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Sunday, July 04, 2004

The Innovation Catalyst by Clayton Christensen Via Agilebrain

Clayton christensen in this interview provides his view about IT commodization and offers his perspectives on Nicholas Carr's recent book as well.The way you compete is to make more reliable and higher performing products. In order to do that well, you need to have an interdependent architecture that's a proprietary system. You then get to the paint where you've overshot what customers can use.At this point, a process of commodization begins to set in. It has two dimensions: First, having overshot you keep trying to improve the product. People will accept the improved product; however, they won't pay much money for the improvements. Customers often don't need all of the improvements.The other dimension of commodization surrounds the argument of now having to compete differently. You're faced with the need to market so that every customer gets exactly what they need when they need it. If you achieve this, you can responsibly market to smaller and smaller niches in the market. To compete at this level, you need to have the architecture of the product evolve from a proprietary interdependent one to a modular architecture. When you have a modular architecture where the product's performance is really driven by the subsystem that you snap together, like your personal computer, then modularity finishes the commodization job. You can no longer differentiate your product from the others on the basis of product performance because everyone has the same modules.In the first realm of commodization, the functionality and reliability are determined in the architecture of the product. The component themselves don't make much of a difference. In the other realm of commodization, the components or the subsystems make all the difference and the architecture doesn't make much difference.The very move in this direction at a stage of value added precipitates a reciprocal of decommodization of the adjacent stages. Usually, that where what's not good enough gets resolved.
Carr's point is a little bit consistent with this view. There was an era when you could gain a competitive advantage by having information technology that (1) others didn't have, and (2) you had processes within your company to integrate that technology into your strategic planning, product development processes, and pricing better and faster than others. Now, the ability to capture that information, process it, and deploy it to the people who need it is almost modular, in the sense, any company can get it. Carr overstates this point a bit. Things are headed in this direction, and thus the information technology becomes a commodity you must have. You just can't differentiate yourself.
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