Thursday, 6 August 2009

Web 2.0 part II

Adopting Web 2.0 tools also has great potential for use within a business. This is especially true where work teams need tools to assist with communication and collaboration. The presentation below offers a few hints and tips on using Wikis and Blogs in particular as tools that can increase the productive of your employees.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Why Web 2.0 is Important for your Business

There is little doubt that the internet and specifically, the World Wide Web, has had a tremendous and profound effect on all aspects of our personal and professional lives. Further, as technology continues to advance, a whole new realm of online possibilities continue to evolve.

Consider Web 2.0, a concept first popularized in 2004 by Tim O’Reilly as a way to describe the trends in collaboration, information sharing, communication, access and integration that are changing the rules on how business, consumers, and people all interact and use the web. Wikipedia defines Web 2.0 as the second generation of web development and design. Proponents of the term add that it heralds the inclusion of ‘people’ and not just technology in the use of the web.

A simple way to describe Web 2.0 is in terms of how the web is being used today versus a few years ago. No longer do individuals passively read content that was provided to them on websites. With the introduction of social media such as blogs, wikis, and social networks, individuals also contribute to content and can engage businesses on their own terms in a much more dynamic and frequent way. From Wikipedia, social media is “a fusion of sociology and technology, transforming monologues (one to many) into dialogues (many to many) and is the democratization of information, transforming people from content readers into publishers”. In other words, Web 2.0 provides the tools that allows a shift in the way that information is discovered, stored and shared, where businesses can literally engage in an ongoing, 24/7 interaction with their customer base.

From a technology perspective, this shift is based on the notion that software applications are run on the web itself instead of a computer desktop. Economies of scale and ‘network effects’ significantly reduce the cost of access to this technology, and in many cases business and individuals can gain access to the most common services for free.

While too numerous to mention (see for an amazing array of Web 2.0 applications), the key services fall under five categories: 1) Communication (blogs, micro-blogs, social networking); 2) Collaboration (wikis, social bookmarking, social news); 3) Multimedia (photo sharing, video sharing, livecasting, audio sharing); 4) Review and Opinions (product reviews, Q&A, employer reviews); and 5) Entertainment (virtual worlds, game sharing). Of these, some of the most popular services are Facebook, Myspace, Blogger, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Flickr, and Digg – but of course popularity and ranking vary by country.

There are several significant benefits to utilizing Web 2.0 for your business. For instance, according to Nielsen Online, the total time spent online by U.S. consumers alone has increased by 83% over last year, which represents a tremendous opportunity for businesses to build brand awareness. Strategic use of blogs, social network groups, ‘tweets’, ‘tags’ and RSS feeds combined with a well designed website allows businesses to build online identities that engenders trust and repeat interaction with their customer base. Utilizing blogs, wikis, and forums to create ‘customer communities’, allows customers to contribute their knowledge and expertise to assist others with the net result of improved online customer service and an increase in customer loyalty. Importantly, Web 2.0 technologies and services allows business to stay in contact with their customer base in real-time, enhancing their ability to respond to market changes and deal with issues as they arise. In all, strategic and effective use of Web 2.0 will drive more traffic to your website, increase sales, and improve customer retention.

If you are now asking yourself the question, “how does this affect my business in Cayman”, then consider this: there are over 3,000 members in the Cayman Islands group on Facebook; and over 2,200 Cayman-based individuals on LinkedIn. Even Twitter’s 130+ users with a location stated as Cayman seems to have doubled in the last few weeks.

Usage of social media is also changing. While online posting related to jobs, classifieds and social activities still dominate, individuals and businesses locally have recognized the power of social media to influence and engage the public. For example, the use of Web 2.0 was very apparent in the recent general elections, and Facebook groups such as ‘Equality Cayman’ quickly achieved public recognition. Businesses and agencies are also using social media to inform their customers and clients of activities and initiatives. Take for instance the Cayman Islands Film Commission which can be found on a number of different sites, including Facebook, Twitter and Blogger.

To summarize, Web 2.0 is about on-line tools that become more valuable the more your customers and potential customers use them. With numbers that are growing on a daily basis, you have to ask yourself if you can afford not to integrate these cost-effective tools into your marketing strategy.

For more information on Web 2.0 concepts, view the presentation below.

How do we attract inward investment?

In my previous article, I outlined the key benefits of appropriate inward investment, such as direct employment, an increase in the tax base and indirect employment, and opportunities for local SMEs that supply and buy from these investors. Given these benefits, the natural question is then how do we attract foreign investors to pursue projects that are synergistic with local economic development priorities?

To start with, the Cayman Islands must compare favorably to other jurisdictions in terms of key ‘investment climate’ factors. In particular, factors such as a stable macro-economic climate, market access and open competition, reliable utilities and transportation, available skilled workforce, available local suppliers and resources, appropriate education, training and research facilities, manageable regulation and taxation systems, and a good quality of life, are all taken into consideration.

Reviewing this list, it is obvious that the factors that attract foreign investors are also factors that support local businesses. In fact, a conducive investment climate will both encourage inward investment and domestic investment, as well as enable beneficial linkages between all businesses. The importance of these factors is the reason that foreign investors pay close attention to research such as the ‘Doing Business’ reports published by The World Bank. Independent, third-party research provides a reliable benchmark to compare jurisdictions. Clearly documented procedures and easily accessible information from a jurisdiction also contributes to the positive impression that an investor receives while doing their due diligence.

In addition to the above factors, two other considerations are useful in attracting inward investment. The first is an agency to facilitate investment interest and the second is a clear economic development strategy which provides the framework in which all relevant government agencies can coordinate the facilitation of investment.

In terms of an investment promotion and facilitation agency, lead generation and direct marketing are essential elements of their toolkit. Lead generation is the identification of specific companies that fit within the country’s economic development plan; direct marketing is contacting these companies directly in order to entice them to the jurisdiction. In this regard, direct email targeting key decision makers and visits to specific companies are the most effective ways to interact with the investment leads that have the greatest potential for investing in the jurisdiction. This ‘personal’ approach has better success than general marketing techniques, particularly as the companies that are of most interest are rarely all in one place and all paying attention to the same advertising media.

Finally, the overall success of an inward investment strategy recognizes the importance of aftercare programmes. These programmes involve developing a close relationship with investors that are attracted to the jurisdiction in order to encourage them to source supplies and resources locally. In so doing, linkages within the local economy are formed that maximizes the positive impact of foreign businesses and allows for wider dispersion of economic benefits from inward investment. With a positive, welcoming experience, foreign investors can provide additional recommendations within their networks of associates that may lead to additional investment interest.

While the above discussion provides some basic guidance on the issue of attracting inward investment, there are still two underlying factors that must be considered. As a country, we must be clear on what we want in terms of sustainable economic development, and what investment would best complement our local businesses. We must also have the commitment to put in place long-term plans that ensure the type of investment climate that is conducive to sustainable businesses and for which the maximum benefit will accrue to the majority.

What is Inward Investment?

Investment is widely recognized as a key driver of long term economic growth. Given the current economic climate, an increased focus has been placed on inward investment in particular as a way of stimulating the Cayman economy.

Inward investment refers to the action by a foreign investor to start or acquire a business in the Cayman Islands. The benefits of inward investment include the injection of money into our economy (e.g. through the purchase of land and/or construction of a building), the creation of jobs, and new opportunities for local entrepreneurs (e.g. as suppliers).

The degree to which inward investment is beneficial depends in part on the extent of the linkages created in the local economy and the length of time that the foreign business operates in Cayman. Specifically, greater linkages (and thus benefits) exist when the foreign business has higher levels of Caymanian employees, greater use of local suppliers, and where the income to the foreign business is retained or reinvested locally versus being repatriated. Over time, there is also the possibility that the operation of the foreign business results in a transfer of productivity and/or technology to local businesses.

Given the above facts, the attraction of inward investment is only the initial stage in the economic development process. Retention of foreign business must also be considered in order to ensure long term benefits such as continued employment, and continued purchases within the economy. Encouraging the expansion of a foreign business already within the Cayman economy is also an important consideration. As any good salesperson knows, it is often easier and more productive to work with existing customers than to attract new customers.

Proper consideration must also be given to domestic businesses. As stated above, the links between foreign businesses and local businesses is a key aspect of the overall economic benefit of inward investment. Due attention must be placed on ensuring that small and medium sized domestic businesses can make the investments needed to pursue the opportunities introduced by foreign businesses. Take for example the construction of a new foreign-owned hotel. Such an investment presents an opportunity for local businesses in the tourism industry to work with this hotel in the provision of services to their guests. This indigenous investment must be facilitated and nurtured in order to ensure a successful partnership.

With these considerations in mind, and the cry from some quarters that the Cayman Islands have become overdeveloped in some areas, the question must be asked if all inward investment is beneficial. Does the introduction of a foreign business that competes directly with domestic businesses have a positive overall impact? This competition can take many forms, not just in terms of market share, but also in terms of competing for qualified employees and competing for funds from commercial banks.

Is it beneficial to attract inward investment in areas where there are no local businesses or individuals with the skills or capabilities to take advantage of the opportunities presented? In such a case, there may need to be an emphasis on developing local small and medium enterprises, workforce development and even infrastructure development to ensure that beneficial linkages within the local economy are created.

The balance between inward investment and indigenous investment is a complex one that is not easily distilled into simple statements. That said, not all inward investment is beneficial. Consideration must be made for the long-term strategic direction of the country, including a position on the stimulation of indigenous investment. A clear policy framework and a common understanding among key stakeholders are therefore necessary elements to ensure that investment is effective as a key driver of economic development for the Cayman Islands.