Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Do You Know Who Owns Your Company?
Globalization and the Law of Unintended Consequences

The acquisition of a British company by a Dubai-based company this month has US lawmakers in a tizzy. Why?

The British company is the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (better known as P&O), which is being acquired by Dubai Ports World for $6.8 Billion. And no, the brouhaha has nothing to do with sentiment, although P&O is a hoary old company and one of the great names in shipping. It is because this acquisition will give DP World control over significant operations at six major US ports.

A similar lather resulted when a Chinese company tried to buy the US company Unocal recently. These are however cases where tracing true ownership was fairly straightforward. As globalization goes deeper, this is likely to change.

This brings home the sobering lesson: In an increasingly globalized world, corporate ownership will get more and more opaque. Who knows who owns the company which is headquartered in a tax haven, and that just bought 3% of your equity?

This is one more big challenge (not that they needed any more) for company promoters, regulators, shareholders, and anyone with a stake in good corporate governance.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Crystal Ball - in Need of Fixing!
Our ability to foresee emerging technologies is amiss. Can we do something about it?

We've all heard of Cassandra, Pollyanna and Rip van Winkle, right*? And we thought they were mythical characters, or at the very least, existed in dark, unenlightened times. Well, we may just need to do a rethink on that.

It's not very edifying to know this, but we in modern science, technology and business, make mistakes in foreseeing emerging developments - particularly of the technological kind - that fit into patterns that uncannily resemble these hoary old mythical characters! And with all the latest knowledge at our disposal!

Read how in my Computerworld column, Re-engineering the Crystal Ball . The piece also proffers simple, easy-to-use pointers on overcoming our deficiences in foreseeing emerging technologies.
Some technologies currently in the exuberance phase that appear less alluring when subjected to this scrutiny include eXtreme Programming, Utility Computing or Software-as-a-service, Open Source, the Tablet PC, Agent technologies and the Semantic web. A few technologies which, based on these pointers, are shown to merit strong consideration for widespread corporate adoption: Wikis, Micropayment technology, Grid computing, Podcasting, the iPod, VoIP-based collaboration technologies, Human speech recognition, Electronic auctions and Prediction markets.

Foreseeing - technologies or any other developments for that matter - has always been an exercise of the hit and miss kind - see a couple of pieces that agree, here , here and here. I'd like to think that I've done my mite in bringing some badly-needed horse sense to this crucial activity!
* In case you haven't, or have forgotten: Cassandra was the one known for making baleful predictions. Pollyanna was the opposite - always cheerful. And Mr. van Winkle - well, he was just oblivious to what was happening in the world around him.