Globalization is Just the Tip of the Iceberg

Published in July 2005

Recently, I had the opportunity to provide a metadata tutorial to an academic conference where the welcome speech touched on the impact of globalization. The speaker indicated that the erosion
of jobs within the Information Technology community could be fixed by simply increasing the supply and quality of students within computer science or any related field. Fueling this perception are
article after article telling us the same thing.

“The economic rise of Asia’s giants is the most important story of our age. It heralds the end, in the not too distant future, of as much as five centuries of domination by the Europeans and
their colonial offshoots” – Martin Wolf (Financial Times)

“There is no job that is America’s God-given right anymore.” – Carly Fiorina (HP)

“Currently, India is becoming the back office of the world. Everest estimates companies all over the globe are sending as much as $5 billion in work to Indian outsourcing service providers. But
all the headlines about the Indian success story are obscuring a development that can have just as much impact. I predict China will be the next big wave in offshore outsourcing.” – Todd

“Income Confers No Immunity as Jobs Migrate” – USA Today

“The world has arrived at a rare strategic inflection point where nearly half its population-living in China, India and Russia-have been integrated into the global market economy, many of them
highly educated workers, who can do just about any job in the world. We’re talking about three billion people.” – Craig Barrett (Intel)

Ok, you get the idea that plenty of people believe that we are entering into a new world of work where the globalization of labor, capital, and innovation will take center stage for years to come.
However if we step back a few feet, we can see another perspective where history paints a different picture. Globalization is clearly in the early stages of hitting the white collar world and
especially the upper and middle layers of the organization. But globalization is not the predominant reason we have job erosion. Globalization is only the tip of the iceberg; the vast majority of
reasons revolve around the fact that we have been very good at what do. Automation, reuse, standardization, communications, and abundance of talented individuals are the real reason we need less
and less information workers. Perhaps the erosion of jobs is the wrong analogy to use since it implies that jobs are flowing out but nothing flow in. The reality is that you have to be willing to
destroy jobs in order to create jobs on a large scale. History supports this notion where during the automation of the manufacturing, we lost 44 million jobs. However, we created 75 million new
jobs in the information worker space. Compare this to other countries where government controls didn’t allow jobs to be eliminated and they only added 4 million new jobs during this same time
period (Peters). Today, a significant share of the value of many product is created at the stage of marketing, sales, research and development (RD), and service, rather than at the stage of
material production (Petrovsky). Or as Daniel Gross of Stern Business states it: “The fact that information has replaced physical assets as the driver of value, leads one to believe that the
management of those information-based assets is critical to the future growth of business.” It seems that change and value creation are correlated either positively or negatively.

Did you notice the success of the online version of Turbo Tax this year? Yes, Turbo Tax has been around for a very long time but mostly as a purchased application loaded on your own PC where you
control the environment. The online version allowed you to do your taxes online but where was the data located? If we as ordinary citizens don’t have an issue with providing our most confidential
data to a company and having that data stored outside of our control then what does that say to us in the corporate world? It says that we don’t have to own or control the data to create value
from it. How many customer records exist in the world with my name, address, and party information? Maybe a hundred or two; could that data be consolidated and provided as a web service? The answer
is obvious. Seamless, timely, and consistent information access is the mantra for staying connected in this digital age. You’re saying to yourself that this smells a whole lot like Web Services
and the Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) wave that has been discussed for years. Remember Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) started as an enterprise architecture at the data layer but
emerged in many organizations at the component layer. Perhaps, the roles are reversed this time.

Is our friend at the Academic conference correct when he spoke of the dangers in India? Isoroku Yamamoto is credited with saying, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, “I fear all we have done is to
awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” (Although, no one has been able to verify that Yamamoto ever actually said or wrote those words nor is the correlation between Japan
and China assumed here). This time the roles are reversed; China is the largest producer of coal, steel and cement. Their exports have grown an astonishing 1,600% in 15 years and U.S. exports to
China have grown 415% Not to mention that 80% of Wal-Mart’s suppliers come from China (Zakaria) The Club of Amsterdam predicted that in 2050, China will be the world’s most important economy.
Simply put, if you are not part of the Chinese and Indian markets, you will be out of business in the next 15 years (Kerneis). So do you still worry about India? Don’t, they won’t even be in the
top five. As they say don’t sweat the small stuff, we have much bigger things to concern ourselves with.

While most of the current data trends are at a macro level, what should you do at the micro level? The good news is that trends do take a long time but the speed and quantity is unnerving. The best
advice I can give is to stay focused on building value-add skills and placing yourself under a continuous development plan. Update that resume or CV and if the only thing you changed is the date of
your current job, then now is the time to start worrying. We are in a new game where stint work or temporary work will become the norm. Whether we are moving from company to company or project to
project, you should have a skill portfolio that can easily be transferred. We are in a new game where the rules are not clearly defined. Job erosion, evolving business models, and technology change
is here to stay and the long range risks and costs of comfortable inaction are deadly to your career.


submit to reddit

About R. Todd Stephens

Dr. Todd Stephens is the Technical Director of the Collaboration and Online Services for the AT&T Corporation. Todd has served as the technical director since 1999 and is responsible for setting the corporate strategy and architecture for the development and implementation of the Enterprise Metadata Repositories (knowledge stores), Online Ordering for internal procurement, and the integration of Web 2.0 technologies utilizing SharePoint. For the past 24 years, Todd has worked in the Information Technology field including leadership positions at BellSouth, Coca-Cola, Georgia-Pacific and Cingular Wireless. 

Todd holds degrees in Mathematics and Computer Science from Columbus State University, an MBA degree from Georgia State University, and a Ph.D. in Information Systems from Nova Southeastern University. The majority of his research is focused on Metadata Reuse, Repository Design, Enabling Trust within the Internet, Usability and Repository Frameworks. In addition, Todd has co-authored various books on Service Oriented Architectures, Open Source, Virtual Environments, and Integrating Web 2.0 technologies.

Todd can be reached at