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BW Businessworld

It’s Not End Of The Road Yet

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Globalisation is facing hard times. The evidence is in newspapers every day. Search the phrase “end of globalisation” and you get 35.7 million references; some mentions of the phrase go back to 2001. Not surprisingly, with the global economy still wobbly after the 2007-08 financial meltdown and violence spreading across Europe, Africa and the Middle East, the prospects for global integration do not look promising. Yet, there are plenty of indicators to suggest that reports of the death of globalisation are exaggerated.

Throughout history, the process of connection among dispersed countries and peoples has been uneven. When the monsoon wind was discovered or the steam engine invented, the process got a boost. Propelled by the human desire to live better, earn more and have more fulfilling lives, the secular trend has been to connect the world at ever faster speeds and in increasing volume. While digital connections through fibre optic cables and cellphones have created instantaneous contacts with expanding parts of the world, ceaseless efforts are also underway to transfer larger volumes of goods on gigantic container ships. Plans are afoot to widen the Panama and Suez canals to enable faster transit of ever bigger vessels to carry goods between Asia, Europe and North America. Even the melting of the Arctic brought about by global warming is being eyed as faster shipping lanes. The planning and investments that have supported the increasing integration of the world does not suggest anxiety about globalisation being on its last legs.

Containers full of goods that are being shipped daily are often the fruit of global interconnectedness. Thanks to the information flow on the Internet and ease of air travel (on average 93,000 flights a day) the time taken to bring an idea into a prototype and finished product on the store shelves has shrunk dramatically.

Recently, I met a young entrepreneur, Martin Chevalley, the co-founder and CEO of Sweden-based InnSpire that has a prize-winning product for the hospitality industry. The way Chevalley and his engineer friend Mathias Adolfsson came up with the idea and found collaborators in three continents is typical of the way many gadgets enter the global market. The idea was simple: All hotel rooms have a TV and most have Wi-Fi, and guests today carry smartphones. Why not hook up TV, Internet and customers’ devices to produce a seamless experience in which everything the hotel offers can be accessed along with streaming music or video from their own handheld devices. A browser-based service will allow the hotel to sell many services and guests to stream music or movie from their iTune or Netflix accounts.

To achieve this, InnSpire required marrying software with existing hardware. They needed to build a set-top box linking TV with servers and a special remote control device to make their buying or entertainment selections on the TV. Globalisation allowed the company to gather all the manufacturing and software resources without requiring massive investment. After visiting a few manufacturing shops in China’s Guangdong province, Chevalley and Adolfsson found a company that could produce the devices they needed and at a reasonable price. Android, an operating system developed by Google, gave them an easy interface among all devices, TV and the internet. Pretty quickly they found, what Chevalley calls “a fantastic team of programmers” in Pune who immediately grasped what the project was about and produced codes. They tested the software with the set-top box from China. “We could not have done it without globalisation,” Chevalley said, adding the company’s communication and coordination rely on Skype.

Judging by the success of Chevalley’s new company and hundreds of other innovative products based on the resources of the interconnected world, the process of globalisation does not seems to be in ICU. 

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 06-10-2014)