(From left) Matthew Bishop, John Donovan, Steve Felice, Sandra Kurtzig (all photos by Asa Mathat)
Senior. Executive VP, AT&T Technology and Network Operations, AT&T, Inc.
President and Chief Commercial Officer, Dell
Chairman and CEO, Kenandy
US Business Editor and New York Bureau Chief, The Economist
Today, established big businesses are rebranding themselves “technology” companies, as they integrate new tools deeply into longstanding enterprises. Separately, leaders of tech are reimagining themselves into more and more industries. As every company becomes technologized, are we talking about a redefinition of industry itself? What is a technology company? Read excerpts of the discussion below, or download the full transcript.
Bishop: As you look at big companies, what do you see as the big two or three themes that are going to emerge over the next few years about the structure, what you do inside a company, what a big company looks like?
Donovan: So I think the things we’re looking at is first you have to grab the hearts of employees. And so for us that means that we have over 250,000 people that you have to engage in the business because that’s your user group. And I think that everything you do has to have a foundation that really empowers and engages and captures the heart of it. So you have to have enough technology momentum internally to be able to reshape things.
And then I think externally, as you look at adopting some of these technologies, I don’t think it’s going to be good enough anymore to build absent the perspective of customers. And so I think we’ve sort of turned our company around and said we can’t look at customers through the eyes of the network. We have to look at the network through the eyes of the customer.
Felice: When I look at the customers we talk to in large companies, I see really big changes that are going to have to be adopted. And I think they are going to have to come from the CEO.
The use of social media—I believe over 50 percent of larger companies still do not allow access to Facebook or YouTube within their company. That’s going to have to change. Not just to retain employees; it’s also one of the greatest sources of training and marketing and revenue generation. So recognizing these kinds of things.
Many companies are still very hierarchical and they’re going to listen to the level below them who’s listening to the level below them, and that isn’t going to cut it against a mid-sized company that’s rapid and moving and everyone is talking in a flatter fashion.
And I think an embracement of different workplace behaviors by employees is going to have to change dramatically. People are not going to be working locally. They are going to be working from their home. They’re going be working all kinds of hours of the night because that’s what they want to do. And they are going to be using tools other than email.
Kurtzig: So companies who are looking at—thinking that the cloud is going to take a while to really happen are going to be surprised. And if the CEO isn’t engaged in really creating a vision for the company that’s very near-term rather than a 20-year plan, I think he may be very surprised.
So the first thing is the CEO has to have a vision for the company. And he has to be able to then look at the processes within the company. And those processes and that software that’s out there needs to be agile, it needs to be social, I t needs to be very, very easy to use.
Donovan: It’s interesting to talk about the technology pivots, but they’re more about evolution than they are revolution. And I think revolution in a big company is evolution that hits a tipping point. And all it takes is a match in the right area at the right time to build the right success story. And then everybody wants to move faster to that thing.
We’re a Fortune 10 company where our CEO knows what HTML5 is and knows how to describe an API. And that manifests itself into a lot less friction inside the company when you say we want to open up our network and make it easier for developers to come in and transform us.
Felice: You have to be agile now. And I think this is what big companies really struggle with because you have to have an infrastructure that allows you to be agile.
Most large companies are vulnerable to small emerging businesses. And so even though you may have these constraints at the large size, you’re going to have to deal with it or you’re going to find yourself looking at a whole new set of competitors that you never even thought about before.
Bishop: Do you think the Fortune 100 companies in 10 years’ time are going to be employing more people or less in-house than they do today because of these technological shifts.
Felice: I think the Fortune 100 have big chunks of employees that don’t touch customers. I think those employee headcounts will continue to go down because we will continue to find more efficient ways to run the back office of a business.
Kurtzig: The technologies are empowering people. So I’m not sure that we’re necessarily replacing people, but we’re empowering them to make better decisions. And I think it also allows the cream to rise to the top, because those people who really take the tools that are being presented to them in corporations are going to be the leaders of tomorrow.
Donovan: More or less employees doesn’t matter for a company. I think it matters for an ecosystem. And if you’re in a shrinking ecosystem, you need to go redefine your ecosystem. I just think you need to think about the health of the ecosystem. And as companies or employees float in and out based on where value is or where innovation is, I think that’s less of a worry than making sure that the entire ecosystem you’re in is healthy, vibrant and growing.