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U.S. Companies Not Keeping Pace

By Allen Bernard

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A new world order of competition is emerging in the global technology and telecommunications industries, but most North American companies are not keeping pace with the changes

According to a new study conducted by two executive thought leadership organizations, in cooperation with global management consulting firm A.T. Kearney, two-thirds of the more than 300 executives surveyed said they have not even instituted formal practices for tracking and analyzing their competition.

The study, Crunch Time: The Competitiveness Audit, was conducted in late 2004 and early 2005 for the Business Performance Management (BPM) Forum and Chief Marketing Officers (CMO) Council.

The study shows executives are acutely aware of increasing global competition. Approximately 90 percent of survey respondents said they expect competition in their sector to intensify in the next two years.

Less than one percent anticipate a decline.

Global Competition

This underscores a dramatic realignment of global competition, including the rapid rise of China and India as important new centers of competition. In fact, U.S. executives point to China as a source of competition over the next two years nearly as often as they do other U.S. companies.

"U.S. companies risk falling behind global forces that are reshaping the competitive landscape in technology and telecommunications," said John Ciacchella, a vice president in A.T. Kearney's High Technology Practice.

"The shift from enterprise to consumer; new global players from China and India; industry consolidation; and next wave technologies, such as VoIP, digital media, 3G, broadband to the home and WiFi/WiMax -- are all factors driving big dislocations in the market."

North American companies are increasingly turning to offshore operations and outsourcing as a means of coping with overseas competition, the study found. While respondents cite the cost of skilled labor as the most important factor driving offshoring decisions, it's not the only one. Access to local markets, innovation capacity and speed, and access to intellectual capital also were identified as important drivers.

Respondents also said their competitors have become larger, more agile, more numerous, and decidedly more international. Yet, only about one third indicate their companies have instituted formal processes or developed a formal function for assessing their company's competitive position in their industry.

Some 54% of respondents said "informal discussions as a part of business meetings" constituted their approach to measuring competitiveness. Surprisingly, the lack of a structured and disciplined approach to competitive assessment was even more pronounced among larger companies with revenues of $500 million or more.

"U.S. executives clearly feel the pressure of these changes and most rate their efforts to respond as fair to good," said Ciacchella. "This is not good enough. Too few are putting in place the formal processes needed to adequately assess, act and measure their progress in this more intense competitive environment."

Of those respondents who rated the competitive preparedness of their companies, about 47% rated it as good or above average, and 53% rated it as average or below.

Competitive Trends

North American executives point to a series of trends influencing the competitive landscape. Chief among them: emerging technologies, industry consolidation, new entrants into their markets, and the emergence of new geographic markets.

Asked to identify the three countries where they expect to see the greatest competitive challenges over the next two years, approximately 63% named the U.S., 59% said China, and 45% India.

Korea and the United Kingdom were tied for a distant fourth at 14.6% each, followed by Germany with 13.5%. Indicative of the shifting balance of power in the global technology industry, only 11.5% identified Japan, which had long been considered a technology powerhouse.

Improving the Odds

Respondents to the survey identified three disciplines as nearly equal in importance to improve competitiveness: product and service innovation; improving customer intimacy and experience; and strengthening overall strategic positioning.

Three other disciplines -- managing operational complexity; managing a company's organization, culture and leadership; and optimizing capital deployment and governance -- were rated as significantly less important.

"Many overseas technology companies excel today in the very disciplines that North American executives say are crucial to driving competitive performance in their industry sectors," said Donovan Neale-May, executive director of the BPM Forum.

"Indian IT outsourcing companies like Infosys and Wipro have built exceptional customer intimacy and dependency with North American customers," he said. "Chinese companies such as Lenovo and Huawei have established strong strategic positions and brands in markets traditionally dominated by U.S. companies. Korean multinationals, such as Samsung, are now leaders in product innovation."

Achieving Success

While respondents say product and service innovation remain the most critical elements of competitive success in technology and telecommunications, their approach to innovation appears to be conservative.

Asked to identify the most important actions their companies are taking to improve product innovation, some 71% pointed to improvement of existing products and services, followed by bundling product and service offerings (52%) and continuous investment in R&D (48%).

Investments in new products and services outside of the core business ranked fifth, with only 29% of respondents choosing this as one of their top three actions.

"At a time when emerging competitors are going global and consolidation is happening in both software and hardware markets, U.S. companies are trying to protect their core business first and foremost, said Ciacchella.

"The question is whether this approach is too conservative when traditional market segmentations like PCs, TVs, phones, music players, enterprise software, etc., are breaking down due to the impact of new technologies and companies are using these technologies to change the marketplace."