Business leaders are now thinking about growth. Only a year ago, it was just about survival. However, the traditional approaches to growing a company have to change. If the world is to trust the economic system again, it must provide sustainable growth but with no more economic peaks and troughs, and no more waste. And so we need to disrupt our thinking as well as embrace disruptive technology.
This time last year I wrote about how global business leaders needed disruptive technology to break out of the economic doldrums caused by the 2008 financial crisis. We still felt the cold blast of that event. We were still talking about survival in an economic winter.
Today, just a year later, we can see the green shoots of an economic spring. It's by no means a sure thing. Imbalances between regions of the globe remain -- East to West and North to South -- and within those regions themselves, particularly Europe.
Nevertheless, at BT's CXO autumn seminars, from São Paulo to Tokyo and Dubai to Singapore, delegates told us that they felt positive about the future. Indeed as the weeks passed by, the mood got better. Mood drives the global economy and an increase in confidence tells us more about the future than any economic data.
Given these encouraging results, we must turn our minds to the next challenge. If we are to grow, then we must drive growth in such a way that we minimize the cost -- the cost to our organizations and the cost to our planet. After all, they both add up to the same thing.
Our CXO events brought together leading educationalists, captains of the digital industry and executives from FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) companies. They agreed that the individual consumer, employee and citizen are greatly empowered by the Internet and social media. They all reaffirmed consistently that these individuals are firmly in the economic driving seat. And this is where I see hope for a better future.
The consumer society of the 20th century measured happiness by what it had and what it could consume. A significant section of society emerging in the 21st century is measuring happiness by overall quality and life and how good that feels.
It is not black and white. We are not going to give up consumerism overnight. But there are signs that people now put a moral perspective on what they buy. People will work where they can get best paid. But the world's brightest talent will take a long hard look at the moral behavior of the company they will work for, no matter how rich it promises to make them.
So what's all this got to do with networked IT services? There are three distinct answers. Firstly, networks have the potential to provide the visibility of the supply chain from raw material to consumer -- and back again. The production process can be totally transparent. The company that conclusively demonstrates that its products do minimal damage to (or indeed actually enhance) the environment will have significant competitive advantage. And when you know exactly where your products are, you can easily identify the stuff that pretends to be your products. Then you protect against the potentially lethal effects of counterfeiting, especially in areas such as pharmaceuticals and food.
Because we are all connected (as consumers) our suppliers can see, using big data analytics, how and what we are buying. By comparing this information with other "big data", such as climate, transport and so on, they can judge why we are buying and so predict demand. That means, among other things, just-in-time production and an end to piles of "out of date stock" waste.
As professionals, we can work pretty much anywhere with the ability to collaborate with whom we want and share the data we need -- all from a handheld device. The days are over when networked IT was the excuse to keep us nailed to a desk.
And so now we attribute different values to the concept of "work." "Work" is not somewhere we go to do something. "Work" is what we do.
John Maynard Keynes used the word "output" to define what economic activity was all about. It is no wonder then that the economics of the 20th century, shaped by that great economist, was obsessed by the word. The more we did, the more we produced, the more we consumed, the better we all would be.
If we define work as what we do and not the output from a place, then we should be able to take that idea into how we live our lives and consume in general. Outcome not output.
In my industry we call it "the cloud." The cloud means that our customers don't own a computer and software, they just benefit from what those things can do for them. And, simply put, one set of that equipment can serve many customers who previously had their own.
Similarly, our customers are starting to ask us not to rent them pieces of our network but to provide the outcome of that network. They trust that we will do the right thing -- in all respects -- with regard to the physical network.
That trust is a very precious thing. Consumers trust suppliers to sell them things that do what they are supposed to and with no negative side effects. Increasingly, they also trust them to source their materials sensibly, minimize their use of energy and treat all their people well. And trust in the way the supplier behaves is becoming as important as the trust in how good and safe is the product the supplier makes.
One thing hasn't changed from last year. I still feel privileged to work in the networked IT services industry. This industry is the source of the disruptive technology that will help us be more and do more while consuming less. It will also provide the visibility and transparency needed to create the bond of trust required to drive fundamental change.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and The World Economic Forum to mark the Forum's Annual Meeting 2014 (in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, Jan. 22-25). The Forum's Strategic Partner community comprises a select group of leading global companies representing diverse regions and industries that have been selected for their alignment with the Forum's commitment to improving the state of the world. Read all the posts in the series here.
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