What is a business? It is a question I have been pondering of late while thinking about how to apply engineering processes and tools and highly visual video game technologies to the design and operations of business systems, as well as trying to figure out the kinds of skills and education needed by future engineers and managers dealing with such technology-based business systems.
The question is relatively easy to answer when talking about the kind of small businesses we deal with in our everyday life - a favorite restaurant, the local dry cleaner, the neighborhood drugstore. But the question is much harder to answer when it comes to global enterprises like IBM, BP, Fidelity or Colgate-Palmolive, to cite a few companies with which I work closely.
Global companies, which generally offer a variety of products and services, seem somewhat abstract, with their employees and clients distributed all over the world. These companies are becoming even less concrete, as once vertically integrated enterprises disaggregate into business webs, or open, virtual enterprises to do business more effectively in a highly networked world. In fact, these trajectories are spawning a shift in the basic corporate model - from the multinational corporation, with relatively independent subsidiaries in countries around the world, to the globally integrated enterprise.
What binds together a virtual, distributed, globally integrated business? Wikipedia defines business as " . . . the social science of managing people to organize and maintain collective productivity toward accomplishing particular creative and productive goals, usually to generate revenue." I like this definition because it focuses on people as the essence of a business, and it is by effectively organizing and managing people that a business develops products and services and generates revenue and profit.