Monday, January 16, 2006

Leveraging Technological Change

Technology is a juggernaut shaping global business operations and environments in ways similar to gravity defining the space-time continuum. One can imagine different businesses situated on concentric layers, the radius of each being inversely proportional to its involvement with the central technology and the level of technological sophistication. Leveraging technological change is then analogous to surfing the "technological ripples" that emanate when such an environment is perturbed, harnessing the titanic potential of such change to propel an organization, versus inertly bobbing in, or being toppled by its tidal wake. Effects of technological change include increased automation and quantum jumps in processing power, emergence of new business paradigms and environments, radical changes in existing methodologies and, virtually diminishing physical limits and constraints. Examples are: faster production lines, giga-Hertz machines, e-commerce and the Internet, non-invasive "keyhole" surgery and vanishing geographical barriers using high-speed communication links.

In such an advanced technological environment, management of technology plays a strategic and pivotal role. To manage effectively in such dynamic environments managers must keep abreast of technology, appraise advancements in technology from the perspective of gaining a competitive edge and embrace such change to enhance their organizations’ services. "Technological leveragability" is inversely proportional to time or competition (statistically assuming that competition sets in with time, even if the technology is patented). It has a short half-life. It also has an inherent "dormant deadline" that is activated by the first-mover, and advanced by followers. Thereafter, the value addition or enhancement becomes a standard feature, and further down time - its absence is a deficiency. For example: music has to be digitally accessible today. One can already see ripples on the fabric of movie making/distribution technologies. Coming soon to an iPod near you? Leverage @ change. Technology decision-makers have to move fast.

However, as businesses use increasingly advanced technologies, they become proportionately susceptible to its change, because the "technological acceleration" at the "epicenter" is the greatest. Hence, managers should choose the appropriate technology for defining their strategies, considering practical issues such as development time and costs, technological obsolescence over the project span, and risks associated with nascent technologies, instead of merely opting for the most sophisticated one. Additionally, continual evaluation of the chosen technologies underlying or defining the business strategies is essential for managing technological change.

In addition, managers have to be aware of, and research the possible markets created by technological advancements. Failure to do so results in missed opportunities. For example, even well known technology behemoths initially overlooked the emergence of the now ubiquitous Internet. Now, as the world goes increasingly online, web presence has become a necessity. Advancements in Internet technologies have created multi-billion dollar e-commerce/e-tailing/e-service industries that 'brick & mortar' businesses have not been able to ignore. Such change is relentless and inevitable. Wireless, nano and bio technologies, highly sophisticated research, artificial intelligence etc - to name a few - have combined to conjure means and devices that are establishing trends for not only the way we operate today, but also for our interaction with the real as well as virtual worlds of tomorrow. Understanding and harnessing the change-potential, and then riding the change-wave can slingshot a business far ahead of competition, an example of which we see in the digital/online music space. Napster and other file sharing systems changed the way music was accessed. The iPod rewrote the rules, again. The others are following. But a successful “videoPod” is still up for grabs, as is an RFID based “killer app”, or the next “email”. The Web is being searched today, by the Googles, Microsofts and the Yahoos. It will be “understood” tomorrow (“Semantic Web”), and then, maybe “visualized” – by the next change-the-game company that surfs this technological ripple.
In our diminishingly-differentiated hyper-competitive world, leveraging technological change is now a strategic imperative.