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Disruptive Technologies

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Examples of disruptive and sustainable technology that come in my mind are: First is cable television technology as sustainable and IPTV or VOIP as a disruptive technology. Second could be Wi-Fi and Wi-Max as a disruptor. I will pick on the first example here to go in detail i.e. cable television technology as sustainable and IPTV as disruptive. Cable TV was a disruptive technology at one time and has sustained through time.

Cable television technology: Cable technology replaced the traditional over-the-air method of broadcasting. It has been in business for a long time and the reason I call it sustaining because, it is customer focused and it is main-stream. Sustaining technologies tend to maintain a rate of improvement and give customers something more or better in the attribute they value. This is what cable television technology was doing till last few year, though now it has some challenges. There is a big competition for this technology from direct broadcast satellite and few other forms of competitions as well, that I will discuss. Nevertheless –
• It still dominates the market
• It was once emerging technology that proved sustaining and very successful in the broadcasting field.
• It is customer focused

IPTV: IPTV is a disruptive technology in the field of video delivery. Disruptive technologies introduce a very different package of attributes from the one mainstream customers historically value, and they often perform far worse along one or two dimensions that customer value. This is what IPTV did initially - it had lack of bundling capability, it was not widely available, and even the technology was not advance, for instance channel changing was not fast. However, it has improved on most of these fronts dramatically.

The typical characteristics for a disruptive technology are ease of Use / simplicity, cost, reliability and convenience. It disrupt the market either in the form of low-end or new-market

 Low-End Disruption
• Serves smaller less attractive customer group
• Segment ignored by incumbents
• Technology matures in the marginal market
• Eventual expansion into higher-end segment

 New-Market Disruption
• Enlarges the entire market segment
• Allows customers who lacked money or skill to participate
IPTV has most of these characteristics and it is disruptive to not only providers (cable/satellite) but also to content producers and middleware providers.

Disruptive technology: IPTV - How well the incumbents are managing? -
IPTV technology effect several areas, such as, providers (cable/satellite), content producers and middleware providers. There is lot of action at providers’ front but it not only because of IPTV. There are a couple of reasons for that, such as, the industry is very competitive, cable and direct TV are fighting for share and there is competitions from telcos as well on some fronts.

There is still lack of focus on other incumbents. Till recent time, especially in US, incumbents seem to believe that IPTV is not the biggest threat. Main reasons for that were –
• Lack of standardization in IPTV chain
• Lack of IPTV providers’ ability to deliver triple play – Video service (Video on demand), Audio service (VOIP) and data service (broadband).
• Too many stakeholders in service/content and software supplies
• Highly fragmented market

However, recently after few major players such as Microsoft has put foot in this, they are concerned more. They are taking certain actions, such as –

Providers -
• Bundling more and more service
• Getting bigger
• Providing new services to customers, such as DVRs.
Other –
• Entry and tie-up in the IPTV chain, especially in international market
• Focus on standardization for middleware

Overall, incumbents are adopting some good strategies but they need to be more focused on IPTV technology and look for better solutions.

Effect of technology’s stage on the appropriate strategy for the company –

Stage of a company in the Market development cycle is very important in terms of dictating what kind of strategy firm should take. For example, IPTV technology is not completely matured yet and it is more in the bowling alley/tornado stage. This indicates that IPTV companies should focus on taking the technology to the main street. They should either look from the perspective of improving their products or indentify market where current technology can be used. In the same fashion, if incumbent is in the main street (mature or declining), they should try to utilize their existing customer base, improve their experience, or reevaluate their value proposition.
Geoffrey Moore, in his article – Innovating within established enterprises, has highlighted some of these strategies and how useful it could be for a firm to match their stage with innovation style. I have made the following table to describe the same. It has the technology stage and corresponding innovation strategy with some details –

Technology stage Innovation strategy Comment
Early Market Disruptive good enough and less expensive - initially meets needs of underserved markets
Bowling Alley & Tornado Application existing technology introduced into new market to serve new purposes Product product enhancement
Main Street (Early) Process Make processes more effective
Main Street (Mature) Experimental improvement of customer experience Marketing improvement of customer-touching processes
Main street (Declining) Business Model reframes the value proposition
Towards End of Life Structural disruption and restructuring of industry relationships

Sustaining technology: Cable television – Phase and desired action-
Cable television technology is in the main street mature/declining stage. Because, growth has flattened, rather reduced a bit, customers are open to change and other technologies are on horizon.
Cable companies need to focus on a couple of areas –
Increasing customer loyalty – This can be done by –
• Drastically improving the customer service
• Introducing loyalty programs,
• Doing better marketing
• Improving customer experience with the company

M & A – Industry needs one round of shake up and market leaders need to consolidate the industry to generate better scale, reduce cost and increase the services provided to customers.

Bundle and stay on top of the game – Look for any other opportunities for providing extra service to customer. Look for any new technologies that can be adopted and used to provide better solutions. Can cable companies help streamline IPTV industry and fight with Direct TV?
Hence, cable television industry has several challenges to face and they need to be very careful and intelligent as an industry to succeed.

How to deal with emerging technologies in the competitive landscape?
It is very important for managers to understand the competitor’s emerging technology and take actions to take advantage from it. Here are some steps that I would recommend to a manager –

A. Understand whether emerging technology is disruptive or sustaining, and what is its strategic significance:

A simple graph, as shown in the Exhibit A (see appendix 1), can be drawn to understand whether the technology is disruptive or not. It is important that to draw the slope of performance improvement in disruptive technology, you talk with knowledgeable technologist and not with your current customers. If they believe that new technology might progress faster than the market’s demand for performance improvement, then it may well address the customer’s need tomorrow, if not today, and it is strategically critical.

B. Invest in the disruptive technology:

If managers are able to identify disruptive technology early on, they may have several options to execute-
a. Develop the technology
b. Buy the competitor
c. Think of another disruptive solutions that address same needs

C. Avoid the traps:

There are few important traps managers need to avoid when investing in a disruptive technology -
a. Delayed Participation:
b. Sticking with the Familiar
c. Reluctance to Commit
d. Lack of Persistence

D. If needed, place responsibility in an independent organization and keep it independent:

When the disruptive technology has a lower profit margin than the mainstream business and must serve the unique needs of a new set of customers, company should create a separate organization.
After it becomes commercially viable, if you had an independent organization for a sustaining technology then you can integrate it with main company, but this will not be a good idea for a disruptive technology.

Conclusion
In conclusion, it is important for managers to understand the importance and difference between sustaining and disruptive technologies. They should be able to appreciate this for both internal as well as competitors’ technology. They should develop capabilities and methods for avoiding the conventional traps and encourage their teams to think in the same lines.

REFERENCES:
IPTV, retrieved on 16 May 2010 from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IPTV IPTV will change everything (Geezer, Jan13 2007) retrieved on 16 May 2010 from: http://www.gadzooki.com/event-coverage/iptv-will-change-everything/ Disruptive technologies: catching the wave (Joseph L. Bower, Clayton m. Christensen, HBR n.d.), HBR Jan-Feb 1995
Innovating within established enterprises (Geoffrey Moore, HBR n.d.) retrieved on 16 May 2010 from:
http://apps.business.ualberta.ca/mlounsbury/techcom/readings/darwin%20and%20demon.pdf

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