By Thomas L. Friedman
The New York Times
I was on my way from downtown Budapest to the airport the other day when my driver, Jozsef Bako, mentioned that if I had any friends who were planning to come to Hungary, they should just contact him through his Web site: www.fclimo.hu. He explained that he could show people online all the different cars he has to offer and they could choose what they wanted.
"How much business do you get online?" I asked him. "About 20 to 25 percent," the Communist-era-engineer-turned-limo-proprietor said.
The former secretary of state James Baker III used to say that you know you're out of office "when your limousine is yellow and your driver speaks Farsi." I would say, "You know that the global economy is spinning off all kinds of new business models when your Hungarian driver has his own Web site in English, Magyar and German — with background music."
Jozsef's online Hungarian limo company is one of many new business models I've come across lately that are clearly expanding the global economy in ways that are not visible to the naked eye.
I was recently interviewing Ramalinga Raju, chairman of India's Satyam Computer Services. Satyam is one of India's top firms doing outsourced work from America, and Mr. Raju told me how Satyam had just started outsourcing some of its American work to Indian villages. The outsourcee has become the outsourcer.
Mr. Raju said: "We told ourselves: if business process outsourcing can be done from cities in India to support cities in the developed world, why can't it be done by villages in India to support cities in India. ... Things like processing employee records can be done from anywhere, so there is no reason it can't be done from a village." Satyam began with two villages a year ago and plans to scale up to 150.
There is enough bandwidth now, even reaching big Indian villages, to parcel out this work, and the villagers are very eager. "The attrition level is low, and the commitment levels high," Mr. Raju said. "It is a way of breathing economic life into villages." It gives educated villagers a chance to stay on the land, he said, and not have to migrate to the cities.
A short time later I was interviewing Katie Jacobs Stanton, a senior product manager at Google, and Krishna Bharat, founder of Google's India lab. They told me that Google had just launched Google Finance, but what was interesting was that Google Finance was entirely conceived by the Google team in India and then Google engineers from around the world fed into that team — rather than the project's being driven by Google headquarters in Silicon Valley.
It's called "around sourcing" instead of outsourcing, because there is no more "out" anymore. Out is over.
"We don't have the idea of two kinds of engineers — ones who think of things and others who implement them," Ms. Stanton said. "We just told the team in India to think big, and what they came back with was Google Finance." Mr. Bharat added: "We have entered the generation of the virtual office. Product development happens across the global campus now."
Last story. I'm in gray Newark speaking to local businessmen. I meet Andy Astor, chief executive of EnterpriseDB, which provides special features for the open-source database called PostgreSQL. His primary development team, he tells me, consists of 60 Pakistani engineers in Islamabad, who interact with the New Jersey headquarters via Internet-based videoconferencing.
"The New Jersey team — software architects, product managers and executives — comes to work a couple of hours early, while the Islamabad team comes in late, and we have at least five to six hours per day of overlap," Mr. Astor said. "We therefore have multiple face-to-face meetings every day, which makes a huge difference for communication quality. ... We treat videoconference meetings as if we were all in the same room."
What all these stories tell me is that we are seeing the emergence of collaborative business models that were simply unimaginable a decade ago. Today, there are so many more tools, so many more ideas, so many more people able to put these ideas and tools together to discover new things, and so much better communications to disseminate these new ideas across the globe.
If more countries can get just three basic things right — enough telecom and bandwidth so their people can get connected; steadily improving education and decent, corruption-free economic governance; and the rule of law — and we can find more sources of clean energy, there is every reason for optimism that we could see even faster global growth in this century, with many more people lifted out of poverty.
Photo credit: Thomas Friedman. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)