Saturday, September 10, 2005

      Seminar Review: 'The World Is Flat' By Thomas Friedman

I attended 'The World Is Flat' Seminar held at Lee Kuan Yew's School of Public Policy at NUS on 9 Sep 2005.

Having read his book, and greatly impressed by his insights and ability to place perspectives on globalisation that is happening around us in this century, I was really anticipating this event.

Friedman displayed great flair and convictions in his arguments; a polished presenter who captured the attention of some 1000 audience attending the seminar throughout the 1 hour talk.

He argued that the world we are living in is undergoing a flattening phenomenon due to advances in technology and key events within the last 2 decades. He termed these, 'The 10 Forces that Flattened the World' as follows:

9 Nov 89 - Fall of Berlin wall, which also concides with the launch of Windows Operating System 3.0. Significantly, the launch of the PC and Windows spearheaded the ability of content digitalisation into the individuals' hands.

9 Aug 95 - Netscape's IPO. The browser provides ease in accessing web sites regardless of geographical barriers. It was also the harbinger of the DotCom bubble and over-investments in fiber optics technolgy. This laid the physical infrastructure for our Internet today, and connecting individuals across the world. Now digital content are no longer limited to individual's PC, they can be access via the Internet.

Work Flow Software - A cumulative termed that includes all software applications, standards enabling collaborations regardless of vendors or implementations e.g. TCP/IP enables Novell to talk to Windows via HTTP, which our Internet is based on. Now PCs are truly able to 'talk' to one another, bringing global collaboration to a higher level.

The next 6 forces which he termed Genesis, are spinoffs based on the first 3 mentioned as follows:

Open-sourcing - the ability to collaborate puts many genius minds together to produce quality software comparable to those produced by professional corporations like Microsoft. Apache web server, Firefox browser and LINUX operating system were cited as examples of freely available software that compete head-to-head with products from Microsoft.

"With their strong financial backing, Microsoft can undercut their competitors in prices; but they cannot undercut open source, which is free" cited Friedman during the seminar.

Outsourcing - As a result of the DotCom Burst in late 1990s, companies faced tighter budget constriants while still required to perform functions like call centers and IT maintenance. Coupled with the Millenium Bug in 2000, this resulted in the great outsourcing trend.

Offshoring - Just think India and China today. One key enabling force is the global connectivity that only exists today.

On this point, Friedman cited "When I was young, my parent would tell me to finish my food. People in China and India are dying of hunger. But today, now, I would tell my children to study hard, or people in China and India will be getting their jobs."

Supply-Chaining - Friedman cited Wal-mart's success as an example. The largest company in America, which does not produce any products sold in its Wal-Mart stores. This is made possible by a global supply chain system that tracks product on item level from the manufacturing to its sales from the shelves in Wal-Mart stores; end-to-end accuracy. Again, this was made possible by Wal-Mart approach in embracing enabling technologies.

Insourcing - UPS was cited as an example in this case, where companies no longer handle their processes, and products' life cycle end-to-end. A large part of these functions are 'insourced' to companies like UPS. For example, a Toshiba laptop repair request was collected by UPS, repair by UPS engineers, billed by UPS and money collected by UPS. Toshiba has no hands in this entire process. The resulting efficiencies create greater economy of scale (for Toshiba) and satisfactions (for customers).

Informing - Think Google. Yes, the knowledge of the world available within a few mouse clicks. Individuals today (thanks to Internet again) are empowered with a global knowledge pool that is free and easily available. Encarta had to be purchased. But Wikipedia is free, and it has more articles than Encarta can ever hope to produce.

The last force, Friedman termed it the 'Steriods'. These are advancments in micro/nano, wireless and mobile technologies that 'turbo-charged' the earlier 9 forces. Information is then truly freely accessible, anywhere, anytime. No longer will we be constraint to a PC terminal; In the near future, a pocket PC, smart phone will carry as much information; and its mobile.

During the question and answer, when asked on 'How does South-east Asia stand in this new flat world', he answer that countries like Singapore, are 'blessed' with no natural resources. This, he termed as 'high coefficient of flatness '.

"Countries with a high coefficient of flatness are forced to always digs into themselves for innovations, entrepreneurships and to change with moving times to survive."

Just remains me of what PM Lee has been emphasising about in the remaking of Singapore, introduction of IRs and education system reforms.

In another question on the importance of education to kids in this new global economy, Friedman opined that the most important skill in this flat world is to 'learn how to learn'. Bottomline is that changes will be so fast and so frequent, individuals will have to constantly upgrade themselves to stay relevant. He also opined that this can only happen if individual loves their work, in order for the learning process to be enjoyable and consistent.

"Loving your job is no longer a plus. It is a survival factor".


Anonymous Stephan H. Wissel said...

Friedman might have missed a very important item: language (and education). Without English becoming the defacto 2nd language for everybody the world never would flatten.
:-) stw

7:48 PM  

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