Think Globally, Act Locally

Feb. 1, 2004
In today’s environment, markets are global, and the resources to serve those markets must also be global. Gone are the days when automation products designed and manufactured for the United States could be sold worldwide with any reasonable success.

The companies that are able to design globally for narrow local requirements will generate growth and success—at the expense of those that do not, or cannot.

Today, customers in different parts of the world don’t want generic products, but rather, products that meet their specific needs. With Internet access, most customers now browse the Web not just for pricing and delivery, but also for products and services that meet their unique, often local requirements.

When designing and manufacturing products for the global environment, concentrating design services in just one location was previously considered effective, bringing economies of scale. This gave rise to large “central engineering” departments in all of the large automation end-user organizations. And the automation suppliers followed suit, operating large, central corporate engineering resources to serve central customer requirements.

Today, end-users and suppliers alike must recognize that customers are spread globally, each with specific, local requirements. Design engineering must be focused on the specific needs of relatively local sets of customers. Good market specifications include an overwhelming plethora of needs that are spread globally, which are impossible to fulfill with narrowly focused resources. To service the requirements of global customers, totally new marketing skills and technology requirements come into play.

Good, fast and cheap

Remember when new products took three years to develop? Well, that was the last century—we have now arrived in the Internet age in which time is critical and clearly a competitive weapon. Today, with accelerating technology, some products are obsolete within months. Move fast, or become history.

Let me relate a real-life example: Kodak, the photo giant, recognized back in 1996 that it had better come up with good digital cameras fast, or risk losing market share. The central-engineering development group was asked how long it would take to develop a new digital camera and they said three years—quite reasonable in a conventional sense. But, the job was handed over to a rookie. He came up with a new digital camera in six months and put it into high-volume production to be available on the shelves by Christmas 1997. Today, Kodak is still a player in the burgeoning digital camera business. Without that first high-speed development, it would be toast.

How was it done? The results came through global cooperation—Internet-based project management and product development teams at several Kodak development centers worked round-the-clock with each other and alliance partners around the world. While some slept, others were working and handing off results to others in the development chain. Modern technology and new concepts of marketing alliances provided the answers.

There are lots of new things that you can do for your company to remain competitive in the global environment. People in all parts of your company must be encouraged to become more proactive, more globally oriented. Global customers must be met at their home locale, to find out specific local requirements and pricing. And the company must respond by adapting products to meet those local needs.

New ways must be found to shorten development cycles and reduce production time frames. Specific incentives must be developed for people who can generate local results to keep the company competitive. Products and systems must be developed faster, cheaper and better, utilizing superior tools, development infrastructure, alliance partnerships and vendor relationships.

Remember the adage, “Think outside the box?” Well, in a global environment, the “box” extends far beyond local perimeters. All employees must be encouraged to broaden their horizons, not blaming the company for reducing costs by eliminating jobs, but rather becoming part of the overall decision-making process. Offshore capabilities must be considered as resources that can help the company to become stronger.

Broaden your vision, yet narrow your focus. In a global environment, think globally and act locally.

Jim Pinto is an industry analyst and commentator, writer, technology futurist and angel investor. You can e-mail him at: [email protected]. Or review his prognostications and predictions on his Web site: Find out more about his new book “Automation Unplugged”at:

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