“A nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on the ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.” — US President Barack Obama in his inaugural address
Sustainable Business Transformation: the journey towards a sustainable world
Successful businesses of the future will actively seek to improve the quality of life for everyone touched by their operations. They will do this not because of internal compulsions arising from the ethical obligations of corporate responsibility, not because of external pressures arising out of legal and regulatory directives to ‘go green’ and become more eco-friendly — but they will do this out of the recognition that prosperity cannot be sustained in a vacuum (to paraphrase Barack Obama), that the only foundation that can sustain a prosperous future is based on engagement and partnership with all communities relating to the business, and on contribution to the common good of its host societies, the environment and the world at large.
Businesses of the present who want to make it to that future of sustainable prosperity must therefore redefine their goals, in terms of being socially relevant, being environmentally responsive and being economically viable, in order to ensure their long-term survival and prosperity. (This has also been dubbed the ‘people-planet-profit’ approach.) To realize these goals they must embark on a Sustainable Business Transformation journey to prepare for a future of triple bottom line profitability. To be successful, such a transformation must include the entire ecosystem of stakeholders in the business, must develop a comprehensive change management, training and communication program, and must make appropriate use of Business Technology, as it proceeds to re-shape the very business itself.
Business Technology and its role in improving sustainability
In accordance with the Brundtland definition of Sustainable Development, the term ‘Sustainable Business Technology’ may be defined as ‘Business Technology that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability to meet future needs’. (The term ‘Business Technology’, in turn, refers to the application and use of Information and Communications Technology to solve business problems and improve business performance.) While Business Technology has been extensively deployed as a transformation tool over the last few decades, business transformation journeys in the past have focused mostly on ‘internal’ goals (such as improving customer service, increasing operational efficiency, reducing costs, restructuring and ‘right-sizing’ the organization, etc.) involving a comparatively small subset of stakeholders from the business ecosystem. Even so, Business Technology has invariably been an integral part of Business Process Reengineering (BPR) programs, followed by Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) initiatives in more recent years. Strategic use of Business Technology has always been a critical success factor in all those transformation journeys. Change programs that did not use Business Technology (or did not use it effectively) have mostly ended in failure.
Business Technology continues to be of vital importance to transformation programs even in the present day, and will continue to be a critical component of business transformation initiatives well into the foreseeable future. However, it will expand in scope to address ‘external’ goals (including social and environmental priorities, and involving all stakeholders in the ecosystem) and it will broaden and deepen its range of products and services, and implementation tools and methodologies, in order to support the demands of Sustainable Business Transformation. In doing so it will adopt the rubric of Sustainable Business Technology. While businesses contemplate, plan and time their Sustainable Business Transformation journey, Business Technology product vendors and service providers will initiate a transformation journey of their own, aimed at re-tooling their portfolio of product / service offerings and reorganizing themselves, to emerge as providers of Sustainable Business Technology. Those who fail to do so will be compelled to serve only those businesses that have not chosen the path to sustainable prosperity — a customer base of dinosaur businesses that will eventually shrink into oblivion.