When we introduced our Info Tech 100 ranking in 1998, the world was a vastly different place. The Internet boom wasn't yet a bust. Telecom stocks were still safe for widows and orphans. And with few exceptions, American companies were leading the charge into the Information Age.
We created the IT 100 to do what no other publication was attempting to do: rank all of the top technology companies in the world based on their performance over the past 12 months. With the help of sister company Standard & Poor's, it meant collecting a dizzying array of financial data from across the globe, translating financial statements from dozens of currencies, and double-checking every figure to make sure Turkish lira hadn't been mixed up with Thai bhat.
This year, the worldwide effort is paying dividends like never before. The balance of power in the technology industry is shifting. No longer are American companies first, foremost, and pretty much only. Rather, the companies of Europe and particularly Asia are thriving, even as the downturn in domestic tech spending has humbled American companies. Non-U.S. players account for 49 spots in the IT 100, far more than in any previous year. There were a mere 23 on our premiere list.
Asian powers are rising impressively. Companies from Taiwan, Korea, and Hong Kong grabbed 7 of the top 10 spots this year. Asian companies have never had more than two top rankings in the past four years. South Korea's Samsung Electronics Co., which makes mobile phones, semiconductors, and consumer electronics, is the No. 1 performer anywhere in information technology. Quanta Computer Inc. and Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., Taiwanese companies that make components for personal computers, won the No. 2 and No. 3 spots.
In part, the rise of Asia is a sign of the times. The Taiwanese companies are super-efficient manufacturers that U.S. companies turn to for outsourcing production when they need to save money. Quanta's revenues have soared this year as Dell Computer Inc. (DELL) and Apple Computer Inc. (AAPL) have signed it up to make their notebook computers.
It would be wrong to conclude that the Asian tech companies aren't innovating. Samsung has gained ground in the international cellular market with its stylish mobile phones, packed with Web-browsing and text-messaging capabilities. And KT Freetel, a provider of mobile-phone service in Korea, is one of the few to have figured out how to make the mobile Web a must-have.
Four years ago, when we developed the Info Tech 100, we knew it would provide a lens through which to study the evolution of the tech industry. Little did we know how quickly and how much it would change.