The next time you travel, focus on what your colleagues in other locations are doing differently. Is it a better way to get work done? A better way to serve customers? How are they doing it? How can you integrate their experiences into your technology strategy and execution? What benefits are you really delivering thanks to the international spread of your business and the range of capabilities of your people and technologies?

Marianne Broadbent is Senior Vice President at Gartner responsible for Gartner's global research business strategy, and a Gartner Fellow. Her next column will appear in November.