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Monday, 28th April 2008

By Tim Buckley Owen

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It’s all too easy to add two and two together and get five if that’s what you want. But two pairs of recent reports from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) suggest that five might be the right answer. Denmark is the common factor in the first pair. According to the latest EIU business environment rankings http://digbig.com/4wtpm this small country retains top rank as the best place in the world to do business. All sorts of factors contribute to this ranking, which is subject to a rigorous methodology encompassing ten criteria. Denmark has held top place since 2005 and is forecast to continue doing so until at least 2013. At the same time, though, Denmark has slipped in the latest international rankings of e-readiness – the EIU’s measure of a country’s e-business environment, developed in co-operation with the IBM Institute for Business Value. It was top dog from 2004 to 2007; now http://digbig.com/4wtpn it ranks just fifth. Of course it’s dangerous to read too much into this; Denmark’s score has slipped only from 8.88 to 8.83 on a scale of 1 to 10. Nevertheless, it’s worth bearing these two apparently contradictory indicators in mind as we consider another pair of complementary EIU reports, also recently released. Managing the Company’s Carbon Footprint: the Emerging Role of ICT finds that many companies’ carbon reduction strategies ignore the role of ICT in achieving these targets. Sponsored by networking and telecoms companies AT&T and Cisco http://digbig.com/4wtps the report shows half of all the strategies surveyed making no mention of ICT, despite its apparently obvious benefits in reducing the need for executives to travel. Where ICT-based carbon reduction tools are currently being used, web and video conferencing is the most popular – a tool that replicates, albeit imperfectly, face-to-face meetings. So perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised by the results of our final EIU study which finds that, despite the rise of virtual interaction, face-to-face collaborations still have the best chance of success. Also sponsored by Cisco, The Role of Trust in Business Collaboration http://digbig.com/4wtpq demonstrates a significant positive correlation between face-to-face communication and project success. ‘Meeting a person face-to-face tends to catalyse the interaction and help to turn a transaction into a relationship,’ it concludes. So we have a physically small country (Denmark) which retains its pre-eminent position as top business environment despite slipping in the ICT stakes. Bearing in mind that a further six of the 10 top ranked countries for business are also physically small – could ease of face-to-face contact be one factor contributing to their success? And if so, could a headlong dash from face-to-face business models towards virtual ones – for corporate information services as well for corporates themselves – be a bit premature?

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