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Technology: Ten Smart Moves

Now might be the time for some prudent IT investments. These offerings are worth a closer look.

For lots of companies, buoyant IT budgets are but memories. Many CFOs are now saddled with low returns on their investments. Yet for those in a position to invest, now might be the right time to play off the front foot. The question is, where best to channel resources in today’s tough business climate?

There’s no shortage of options. Speaking at CFO Asia’s eCFO conference in Hong Kong in October, Su-Yen Wong, vice president of Mercer Management Consulting, observed: “If I had a dollar for every time somebody told me ‘We have too many E-initiatives in our company,’ I probably wouldn’t be here today.”

But focus CFOs must. As Richard Fennell, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting (PwC) in Hong Kong, points out: “CFOs, increasingly, are being asked to lead those initiatives. Like the CEO, the CFO holds one of the few positions with cross-organization purview.” That places the finance chief in a daunting position. “A fairly rare breed of companies has solid business design and digitization of processes,” Wong says.

Motorola, for one, is having a shot at just that. The communications and semiconductor giant’s “e-Business, Everywhere” ethos runs the gamut of online endeavor — from a renminbi vendor payment system developed with the Bank of China to a ten-module E-learning course for staff accountants to complete at their own pace. Recently, the company also invested $2 million in an online travel and entertainment system. Shawn Bergemann, Motorola’s director of corporate finance for Asia Pacific in Singapore, says the project has delivered to the tune of “seven times return on investment.”

For a multibillion-dollar company, such savings are small fry. But they show what can be achieved. As PwC’s Fennel observes: “To get [employee, supplier, and customer] buy-in early, you need to deliver something early. Maybe not complete, but demonstrable.” Here are 10 technologies that should offer some real help getting through the tough times.


Eye Spy

Only days after the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, security arrangements in skyscrapers across Asia began to change. Most of the differences, however, were as low-tech as excluding tourists and insisting on ID badges. Hong Kong-based Cheung Kong Infrastructure, however, is taking security to new levels. It’s been investing heavily in the latest ID gizmo — biometrics. After years of development, the latest biometric software enables a computer to confirm an individual’s identity based on a stable physical trait, such as the face, fingerprint or iris. When a device like a webcam or fingerprint pad captures an image for measurement of the appropriate body part, a software algorithm converts it to a digital code.

Once the stuff of Hollywood movies, biometrics is now affordable enough for any large-scale security operation. In the wake of the September attacks, airport authorities in Australia and the U.K. launched pilot programs that will use biometrics to identify frequent flyers. The International Air Transport Association believes the software will save immigration officials and security personnel time that can better be used checking travelers who pose a more likely threat. Malaysian authorities are also investigating biometrics for screening passengers, and the Philippine government intends to use biometrics when it introduces machine-readable passports and visas in 2002.


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