GLENDALE – With all the new technology and endless data produced in a rapidly changing world, companies must adapt or risk being left behind, a group of global business leaders said Thursday.
“Any companies that think that they do not need or are allergic to data–processing and learning from this are their own worst enemy,” said Merle Hinrichs, Hong Kong–based executive chairman of Global Sources, a firm that facilitates trade between the West and China.
Hinrichs participated in a panel discussion on preparing business leaders for tomorrow’s challenges at the Thunderbird Global Business Dialogue sponsored by the Thunderbird School of Global Management.
Although it’s challenging for businesses to cope with advancing technology and the data inundating them every day, leaders must find ways to make it work for them, Hinrichs said.
“Data is not information, and information is not wisdom,” he said. “So you can have a vast amount of data, but if you’re unable to process it and prioritize it, it’s not going to provide answers.”
He said new technologies such as the Internet have proved very helpful when used properly in production processes, in transportation, in government and in his company.
“We see what the technology has done across all industries,” Hinrichs said. “When you can order something in New York and have it delivered in Phoenix the next day is because you have all these systems in place.”
Marsha Evans, a retired rear admiral with the U.S. Navy, said with all the new technologies companies risk wasting a lot of time and resources chasing innovations that don’t work for them.
“The big challenge is to figure out which technology is going to be a game–changer,” said Evans, who also serves on the boards of Weight Watchers International, Office Depot and The North Highland Co. “Leaders have to have a very disciplined process to seek out technologies that can positively change their competitive position.”
Paul Kinscherff, Boeing International’s chief financial officer, said new technologies change not just how businesses conduct their affairs but also customer’s expectations.
“You cannot assume that your position in a particular market is going to be stable for the long run,” he said, adding that businesses must embrace innovations and collaborate with those developing the technology.
Hinrichs said there has to be an educated, trained and mature way of dealing with this explosion of data and that business schools can take the lead in training leaders who can do so.
“A school like Thunderbird is training graduates to be inclusive, to be engaged, to be able to understand how they can aggregate data and information and make it more feasible to use within global companies,” he said.
Other challenges cited by the panel:
• China’s cheap labor
• Taking advantage of emerging markets
• Educating and training global leaders
Elvina Nawaguna-Clemente is a reporter for Cronkite News Service