Smart Futures : Business on the Front Foot

How do you future-proof your business in world that seems in an almost permanent state of future shock? world where disruptive technologies enter stage left to quickly cannibalise existing markets; where largely unforeseen recession arrives with unexpected force and unpredictable outcomes; and, where climate change hovers as more universal disruptor to business as usual?
While it can all seem bit daunting, the companies we’ve chosen to profile are taking change in their stride, finding new niche markets or putting new spin on traditional trading ventures; they’re exploiting new technology or offering solutions that better equip companies to operate in tougher, more carbon-constrained world.
And they’re earning growing share of the market.

Where oppportunity reigns
The notion of “smart” futures comes courtesy of IBM which has started rolling its “smart planet” initiatives out across the globe, targeting areas ranging from utility efficiency to food safety and using intelligent technology to reduce environmental impacts.
Although IT itself contributes around two percent of total greenhouse gas emissions (about the same as the aviation industry), applying it to the other 98 percent has the potential to reduce overall emissions significantly, says Suzanne Kerwan, director of IBM Australia.
“A lot of people just aren’t aware what the capabilities of smart technology are – they don’t yet understand what is possible.”
At recent presentation in Auckland, Kerwan outlined some of the areas to which “smart” can be applied. Organisations will go green, she says, by addressing three critical resources: water, energy and carbon. Putting “intelligent” systems to work, gathering, synthesising and applying information, can change the way entire industries operate.
As examples, monitoring and management technologies help reduce use of water as well as related energy and chemicals; real-time traffic prediction and dynamic tolling reduces congestion and resulting pollution; and, efficiency through power grids can be boosted with the provision of customised products and services.
There are, she says, some unexpected areas of cost and opportunity. Who knew that just one pair of jeans requires 10,855 litres of water throughout its lifecycle or that you’d have to plant 6.6 billion new trees to clear the carbon dioxide emitted every year by data centres.
Focusing on such issues means that IBM is now saving 20 million gallons of water each year during the chip manufacturing process at its Burlington plant – and that tots up to US$3 million in savings. On the energy-efficiency front, global online community Care2 cut the usage at its data centre by 74 percent improving both its performance and environmental reputation. And, carbon wise, UK retailer Tesco avoided around 2400 tons of carbon dioxide emissions by importing wines in bulk and putting them in lightweight bottles.
There’s no lack of opportunities and heap of incentives, says Kerwan. If growing market pressure doesn’t sway business organisations then legislation already in force or heading down the pipeline should “really wake people up”.
Environmental sustainability is an imperative for 21st century business – one that not only encompasses conservation, pollution prevention and more, she says, it enables the creation of entirely new value and benefits. IBM is actively engaging staff and public to come up with new ideas and Kerwan reckons the possibilities just keep growing.
“I’m passionate about this. I’ve been around technology for long time so if anyone ever says ‘we can’t do this’, my answer is ‘why not?’ We can always use technology to address something. I just don’t put boundaries on where we can get – just keep it open minded and see where we can go.”

Building business success
If you’re seeking the sort of business know-how that can help your company thrive through recession, you could do lot worse than look to company that’s doing just that – by following its own business advice.
Results.com is business coaching service that walks its own talk and the results it’s achieving are pretty impressive. It appeared ninth on last year’s Deloitte’s Fast 50 and this year became the only organisation to win Vero Excellence in Business Support Award two years on the trot – shifting up from the under $5-million turnover category into the $5 million to $10 million slot. And it has no intention of slowing its climb.
“Our desire is to become global leader in this space. That’s why we acquired the url results.com – and that was significant acquisition,” says Simon Mundell, company director and head of business development.
It’s core value of the company, he adds, to “live what we teach”.
“The way we do that is not because we’re gurus, not through template structure, but because we go and literally seek out the world’s leading business minds and latest research into business and we distil it, educate businesses and ask them the harder question – how to apply this to their business.”
As result, businesses they work with are achieving revenue growth averaging close to 50 percent in 2007 and 26 percent in last year’s tougher climate. Mundell anticipates those figures will be heading up again over the next couple of years.
He is happy to admit there’s no magic bullet or genuinely new ideas for business improvement – it’s much more about how the advice is packaged, delivered and executed. That includes boiling the business’ long and short-term strategy into one-page strategic execution plan that equips everyone with keen focus on where the company’s headed and what it needs to do over the next 90 days to get there.
Results.com is also about to launch new product called ‘execution driver’ – dashboarding software that throws an immediate traffic-light type (red/yellow/green) status highlight across key numbers, performance indicators and activities throughout the operation.
“So what you’re able to do in the blink of an eye as business owner or leader is to look at the dashboard and see what needs your attention.”
The company has been using dashboarding techniques for while, says Mundell, but this is new offering it’s taking to the market. He is passionate not only about developing the exciting potential of New Zealand business but claiming global high ground in the coaching market.
“One of the interesting things about this market is that it really evolved in Australia and New Zealand so we were on the leading edge of it 13 to 14 years ago. With the market demand starting to grow exponentially, we’re still evolving ahead of the growth curve and the market itself is bit disjointed and fragmented – so there lies opportunity. There isn’t yet one company globally that’s become the leader in this space and that’s what we’re positioning ourselves for.”

Staying true to the core
Its slick marketing and ‘exertainment’ oriented gyms might make you think Les Mills is cold, profit-focused health business but the reality is polar opposite. As CEO Reece Zondag sees it, the smartest thing the founders Les and Colleen Mills did was “to stay true to the core purpose of our business – to improve the lives of New Zealanders”.
The smartest thing they do now is to “never lose sight of that fact”, adds Zondag. “The exercise part of the experience is at the core of everything we do. It’s relentless and determined pursuit of providing that for people every day.”
It’s not often that 40-year old business can stay trendy indefinitely, but Les Mills seems to have pulled it off, with training programmes sporting catchy names like BootCamp, Spartan (men only), Look Better Naked and, personal favourite, Look Even Better Naked.
So how do they pull it off? Zondag says: “The head office is the incubator for ideas. We get ideas from staff around the company. We passionately believe in what we do and bust our ass every day to do it. It’s what drives us. What goes into the top of our funnel is getting people active and e

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