If there's one takeaway we can all learn from the recent events is that it's not acceptable to do business at any cost; short-term gains shouldn't be heralded as successes until they can be put in the context of their long-term impact. Success needs to be sustainable and that only happens when the business is able to create benefits for all. That includes all the customers, shareholders, employees, partners and communities with which the business intersects; no group should be unduly burdened or adversely impacted.
With the ups and downs of the market, we have seen that short-term quarterly financial results are not good indicators of long-term success. A broader set of risks and opportunities needs to be understood, one that includes people and environmental factors (commonly known as the triple bottom-line), before predicting the sustainability of a business. Going forward, businesses need to be more attuned to the risks and impacts of their extended operations.
With 6.7 billion people on the planet, and a projected 9 billion expected by mid-century, there are a lot possibilities, but there are also a lot of problems associated with supporting this growing population with finite resources. There is an increasing recognition that in order to maintain long-term viability, we are going to need to rethink some of our regular business practices, resource dependencies and consumptive behaviors. To identify possibilities, we first must recognize challenges, such as hunger, energy poverty, resource depletion, diminishing biodiversity, etc. that may be standing in the way.
From this vantage point, sustainable businesses must find ways to innovate and create opportunity that deliver business value by uniquely solving a market need or the problems of an underserved population. And one of the key ingredients for success lies in the use of information and communications technologies. Getting affordable computing technology into the hands of the disadvantaged is no longer an ideal reserved for philanthropic endeavors, but rather a business imperative for long-term viability.
When technology behemoths such as Microsoft and Intel are focused on creating customers out of "next billion" people it is clear that there is opportunity. The goal is to be able to reach and ultimately raise up that population so they can participate in a meaningful way in the global economy - and that requires getting them connected to it.
The proliferation of devices, such as smartphones and netbooks, could be defined as the business approach to solving what was once seen as strictly such a philanthropic endeavor. And while the philanthropic work of organizations such as "One Laptop Per Child," are incredibly important, perhaps one of the best ways to achieve the mission is to ensure businesses understand that their future market opportunities and workforce productivity is dependent on a connected, technologically empowered population.
Businesses that can effectively leverage information and communications technology to reach engage and educate their constituents, from potential employees to consumers, are going to be well positioned to capitalize on opportunities. With a strong technology strategy, they will be able to create new business models, markets, and routes to consumers. They will be able to collaborate and tap into global knowledge workers to innovate and drive differentiation. They will be able to reduce resource consumption and drive operational efficiencies to reduce costs and prepare for a carbon-constrained economy.
Sustainable businesses recognize it's not about compliance, which is a management mechanism, but rather about being able to identify growth opportunities, as the result of evolving needs in society, that will ultimately allow companies to thrive. Those businesses that are able to use information and communications technologies to tie their strategy to mega trends and identify growth opportunities as the result of evolving societal needs will be able to maintain long-term economic opportunities and market relevance.