A new business model is emerging, and it depends heavily on software development. Many companies are dropping many of the traditional barriers between product development and customers. Without investing in software development, these efforts, no matter how well-intentioned, will have a better chance of failing than succeeding.
The simplest term I can concoct for this business model is "the transparent company." There are other defining characteristics of this corporate strategy, such as confidence in the ability to execute, and a very different sort of relationship with customers. However, as companies have been decidedly opaque to their customers, any transparency is a striking detail in itself. Hence the term "transparent company."
Wave Hello To The Engineer Fixing Your Bug
Here's an example of what I mean. I don't have to be a customer of Atlassian to know what issues Atlassian's engineers will fix in the next release of their wiki product, Confluence. That information is publicly available at this link. Diving into an issue at random — I chose "Database deadlock during initialisation of plugins in sql server" because it sounded fairly dire — I can see which engineer is working on this issue, Don Willis. I can even see the daily activity stream for Don Willis as he works on this issue and other projects.
Mass customization has been the “next big thing” in product strategy for a very long time. Theorists have been talking about it as the future of products since at least 1970, when Alvin Toffler presaged the concept. Important books from 1992 and 2000 further promoted the idea that mass customization was the future of products.
Yet for years, mass customization has disappointed. Some failures were due to execution: Levi Strauss, which sold customized jeans from 1993-2003, never offered consumers choice over a key product feature – color. In other cases, changing market conditions undermined the business model: Dell, once the most prominent practitioner of mass customization, failed spectacularly, reporting that the model had become “too complex and costly.”
Overall, the “next big thing” has remained an elusive strategy in the real world, keeping product strategists away in droves.