Ah, Black Friday: What would the post-Thanksgiving shopping bonanza be without a visit to the local mall? This year, I was keen to perform some gumshoe research on a theme I've been talking about all year long: mass customization, a product strategy that's ready for prime time across multiple industries.
A trip to the Natick Mall (yes, "Mall," no longer "Collection," New Englanders) reveals that mass customization isn't just the future; it's the present. In fact, it's hiding in plain sight. Build-a-Bear Workshop, Hallmark, Lego, and LensCrafters are all stores in the Natick Mall that offer significant customization for consumer products. Burberry is the latest Natick Mall vendor to offer mass customization; I am quoted in Time magazine this week (here, but subscription required to view the link; page 82 in the December 5 paper edition) discussing how luxury clothing and customization fit together well. As I've written before, one of the benefits of employing mass customization is that it empowers consumers to create products that express their personalities -- a particularly relevant feature for clothing and apparel products.
Mobility, cloud, and smart computing will drive tremendous growth and significant changes in the IT industry over the next few years. My fellow analysts have brilliantly covered these topics in the past few months.
I would like to build on these views and focus more specifically on the productivity race that the IT services industry and its clients have been in during the past 10 years or so. While IT services vendors have managed to improve their output levels in order to protect margins in a market of severely eroding price points, I believe they will rapidly reach a plateau if they continue to use traditional methods. Instead, the most successful IT services firms of tomorrow will increasingly leverage disruptive methods in order to fulfill the client expectations to always “do more with less.”
Ever since the Internet bubble burst a decade ago, clients have pushed their providers to find ways to provide them with continued price decreases for similar or greater output levels. This was achieved thanks to two main levers to decrease the amount of resources required to run IT systems by end user firms:
Fewer resources: Optimizing the utilization of resources in order to reduce their consumption. For example, most projects around asset management, infrastructure standardization, consolidation, and virtualization yield the most evident returns as sources of productivity improvement. This is the case in particular in developed countries where companies need to cope with multi-layered legacy technologies that render IT systems as complex and expensive to maintain.
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.
The Oil And Gas Information Technology Innovation Dilemma
The hydrocarbon logistics chain of natural gas and crude oil connects globally distributed exploration and production sites with industrial and private consumers via pipelines, tankers, rail cars, and trucks with massive intermediate buffering storage and conversion facilities (tank farms, refineries, gas plants); it is the lifeblood of our energy supply chain today and for the coming decades.
More than 75 million barrels of oil and 300 billion cubic feet of natural gas are produced, transported, and consumed all over the globe — every day. Along the complex transportation chain, these special bulk products, both liquids and gases, are transferred between the different modes of transportation, resulting in a number of challenges based on complex measurements of product volumes and masses:
Measurement accuracy. In an ideal world, we would always determine the mass of crude oil and natural gas at each measurement point; however, due to the large quantities involved, weighing is possible only at the very end of the logistics chain. Consequently, we have to live with measurement data that typically carries an uncertainty of 0.1% to 0.5 %, depending on the measurement devices’ intrinsic accuracy.
Product strategists at Mars, Incorporated are experimenting with mass customized offerings quite a bit. In addition to their build-to-order customized M&Ms offering, their subsidiary Wrigley has just rolled out MyExtra gum, which prints personalized wrappers on Extra gum packs.
Product strategists at Wrigley declined Forrester’s recent request for a research interview, but judging from the myextragum website and their press release, the offering is a really interesting example of a creatively mass customized product strategy. Why? Product strategists at Wrigley have:
Redefined the product using customization. Myextragum isn’t just gum with a customized wrapper. Instead, it’s a greeting card (Mother’s day, birthday, other holiday) or a business card (to be given to patrons) plus gum. Wrigley is moving into a non-adjacent, previously orthogonal product market in one fell swoop. That’s aggressive and creative.
Justified the higher price point. At $4.99 – though the price reduces with bulk orders – the product is pretty expensive for a pack of gum. But, again, it’s not a pack of gum – it’s a greeting card or business card that also has gum inside. This pricing makes sense when you think of the price of Hallmark cards or custom business cards.
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.
[With apologies to all those of you who had already read this, I'm re-publishing this as the Forrester gremlins ate my previous post.]
For the past few years, many eBusiness and channel strategy executives in financial services have had a nagging sense that today's websites would be rendered obsolete as new technologies emerged or younger consumers developed radically different behaviour patterns. We think that time if fast coming upon us.
For the past six months we've been working on our vision of the Next Generation of Digital Financial Services, led by my colleague Alexander Hesse and inspired by the work of leading eBusiness teams worldwide. Although our vision is not an exact description of how all digital financial services will evolve, given the wide variety of markets that eBusiness executives operate in and the different strategies of their firms, we think the next generation of digital financial services will be characterized by five things:
Simplicity. Making it easy for customers to achieve their goals.
Ubiquity. Interacting with customers wherever they want.
Personalization. Making the entire experience relevant to individual needs.
Empowerment. Enabling customers to take action by themselves.
Reassurance. Providing human help whenever it adds value.