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Two Steps Forward

5 management principles for a converging world

Today, GreenBiz Group and PwC are releasing a white paper on the future of business -- specifically, on the business implications of the convergence of information, energy, building, and transportation technologies we’ve come to call VERGE.

The project began more than six months ago, in the wake of the three VERGE executive roundtables we produced last year in Shanghai, London and San Francisco (of which PwC was a lead sponsor). Those events, and the planning for this year’s global VERGE events, led to an investigation of how some of the world’s biggest companies are thinking about these technology shifts and what they were doing to prepare.

The PwC and GreenBiz teams interviewed executives at 15 blue-chip companies representing a range of technologies and markets: Autodesk, Boeing, CBRE, Cisco, Fedex, Ford, IBM, General Electric, General Motors, Google, IBM, Johnson Controls, Jones Lang LaSalle, Microsoft and Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (One of our interviewees subsequently moved from Google to Facebook.) Note that these companies are predominantly B2B, which is where we think the action is in VERGE -- at least for the time being.

Our goal of the interviews was to uncover the VERGE mindsets and strategies within these companies. Among our questions: What business opportunities did they see in this convergence? To what extent had their competitive landscape already changed as a result? What is the role of collaborative partnerships, and with what kind of partners? Were there “old ways” of thinking within their companies that needed to change?

I’ll leave it to you to decide whether this free, downloadable (PDF) report did these questions justice.

One thing is clear: The technological complexity inherent in VERGE is mirrored by growing complexity both inside companies -- the way they collaborate and innovate; the way they address their customers and markets -- and outside companies, such as in the kinds of collaborative relationships they form with peer companies, competitors, startups, customers, cities, nonprofits and others.

As you’d expect, much of this is driven by customers, who want all the benefits technology promises without the headaches. As Mark Vachon, VP of ecomagination at GE, told us: “Increasingly, the marketplace and the customers are looking for a new type of value creation, which is ‘I’d prefer not to deal with the complications of all those elements of the ecosystem. Help me string it together. Optimize it for me and make it easier for me to access that value.’”

Vachon wasn’t alone. “We see convergence as being literally the starting point and the end point, primarily because we think that’s where our customers are headed, and we want to be as responsive as possible to their demands,” said Gordon Feller of the Internet Business Solutions Group's public sector practice at Cisco. The customers, in his case, are cities. “And one of their demands is break down the silos; bust the barriers.” The barriers, it seems, are starting to bust.

The white paper makes clear, as I’ve written before, that VERGE syncs nicely with all that sustainability has to offer companies: radical efficiencies, breaking down silos and a platform for innovation, among other things.

The key, as we learned, is that early adopters may have a competitive advantage. “Without a long-term view of where things are going and where you want them to go, I think it’s going to be very hard to end up really playing a central role in any of this,” says Bill Weihl, manager of energy efficiency and sustainability at Facebook, formerly the energy czar at Google.

In addition to the white paper, GreenBiz will be publishing edited interviews with each of the participants. The first two in the VERGE Executive Series -- one with Weihl, another with PG&E’s Saul Zambrano -- are already online. As with VERGE itself, there’s more to come.

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