IBM’s CEO Samuel J. Palmisano claims that the Multinational Corporation (MNC), one of the primary agents of globalisation, is taking on a new form: The Globally Integrated Enterprise. A post of the Dutch blog Sargasso pointed me to this article in this month’s edition of Foreign Affairs (the article can also be downloaded from the IBM website).
Although international trading enterprises were already in existence in the 17th and 18th century (e.g. the British or the Dutch East India Company), the first international corporations emerged in the mid-nineteenth century. These corporations were mainly based on colonial exploitation and were in the business of importing raw materials and exporting finished products.

According to Palmisano, the phase of the Multinational Corporation began during the First World War. The War and the resulting collapse of the European and US economies caused barriers for the international corporations. Furthermore, protectionist measures and trade barriers spread throughout the Western world during the 20s and 30s. The result? The emergence of MNCs that could, on the one hand, adapt to trade barriers through local production and, on the other, could globalise specific tasks such as R&D and design. These MNCs however, continued to organize production market by market, within the traditional boundaries of the nation-state.

The subsequent emergence of the Globally Integrated Enterprise was caused by a few important changes at the end of the 20th century: the decrease of economic nationalism and the ICT revolution. The latter facilitated global communication and the standardisation of business operations. State borders thus defined less and less the boundaries of corporate thinking or practice and the Globally Integrated Enterprise could integrate production and value delivery worldwide.

Palmisano points to four major challenges that this new form of organisation will pose:

1. This type of enterprise demands high-value skills. Nations and companies alike must invest in better basic educational and training programs.
2. This form of organisation also needs the safeguarding of intellectual property. Because of global integration, intellectual property will become one of the key geopolitical issues of the twenty-first century. On the other hand, regulation should not be so rigid that it poses barriers to interorganisational collaboration, since this is a key feature of contemporary innovation.
3. Enterprises need ways to maintain trust in these increasingly distributed business models. A company’s standards of governance, transparency, privacy, security, and quality need to be maintained even when its products and operations are handled by a dozen organizations in as many countries. This will require new ways of establishing trust, based on shared values that cross borders and formal organizations.
4. Global corporate integration will involve significant changes in organizational culture and many new standards for managing a much more complex marketplace.

…and the new Globally Integrated Enterprise seems to deliver plenty of new research questions for scholars in organisation and managements studies as well…

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