>What’s Next For Microsoft, Google, And The Rest Of The IT Industry?

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Published in Government Technology

By Andy Blumenthal

We are living in a material world, and I am a material girl.” — Madonna



For some people, like Madonna, the “material world” represents a society where people must pay to get their way. To me it means the mortal world, where we are born, live, try to thrive and ultimately pass the baton to others. 



Mortality isn’t limited to human beings, but is also a property of organizations. Several articles have appeared about it lately in mainstream and IT publications. Industry analysts are looking to Microsoft and Google and wondering how they, like other technology organizations, will master the competency of, as Computerworld puts it, “Getting to next.”



A curious irony runs throughout these conversations. Microsoft and Google are seemingly on top of their respective games, dominating the market and earning tens of billions in revenue per year. Despite being at the pinnacle of the technology industry, various industry watchers have noticed, they appear unable to see what’s the next rung on their ladder. It’s almost like they’re dumbfounded that nobody has placed it in front of them.



Consider, for example, that Microsoft dominates desktop operating systems, with approximately a 90 percent share of the market, business productivity suites at 80 percent and browser software at 60 percent. Google similarly dominates Internet search at about 64 percent. 


Everyone is asking: Why can’t these companies find their next great act? Microsoft launched the Kin and dropped it after less than two months; Bing has a fraction of Google’s market share in search; and Windows Mobile never became a major player as an operating system. Further, as The Wall Street Journal pointed out, the Xbox video game system, though finally profitable, Microsoft will likely never recoup the initial investment in research and development.



Similarly Google gambled by acquiring the ad network DoubleClick in 2007 for $3.1 billion, YouTube in 2006 for $1.6 billion and the mobile ad platform AdMob in 2009 for $750 million. But so far, as Fortune noted, Google hasn’t seen significant benefit from these purchases in terms of diversifying its revenue stream. “The day is coming when … the activity known as ‘Googling’ no longer will be at the center of our online lives. Then what?” said The Wall Street Journal.



From the perspective of organizational behavior, there’s a natural law at work here that explains why these resource-rich companies, which have the brains and brawn to repeatedly reinvent themselves, are in apparent decline. All organizations, like all people and natural organisms, have a natural life cycle — birth, growth, maturity, decline and death. 



To stay competitive and on top of our game, we constantly must plan our strategy and tactics to move into the future. However, organizations, like people, are mortal. Some challenges are part of life’s natural ups and downs. Others tell us we are in a decline that cannot be reversed. At that point, the organization must make decisions that are consonant with the reality of its situation, salvage what it can and return to the shareholders what it can’t. 



In other words, eventually every organism will cease to exist in its current form. During its life cycle, it can reinvent itself like IBM did in the 1990s. And when reinvention is no longer an option, it goes the way of Polaroid. 



This is similar to technology itself. As a new technology emerges, time and effort is spent further developing it to full capacity. We optimize and integrate it into our lives and fix it when it’s broken. But there comes a time when horses and buggies are no longer needed, and it’s time to face the facts and move on to cars — and one day, who knows, space scooters?



Going back full circle to the human analogy: People can reinvent themselves by going back to school, changing careers, perhaps remarrying and so on. But eventually we all go gray. And that’s fine; that’s the way it should be. Let’s reinvent ourselves while we can. And when we can’t, let’s accept our mortality graciously and be joyful for the great things that we have done.

>The Three I’s and Enterprise Architecture

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One question that is frequently asked in enterprise architecture is whether new technologies should be adopted early (more cutting edge) or later (more as quick followers). Of course, the third course of action is to close ones eyes or resist change and simply “stay the course.”

The advantages to bleeding edge technology adoption is having the early advantage over competitors in the marketplace (this head start provides the ability to incorporate innovation into products early and capture a hefty market share and quite possibly dominance), while the advantage to quick followers being learning from mistakes of others, building from their initial investments and a more mature technology base (for example, with software, one where the bugs have been worked out) thereby potentially enabling a leapfrog effect over competitors. The advantage to staying the course is organizational stability in the face of market turmoil; however, this is usually short lived, as change overwhelms those resistant, as the flood waters overflow a levee.

The Wall Street Journal 5-6 July 2008 has an interview with Theodore J. Frostmann, a billionaire private-equity businessman, who tells of Warren Buffet’s “rule of the three ‘I’s,” which is applicable to the question of timing on technology adoption.

“Buffet once told me there are three ‘I’s in every cycle. The ‘innovator,’ that’s the first ‘I’. After the innovator comes the ‘imitator.’ And after the imitator in the cycle comes the idiot. So when…we’re at the end of an era it’s another way of saying…that the idiots have made their entrance.”

I relate the innovator and the early adopter in their quest for performance improvement and their sharing the early competitive advantage of innovation.

Similarly, I associate the imitator with the quick followers in their desire to learn from others and benefits from their investments. They recognize the need to compete in the marketplace with scarce economic resources and adapt mindfully to changes.

Finally, I relate the idiots that Warren Buffet refers to with those that ignore or resist change. Often these organizations mistake their early market success for dominance and in their arrogance, refuse to cede to the need to adjust to changing circumstance. Alternatively, these enterprises are truly ignorant of the requisite to adapt, grow, mature, and transform over time, and they mistakenly believe that simply sitting behind the cash register and waiting for customers is the way to run a business (versus a Costco whose warehouse, wholesale model has turned the nature of the business on its head).

In architecting the enterprise, innovation and imitation, while not without cost and risk, will generally speaking be highly rewarded by superior products and services, greater market share and more loyal customers, and a culture of success in the face of constant change. You don’t need to look far for examples: Apple, 3M, P&G, Intel, Toyota, Amazon, and more.

Creating Competitive Advantage and Enterprise Architecture

Planning endeavors, such as enterprise architecture, typically help drive competitive advantage for the organization.

In the book, Making Change Happen, by Matejka and Murphy, the authors summarize Porter’s model for competitive advantage, developed at Harvard University.

To achieve competitive advantage, an organization typically follows one of five strategies based on differentiation or scale:

 

  • Differentiate based on superior customer service—“provide such excellent customer service that it results in strong customer loyalty. These satisfied customers not only provide repeat business, but also enthusiastically refer your business to others.” The overall strategy is encapsulated by the slogan, “the customer is always right.” User-centric EA is an excellent enabler for customer service orientation, since the architecture captures lots of information on internal and external factors, analyzes, catalogues, and serves up this information to end-users to enhance decision-making and thereby provide superior customer service. For example, the EA can identify performance metrics such as customer satisfaction, quality, timeliness, and so on and apply business, information, and technology resources to achieve superior customer service.
  • Differentiation based on superior products—“build a better mousetrap…make products and services that are clearly better than your competitors from a feature and function perspective.” The goal is to command a price premium through innovation, superior product and service design. EA supports the development of superior products through the use of emerging or specialized technologies that can give the enterprise’s products an edge in their design and development. The EA identifies that baseline and target architectures and transition plan, and can use these to direct innovation and superior product development.

 

 

  1. Differentiation based on niche market space—“identify and focus on smaller market segments and produce products and services that appeal to those unique markets…the goal to provide a more informed, personal touch that make customers feel special, because they identify with the image associated with the product or service.” The customers in essence feel special and become members of an affinity group. User-centric EA provides for strong requirements management capability, whereby the requirements of niche customers can be identified and business and technical solutions can be deployed to satisfy their unique needs.
  2. Scale based on cost orientation—“become the low cost producer!” Common strategies to achieve low cost include: “achieving economies of scale (volume production); installing efficient (and volume discounted) supply chain management; continually improving production processes (including lean production techniques that eliminate waste); and outsourcing non-core competencies.” Here, the strategy is to “pursue continuous improvement and new technology.” EA can facilitate the investment in new technologies or more efficient technologies that reduce cost or make possible mass production and the attainment of economies of scale.
  3. Scale based on market dominance—“be the 800-pound gorilla.” Strategies here include: “acquisitions, joint ventures, exclusive supplier relationships, new product development, new market entries, warranties or guarantees, integrated sales and IT structures.” The strategy here is to “keep growing market share.” EA is vital in identifying gaps that can be filled through strategic M&A, and in integrating disparate enterprises, consolidating redundant IT systems, developing interoperability between merging or partner organizations, and providing standards and governance for these large scale enterprises.

User-centric enterprise architecture is critical to achieving Porter’s vision of competitive advantage, driving organizational change, and achieving a winning business strategy.