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How to Successfully Conduct Global Business During a Time of Geopolitical Instability

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How to Successfully Conduct Global Business During a Time of Geopolitical Instability

The way organizations approach global commerce is undergoing a radical change. Geopolitical instability is slowing growth in a volatile global economy as organizations are forced to adapt their tactics, making complex decisions that increase operational costs and, if mishandled, make them less competitive in an unforgiving business landscape. So, what can organizations do to navigate this ‘new normal’? As an association whose members deal with small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) at the local level on a regular basis, we at the World Trade Centers Association (WTCA) released our second annual WTCA Trade and Investment Report: Navigating Uncertainty, in partnership with FP Analytics. The report focuses on how cities around the world are optimizing trade and investment opportunities despite challenges, both economic and political, and how SMEs benefit from these strategies

The report shows that the majority (83%) of business leaders interviewed believe that global economic uncertainty will stay at its current elevated levels (30%) or get worse (53%) in the coming year. However, 69% of business leaders polled are cautiously optimistic about the coming year, as the report shows that resilient cities—defined as those that outperform their countries during economic downturns—have Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) as a percentage of GDP twice as high as non-resilient cities.

Despite their differences in location and culture, resilient cities have a set of commonalities that allow trade and investment to thrive. These characteristics include diversified economies and strong service sectors. In fact, resilient cities on average saw the share of services in GDP grow by 3.3% over the last five years; more than double the pace of non-resilient cities. Their populations are largely educated, with many inhabitants having college or other advanced degrees, as well as diverse, with higher rates of foreign citizens. On average, foreign citizens represent 11.6% of resilient cities’ populations, which is one-quarter higher than that of non-resilient cities. These cities also tend to have strong transportation infrastructures, including both airports and public transit options. 

Building Resilience 

The report also identified specific tactics used by resilient cities that organizations, including business and civic leaders looking to improve their own city’s resilience, can mirror. 

In resilient cities, key stakeholders are prioritizing direct diplomacy, meeting face-to-face to navigate obstacles created by regional or national governments. By cutting through political red tape, organizations have been able to create new meaningful relationships with each other and strengthen existing ties. The ability to engage in a direct dialogue creates efficient business interactions that are beneficial to all parties. For example, World Trade Center (WTC) Arkansas has organized multiple diplomatic trade missions with Mexico. As a result, its exports to Mexico are growing 3.6 times faster than to any other country. 

Cities are also proactively building programs to attract and retain skilled foreign citizens. For example, Twente, located in the eastern Netherlands, is evolving from a region focused on machine-building and textiles to one with an economy driven by high-tech systems. To retain young, skilled workers from across the globe, WTC Twente created an Expat Center that offers a range of services, including Dutch language courses, visas and work permits, housing, and support for families, as well as social events with the goal of enticing technically-skilled foreign workers and their families to integrate into the community for the long term.

Turning Obstacles into Opportunity

Economic turmoil affects everyone, but not always in the same way. For some, the current geopolitical reality presents opportunity. City leaders are adapting to these geopolitical changes and establishing themselves as cost-efficient and low-risk trade and investment partners to capitalize on the situation. FDI is being redirected towards these agile cities who have recognized the advantages created by this global uncertainty, and supply chains are shifting and realigning based on new benefits. Competition for FDI is escalating (global FDI slowed 27% over the last year, according to the OECD) and the private and public sectors need to work hand-in-hand to create attractive fiscal and tax environments, and institute policies that will attract business. 

Cities are also increasingly investing in both high-tech industries, and SMEs to ensure they are able to attract FDI at a time when this investment comes at a premium. These high-tech industries will lead to future growth and play a central role in the next industrial revolution. Additionally, partnerships with major research institutions are being used to create new technology and modernize existing tech. For instance, in Delaware, private agriculture technology or “ag-tech” companies have partnered with universities to pioneer better technology in seeding, pest management, antibiotic reduction, and biopharmaceuticals. 

SMEs are well suited to adapt quickly in the face of change and evolving economic realities, which enables them to capitalize on changing conditions. However, their size can prevent them from competing on a global scale. To combat this, programs that help SMEs move forward given limited resources can be critical in encouraging and nurturing growth opportunities. As an example, WTC Toronto created the Trade Accelerator Program (TAP), a six-week program that connects SMEs with export and business experts to train them on developing export plans fit for the global market. This program has now been adopted by several other WTC members in Canada, including Vancouver and Winnipeg. 

At the moment the global economy is relatively unpredictable, and increasing risks for businesses have made sound strategic business planning more difficult at a time when it is absolutely vital. Knowledge, preparedness, and agility are key traits cities and businesses need to acquire in order to achieve success and growth. Despite the prevailing conditions, with a strategic approach and tactics proven to increase resilience, organizations can optimize current trade and investment opportunities and set themselves up for success now and in the future.

To review the full 2019 WTCA Trade and Investment Report: Navigating Uncertainty, including commentary from WTCA Members, visit www.WTCAReports.org

Worried about trade wars’ impact on your supply chain? Here are three ways to manage risks.

Companies live in a world now where a tweet about tariffs and trade wars can rattle markets, prompt uncertainty, and question whether supply chains and global operations are positioned to handle the speed, unpredictability, and interconnectedness of the global economy.  The prevalence and threat of trade wars generate pervasive uncertainty across the globe- carrying wide-reaching implications for overall global growth. Increased cost of goods sold from upstream suppliers are squeezing margins and forcing global supply chains to adapt and react mid-stream. Despite a robust US economy, and general stability across global markets, the escalating trade war is increasing prices and making raw materials harder to obtain – threatening the positive trajectory of domestic and international economic activity.

How is this playing out in real time? Let’s look at an example: An automaker may have its engine manufactured in Germany, its transmission in Mexico and its GPS from South Korea with final assembly in the US. Tariffs could force automakers to move production, reducing economies of scale and increasing prices for the end consumer. Processing the resulting number of variables, scenarios, and decision matrices brought on by the trade war is a daunting challenge, to say the least.

Despite these marketplace, competitor and regulatory challenges, digital technologies, such as data analysis, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) provides companies with the resources and insights to manage risk and anticipate events. Today’s leading supply chains run on data, monitoring for risk and opportunity, and blend human and digital strategies to make decisions in real time. This is called the cognitive supply chain. It is interconnected, self-learning, predictive, adaptive and intelligent, and it can help leaders react faster to risks outside of their control. As such, here are three approaches that can help leaders manage, anticipate, and address supply chain disruptions.

Leveraging predictive analytics

Data has always been at the center of the supply chain and helps leaders make decisions. With internet of things and the growing number of connected devices, organizations can be more proactive in how they use data to enable insights.

The expanse of datasets, and increasing ease to obtain them, allows proactive organizations to leverage data to help drive their decision structure. The resulting variety of perspectives creates an opportunity to align against broader company goals. For example, how does the planned production schedule of a Swiss supplier affect my organization’s market position in Asia this holiday season? What are the potential risks, and how can they be mitigated? Data availability opens the door to these solutions. Enablers from digital technology provide:

-Digital linkage – integrated sales, production and delivery processes which have seamless flow of information.

-Control tower –visibility of all processes across the internal and external supply chain.

-Centralized collaborative e-hub – a connected ecosystem where all partners interact seamlessly with improved flow of information.

-Integrated lean logistics – applying lean principles to eliminate waste, errors and defects, minimizes lead-time and materials impacted by tariffs.

-Virtual logistics – enable on the fly deployment decisions with new logistics models.

Creating the digital twin

Today’s supply chains have growing complexities with an international network of suppliers and service markets. Efforts to integrate with external partners has led to complicated systems and processes, overwhelming supply chain leaders with data and metrics. Add in the variability of demand, and a supply chain is pushed back on its heels, reacting to demand variability. One uniquely positioned solution is called a “digital twin”.

A digital twin is a model of the supply chain. The foundation is a transparent supply chain strategy, comprised of rules on how to absorb and refine costs, or pass through to customers downstream. A digital twin uses the multi-tier supply chain data to rely upon predictive outcomes and sensory response. Uncertainties such as pending tariffs can be run through “what if” scenarios to understand the service, cost, and risk implications of changes, decisions and unexpected market conditions.

These examples are not intended to be definitive outcomes; alternatively, they allow internal and external supply chain groups the opportunity to setup a plan of action which mitigates service risk while optimizing the collective cost. Organizations must learn the discipline of using “what if” scenarios for their analysis and guide the implementation of both short term and long-term strategies and events.

For example, what is the correct level of holiday inventory investment that should be imported into the United States from China, given the potential tariff increase in the coming months? Which alternatives provide lower risk? Successful organizations will use their digital twin to move up the supplier tiers of a supply chain, and anticipate disruption, and arrange alternative routes and suppliers.

Consider managed services

Continuous investment in technology and talent with the skill and knowledge to use it can be expensive. The process engineering required to maximize ROI, along with the associating change management inevitably strains an organization’s resources. As a result, many organizations have found relief in managed services of their supply chains. It enables companies to focus on their core competencies of products and services, while contracting out the outcome: the best customer service at the optimal cost.

The consolidation of supply chain expertise into a vendor eases the necessary people, process, and technology investment. It allows organizations to shed the strain of daily variability, while maintaining the ability to make decisions and focus on the long term growth of the company. With the increasing pressure on tariffs, organizations will look to these partners to leverage their digital tools and technologies to limit the downstream effect across the supply chain.

Creating a cognitive supply chain is essential for answering the threat trade wars present. International supply chains will continue to become more expensive to maintain and manage. Businesses that are successful in meeting these complexities and adopting digital capabilities will be best equipped for the uncertainty that lies ahead.

Mike Landry is the supply chain service line leader at Genpact, a global professional services focused on delivering digital transformation.

Time Management in a Global Workforce

Time management used to be a much simpler challenge for businesses. Staff were given a schedule, they appeared, put a card in a clock then did their work. Workers were all co-located, with similar schedules.

The globalized economy has made time management of the workforce a much more involved process.

Now, some staff may be in the same office, but thanks to improved connectivity that is available to virtually everyone, it is just as likely that they are distributed across many locations, time zones and countries.  Connectivity makes it possible to be a mobile worker, participate in distributed work, work from home, or do work share or “Smart Work.”

Many organizations are embracing this new trend. According to globalworkplaceanalytics.com, more organizations embraced telecommuting in 2016 than they did in 2011. The advantages to having remote workers where possible are numerous, including reductions in workspace cost. The trend towards global and mobile workers who are not co-located is so strong that many larger employers find themselves unable to compete for top talent without these more flexible work options.

Time management in such a world becomes much more challenging.  If your staff members work from home, how do you determine that they are actually working? Suddenly, a passive timesheet system seems not to be enough.  Should you impose monitoring, or forget about time altogether and focus on getting work complete? For more and more companies that have employees in multiple time zones, how do you manage starting and stopping times in systems such as project management or timesheets, which are centrally located? If you have contractors who don’t work by the hour, should you track time the same way you do for full-time staff?  If you have people in multiple countries, how do you deal with things as simple as a timesheet in the correct language, or accessing the system from their location?

All of these are common time management challenges in today’s world.

My company’s experience with deploying a commercial off-the-shelf project-based timesheet system for global organizations has been about dealing with those challenges. With some clients, having software that is available both for on-premise deployment or in the cloud deals with connectivity issues from different parts of the world. Management is able to use the data collected from timesheets to better assess and manage employees to maximize productivity. For languages, we have had to make interfaces that are adjustable by the end user into the language of their choice without affecting the data. For staff accessing the system from many countries, we made it available in both an on-premise and Software as a Service subscription model.

According to CNBC, 70 percent of workers globally work remotely at least once a week. So for those people who are on the move, having a free Mobile App for Apple and Android devices has been a critical element of success. Our decision was to make the mobile application available on both Android and Apple devices, and to make it free for anyone with a Time Control timesheet license.

With the spread of workforces across many countries, even something as simple as “when is the weekend?” is not certain. In the US, it is almost always Saturday and Sunday. In the Middle East, it might be Friday and Saturday. For some workers, the weekend is no longer relevant as they work at different times during the week. We’ve had to support multiple calendars simultaneously in the background of our system in order to support collecting timesheets for all workers with different calendars and different schedule situations.

It’s fair to say that this trend towards global resources won’t stop anytime soon. As organizations consider how to manage the scheduling of time, and tracking time spent and what it is spent on, it is important to consult with stakeholders in different situations and different locations to ensure your systems will be able to keep up.

Chris Vandersluis is a public speaker, project management industry expert, and president and founder of HMS Software, a leading provider of enterprise timesheet and project management solutions. Over the last 30 years, he has helped hundreds of organizations, both small and large, improve their business management performance.

Global Connectedness Reached All-Time High in 2017

Global connectedness reached all-time high numbers in 2017 as a direct result of a substantial increase in, “flows of trade, capital, information and people across national borders” in a decade, according to DHL’s newly released Global Connectedness Index. Additionally, the delay of implementing key policy changes contributed to the increase of international economic growth.

“Even as the world continues to globalize, there is still tremendous untapped potential around the world. The GCI shows that currently, most of the movements and exchanges we’re seeing are domestic rather than international, yet we know that globalization is a decisive factor in growth and prosperity,” explains John Pearson, CEO of DHL Express. “Increasing international cooperation continues to contribute to stability so companies and countries that embrace globalization benefit tremendously.”

Among the countries that topped the list of “Most Globally Connected,” the Netherlands, Singapore, Switzerland, Belgium and the United Arab Emirates took the spot for top five in the world.
North America, the Middle East and North Africa ranked as the top three regions for capital and information flows.
“Surprisingly, even after globalization’s recent gains, the world is still less connected than most people think it is,” commented GCI co-author Steven A. Altman, Senior Research Scholar at the NYU Stern School of Business and Executive Director of NYU Stern’s Center for the Globalization of Education and Management. “This is important because, when people overestimate international flows, they tend to worry more about them.  The facts in our report can help calm such fears and focus attention on real solutions to societal concerns about globalization.”
To read the full report, click here.
Source: DHL