That's the title of the IBM Institute for Business Value's latest paper on economic competitiveness, and I think it says it all in terms of the turning point we have reached. The worst of the financial meltdown is behind us, but great uncertainty lies ahead. Are we in for a sluggish, high-unemployment economy weighed down by deficits? Are we at the beginning of a new boom, in which new paradigms will present themselves?

By most accounts, we are in a recovering economy. This would make it the time not to keep cutting but to make proactive efforts to get ahead of the competition, to accelerate into new markets and green-light new innovations and products.

No one can predict the future — even the immediate future. No one at the end of the 1990-92 recession could have predicted the rise of Web computing and commerce, and the related dot-com frenzy. But companies must be in a position to act on new opportunities. This is harder if they are still operating with recessionary bunker mentalities and post-layoff skeletal staffs. IBM made three recommendations in its report for getting ahead in the new economy ahead:

  1. Get ahead of scarcity: The report states that as prices recover, resources—including the human kind—will suddenly get scoffed up. The main takeaway here is IBM points to the need to sharpen up talent management as the competition heats up. “Before the market tightens once more—and while distressed firms continue to cut staff—astute leaders will seize the chance to attract and build key talent pools. This was the case with Deutsche Bank, which acquired top talent by hiring teams from rivals such as Merrill Lynch during the financial crisis to build its global financial institutions business.”
  2. Drive cost efficiency through productivity and agility: Here's where information technology comes into play. The IBM report recommends aggressive adoption of tools and platforms that foster collaboration between employee groups or teams, as well as looking into the emerging field of predictive analytics to leverage all the data streaming in from various sources. “With so much data available literally at our fingertips, the challenge becomes turning that data into useful information and insights to enable action. Predictive analytics can assist companies in using data to enhance customer relationships, process efficiency and asset productivity."
  3. Find targeted approaches to grow revenue: Here's where digital channels and social networking, which are being pursued by many in the insurance industry, can make the difference in the re-engaged economy. Customers and markets won't be behaving the same as they were going into the downturn a couple of years ago, and it's critical to be tapped into what people are thinking. “Engaging with and listening to customers in new ways can help reveal unaddressed needs and unlock new demand. Organizations can also collaborate with customers via digital channels to create new value.”

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