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The Year Ahead: Reasons for Optimism

Out of crisis will come renewal, as companies transform themselves with the help of RFID and other technologies.
By Mark Roberti
Jan 26, 2009Last week, the United States celebrated the swearing in of a new president with a remarkable sense of hope and optimism. President Barack Obama, in his inaugural address, stated, "The challenges we face are real. They are serious, and they are many." But he quickly added, "Know this, America—they will be met."

President Obama also called for Americans to come together to renew the country. "Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began," he maintained. "Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week, or last month, or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions—that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America."

As countries around the world struggle with the current economic downturn, it is worth reflecting on these powerful words. It is through remaking government departments, individual companies and so forth that we will remake our nations.

That is why I continue to find reason for hope and optimism. IBM has been running a commercial that says, "We can build a smarter planet—smarter cities, smarter towns, smarter government, smarter retail, smarter shipping, smarter airports, smarter food supplies, smarter hospitals…" I enjoy that commercial, because the optimist in me believes we surely can build smarter hospitals, airports, stores and, yes, even governments—and I believe that this is the time to do it.

Times are tough, to be sure—but adversity forces companies and organizations to rethink the way they do things. When sales are rising, we tend to have more tolerance for inefficiencies in our supply chain, suboptimal processes in our manufacturing operations and employee theft in our stores. When sales decline, however, we take a hard look at every dark corner of our company, and we seek ways to improve everything we can.

At present, businesses are suffering from paralysis. They have no idea what will happen with the global banking system and the economy, so they are reluctant to do anything. No one wants to commit to bold new ventures, because no one knows what tomorrow will bring. That fear will pass, though, and companies will eventually realize that slower sales are the new norm—at least for the next 18 to 24 months.

Some companies will undoubtedly fail, but most will begin searching for ways to add value to their products by making them smarter. They will look for viable methods to cut costs in their supply chains by making them smarter. They will seek our better options for serving customers by making their own people smarter. And out of this effort will arise new ideas, new products and new ways of conducting business that will benefit those companies and their customers in the long term.

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