Biz agility a must in new competitive age

To succeed amidst rapid change, rising complexity and "unknown" competitors, businesses in Asia must transform to be more agile, say IBM executives.

SINGAPORE--Economic and other pressures are spurring fierce than ever competition in the business landscape and enterprises must transform and innovate by making their business more agile, noted industry observers.

With a high level of growth compared to the other regions, Asia-Pacific is now the place to be and businesses must expect the entry of new competitors into the market, said Paul Brunet, IBM's vice president of WebSphere and BPM (business process management) product marketing.

"Businesses must deal with complexities and the unknown [competitor]," he told ZDNet Asia Thursday on the sidelines of the IBM Impact and Innovate Conference in the city-state.

Justin Wood, senior economist at the Economist Intelligence Unit, cited China-based BYD Automobile as an example of competition of a fast-rising star, growing from a 20-man company selling batteries in 2003 to a manufacturer of electric vehicles boasting a headcount of 200,000 in 2010.

In his presentation at the conference, Wood shared that Southeast Asia is in sound financial health, while Asia excluding Japan is expected to enjoy the highest economic expansion globally. Emerging markets China and India will remain the top growth engines in the region, he noted.

He added that the middle class was "ballooning" and the number of households earning US$5,000 a month in Asia excluding Japan will double in five years, indicating fiercer competition coming from unexpected places as well as accelerating change.

Transforming through agility
According to Brunet, businesses in the region must recognize that transformation is "not optional" nor static, and at the same time learn from the experiences of others in terms of best practices.

The climate, he noted, is one where new technologies and opportunities will arise and revolutionize markets. This was evident in the video rental business in America, where Blockbuster was the dominant player but saw its stranglehold broken by Netflix and eventually filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, said Brunet.

The executive stressed that businesses cannot afford to be too narrow in their thinking. "Don't just look at the local market; realize that competition is going in come in multiple ways as opportunities will.

"Create new models, think innovative, do not take existing models and continuously look at [your model to] refine it," he said.

Brunet also noted in his presentation that in order to grow, faster time to market is key for businesses. To achieve the agility, they would have to work on three areas: Enterprise visibility; operational dexterity and process integrity.

Speaking also on the theme of transformation, Wendy Toh, vice president for Rational software at IBM Worldwide, noted that businesses are increasingly prioritizing innovation for growth. According to her, software--the "invisible thread" to innovation--and systems development must be managed so that the organization can act in an agile way to respond to shifts in the business environment.

Smart Web sites for smarter customers
When it comes to retailers, changing customer characteristics call for "smarter commerce", which is about transforming the buying, marketing, selling and servicing aspects, said Vinodh Kishna, smarter commerce leader at IBM Asean.

In his presentation, Kishna noted that businesses have entered the age of empowered customers who are able to make or break brands. Such customers are defined as those savvy with social media, believe companies don't tell the truth in advertisements, and know and demand what they want.

To effectively reach and foster positive relationships with these customers, organizations must understand and anticipate customer needs, be adaptive to customers including personalizing customer messages and able to sell across channels in an integrated manner. To achieve these, businesses need to have a strategy, improve internal processes and translate intelligence into action.

Simon Lee, IBM Asean executive for Web experience and social business, added that an "exceptional Web experience" is necessary in today's context. Businesses, he pointed out, should differentiate themselves by offering fast and reliable services that better anticipated and catered to customer needs.


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