The competitive challenge that companies face today is driven by new issues that transcend classic distribution, brand, and product challenges. In the world we live in today, which Forrester defines as the Age of the Customer, firms need to look at how they deliver marketing and technology solutions that have visible impact on the customer.
Just the other day I was reminded of that when, sitting with a client, he described their competitive threat as coming from software products. That would be normal were it a tech company, but this was an airline! Yes, an airline that required technology and marketing to come together to define a customer experience that would differentiate them beyond seat configuration and route system. This highlighted to me the challenge that many companies face in this new era of disruption (for another view of how to think about this product challenge, see my colleague James McQuivey's recent report "Innovating the Adjacent Possible").
Charles Rutstein, Forrester's COO, sat down with my CIO Practice Leader peer Sharyn Leaver and me to discuss the role that CIOs and CMOs play in this customer-obsessed new world. See what we had to say here:
It’s a couple of days after Google announced its intentions to jump headfirst into the hardware business. By now everyone — including my colleagues Charles Golvin and John McCarthy — have expressed their thoughts about what this means for Apple, Microsoft, RIM, and all of the Android-based smartphone manufacturers. This is not another one of those blog posts.
What I really want to highlight is something more profound, and more relevant to all of you out there who might classify your day job as “product strategy.” To you, the Google/Moto deal is just one signal — however faint — coming through the static noise of today’s M&As, IPOs, and new product launches. But if you tune in and listen carefully, two things become crystal clear:
The lines between entire industries are blurring. Google — and some of the other firms I mentioned above — are just high profile examples of companies that are diversifying their product portfolio, and the very industries in which they play. There are several instances of this over the past "digital decade." What's different now is the increased frequency of the occurrences.
Many organizations expect EAs to be the source of technology innovations. They are broadly knowledgeable, experienced, connect-the-dots kind of people you might naturally expect to come up with reasonable ideas for new approaches and technology. When you think about it a bit, this expectation is misplaced. Here’s why I think this:
The best technology innovators are users who have a problem to solve; motivation to solve a specific problem affecting their lives is the key ingredient. EAs just don’t have these kinds of problems; because they operate as a bridge between business and technology, most often they are attempting to solve things that affect other people’s lives. Please don’t get me wrong: EAs are always looking for new, innovative ways to improve things. But this doesn’t replace the “I gotta fix this now” kind of motivation inspiring most innovations.
So am I saying organizations should take EAs out of the innovator role? Yes and no.
Here at Forrester, we have been writing and talking about topics such as Innovation Networks and new roles for business technology for a while. I think that EAs are better placed at the center of an Innovation Network where they connect innovation suppliers (lead users who are dreaming up new ways to solve their problems) with innovation users (other folks who can benefit from a generalization of the solutions the suppliers come up with). In addition, EAs can bring innovation implementers — the team members who know how to actually make innovations into solutions that work for more than just one individual or group — into the conversation.
So what should you do?
Send EAs on a mission to find people doing innovative things in IT and the business. This has a side effect of connecting EAs to the frontlines, where they might discover all kinds of things.
We live in a world punctuated by big innovations. From fire and the wheel down to the light bulb and the iPad, we mark the march of history by the steady beat of transformative innovations. Except that steady beat is no longer so steady. The rate at which these life-altering innovations are coming to market is accelerating so quickly that it's no longer sufficient to invoke even Moore's Law to explain them.
Not only are new things being introduced more swiftly than before but consumers are adopting them more rapidly than before. I make my living studying early adopters, but recently I've had to throw many hard-earned lessons out the window. Because in a world where Microsoft sold 8 million Kinect cameras for the Xbox 360 in just two months, traditional definitions of "early adopter" became irrelevant after about week two.
This is both exciting and maddening. We've spent that last several years watching the acceleration of innovation to figure out what is making this rate of innovation possible and we've discovered that innovating at this pace is tricky, but doable, with the right approach.