The World Is Flat: The Factors Influencing Global Business Platform

Thomas Friedman first released his book titled “The World Is Flat” in 2005. The book underwent a quick update and expansion in 2006 and 2007 respective. Don’t be deceived by Friedman’s book title which gives the impression of the physical shape of the earth. Rather the title of the book is a metaphoric perception of the globalization trend of the early 21st century. Friedman tried to drive a new perception of the business world as a ‘level-playing-ground’ where all business players are opened to equal opportunities. He opened his view on the rapid changes in business activities globally as a result of the removal of some trade restrictions of the past decades.

In his book “The World Is Flat” Thomas Friedman surmised that some factors immensely contributed to the ‘flattening’ of the business playing-ground. These flatteners, according to him have inadvertently changed the global business platform. He listed 10 flattening factors as:

  • 1. The fall of the Berlin Wall - (11/9/89)

Going by Friedman’s views, the fall of the Berlin Wall changed the way people view and see the other parts of the world with new opportunities to traverse the globe. This he ascribed to the advent and development of technological devices that aided global interconnectivity and interactions. Friedman summed up the influence of this factor thus: “A critical mass of IBM PCs and the Window operating system that brought them to life, came together in roughly this same time period that the wall fell, and diffusion put the nail in the coffin of communism.”

  • 2. The Advent of Netscape - (8/9/95)

The emergence of the Netscape Communications Corporation device as the first worldwide internet browser brought another significant change in the way the world relates and does business as people across different business spheres can easily interact and communicate. Sharing experiences and information in the areas of work, entertainment, and commerce became much easier and faster with little or no restriction. Though the Windows Internet browser took the glamour off the Netscape later, its significance in changing the global business schemes cannot be underestimated.

  • 3. Workflow software – enabling machine-to-machine interaction/communication with no human help.

The appearance of the internet spurred the programmers to brainstorm together to improve and expand the functionality and applicability of the internet. Specialization of various computer services applications. Various workflow software applications were developed to empower humankind’s business activities which subsequently lead to improved service delivery, lower cost of doing business, and more efficient productivity. The use of the computer became more popular and acceptable. This was further explained by Friedman in “The World Is Flat” chapter 2, “The 10 Forces That Flattened The World”.

  • 4. Open-sourcing – collaboration work-sharing

Another essential element of the internet and computer relevance is open-sourcing which enables collaborative communities for work sharing. This further helps to enhance the customers to receive a completed designed application and the code that consequently accompanied it. This offers the users of the application to customize the features of the code to meet their needs. This can be achieved by altering the features either by adding or removing some from the designed application.

  • 5. Outsourcing - Consigning some part of operations to others

By consigning part of the operations or services to other companies or individuals helps corporations or industries to concentrate on some other essential operations, enhances effectiveness, cost, and time-saving operations. Friedman believes that outsourcing is a great flattener as it enhances collaborative operations between two organizations for greater globalization.

  • 6. Off-shoring – an advanced form of outsourcing

Offshoring another international business concept involving the relocation of a company’s manufacturing or other services from its native location to a foreign nation to take advantage of cheaper labor, resources or raw materials. China is benefiting immensely from this concept. Friedman in “The World Is Flat” recognized this international business concept as a significant world flattening factor.

  • 7. Supply-Chaining – streamlining via technology

Friedman emphasizes the importance of using technology to streamline the distribution, sales, and shipping of items. This results in effective cost and time. Wal-Mart is a prime example of a supply-chaining concept.

  • 8. In-sourcing - where a company carries out other services than its prime service for another company.

UPS was cited as an example that carries out repairs of Toshiba computers for Toshiba Company using UPS employees; whereas shipping is the prime operation of UPS.

  • 9. Informing

Friedman aptly stated in his book that 'Never before in the history of the planet have so many people on their own had the ability to find so much information about so many things and about so many other people'. This is an undisputed world flattening factor when we consider the roles played today by Google, Firefox, Wikipedia, and several other search engines in searching and obtaining information within seconds globally.

  • 10. Steroids

The use of wireless devices such as personal digital devices, mobile phones, iPods, VoIP, either in digital or analogy devices to obtain, store, or share information have actually reduced distances across the globe. Files, small and big data, photography and images can be edited, re-configured, and transmitted within seconds to several recipients.

From the short and long-term effects of each of the 10 flatteners as propounded by Thomas L. Friedman, one can summarily arrive at a critical conclusion that each of the flatteners has more far-reaching impact in the globalization than the other. Basically, one can view that the impact of the Netscape has waned tremendously in today’s digital and communication platform, but as the first worldwide internet browser gave birth to the first global enlightenment and insight after the fall of the Berlin Wall. It opens the floodgate of investigation, research, development, and improvement to the internet world that has massively impart the global business systems today. One cannot be wrong to acclaim this as the mother of all other flatteners.

While Friedman believed that Open-sourcing (collaboration work sharing) has more effects in world flattening, the development and power of Workflow Software are much reflective in the business globalization as it is the gateway to digital connectivity across borders. This phenomenon has made people interact, view, exchange ideas, and experiences via machine-to-machine interface.

The ‘Informing factor’ is today like a pleasant bug soothingly biting the whole world. In Friedman’s own words, he writes that 'Never before in the history of the planet have so many people – on their own – had the ability to find so much information about so many things and about so many other people'. The Informing factor as a flattener is so enormous in aiding people to conveniently browse for whatever they needed, where to get it, and how to get it, either products or services.

However, marketers and world businesses are benefiting through the world flattening. While world flattening continuously shrinks and compact the world into a global village, it helps to make business transactions faster, more cost and time effective. Product and service visibility and accessibility continue to increase on a daily basis, hence more profitability for businesses.

Friedman tried to put a bar on what can hinder the flattening of the world. He classified the disempowered people as either “too sick” or “too frustrated” class of people that can hinder meaningful flattening of the world. He opined that disempowered people will cause a crisis if they begin to enter the flat world. He advised that collaboration of the US with China will disempower the “Axis of Evil” and flattening will shift to the “Axis of Energy”. 

16 August 2021
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