2009 is going to be remembered as the year of cost-containment. Most client discussions are not very sexy – it’s largely about cost, as opposed to innovation or revenue generation. McKinsey recently revealed 70% of its current client engagements are cost-reduction focused, only 30%focused on revenue-generation (the opposite of a year ago).
I strongly believe our businesses, while being diligent about cost-containment, must use this opportunity to make fundamental changes to their business operations in order to emerge more profitably in the future. Simply ripping away cost elements and failing to improve access to global corporate data and processes, is a massive wasted opportunity to be more competitive over the long-term.
I wrote recently about how the lay-off culture that has afflicted both the US and UK in recent years, where many firms treat their labor as a variable cost that can be scaled-up or down at will, depending on the next quarterly forecast. I cannot stress enough the damage this can cause to businesses as the economy recovers. One common theme that has dominated discussions with business leaders recently has been their surprise at the amount of visible cost they have been able to take out of their businesses as they move from a revenue-generation to cost-containment strategy.
It’s not solely the cost of labor that is highly visible – it’s the costs of technology, travel, infrastructure, real-estate etc. that can often be easily driven-down in a desperate business climate. Less visible are costs associated with poorly-integrated business processes and procedures, of dated analytical tools, of ERP systems incapable of supporting global process templates, and so on.