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To survive and thrive in today's brutally competitive business environment, tech firms must find ways to continuously move ahead-- and to stay ahead-- of their competition. Here's an insight on the factors that differentiate the best from the rest, and the leaders from the also-rans.
Joe Tiller, a famous football coach, said, "It's always a chess game, and you're trying to stay one move ahead of the competition." Tiller's words are as applicable to business as they are to football. Today, the Internet and the WWW (World Wide Web) are changing the way business is done, by providing a level playing field for small companies to effectively and efficiently compete with large conglomerates. No longer are cash-laden behemoths safe in their market-lead positions-- those could be taken at any time by smart and agile new competitors.
Running an efficient organisation that delivers high-quality products and services at reasonable prices is essential for business success-- but it is no longer sufficient to ensure survival. Customer satisfaction; early adoption and effective use of technology; better data collection, analysis and decision-making; automation of business processes, etc, are all essential for survival. However, these are not the key differentiators in today's global Web economy.
Innovate or perish
Many research firms and industry analysts indicate that the only way for companies to compete is to constantly innovate; avenues for improving the bottom line have been exhausted, and the only way to move forward is to sustain top line growth and increase profits. So CEOs and the top management must change their focus from the operational issues to growth and innovation. According to Rosabeth Kanter, "To stay ahead, you must have your next idea waiting in the wings."
Some well-known examples of companies that constantly innovate are Dell, which revolutionised the PC market; McDonald's, which redefined the fast food market; and - of course! - Apple. Consider the barrage of new Apple products in recent years-- the iMac, iBook, iCube, and eMac; the iPod and its multiple variants and versions; iTunes, the Mac Book, Mac Pro, Apple TV, the iPhone, and more. With such ceaseless innovation, no wonder other firms are always trying to catch up with Apple, and never quite succeeding! According to Apple CEO Steve Jobs, "Innovation distinguishes between a follower and a leader." Today, innovation is no longer a luxury; it is the key to survival.
Innovation does not happen automatically; organisations need to foster it, to create an environment that is conducive to innovation. For example, at Google, employees can spend 20 per cent of their time on exploring and developing their own ideas. Some of the best Google applications and products are the result of such projects. Organisations must also prevent innovation stoppers and idea-killers from stamping out the innovative spirit of employees. In his book "The Myths of Innovation", Scott Berkun defines an innovation stopper as "a person with the power and motivation to kill new ideas." Idea-killers are those whose response to new ideas are, "We have tried it before" or "We don't have the time/budget."
Continuous learning keeps employees up-to-date with the latest technological developments, and helps them improve their efficiency with newer methods, practices, tools and techniques. In his book,The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organisation , Peter Senge stresses the importance of making an organisation a home of continuous learning, where people continually expand their capacity to achieve the results they truly desire. New ideas, new knowledge and new findings are used to anticipate and to innovate.
Again, organisations need to provide employees with an environment that promotes learning, as well as ample learning opportunities. Well-stocked libraries and computer facilities are a necessity. HRD should study employee profiles to fill the gaps in employee skill-sets, in accordance with the organisation's long-term strategies. For example, before a switch from UNIX to Windows as the main operating system, employees who are not familiar with Windows need to be trained to ensure a smooth transition.