Monday, November 21, 2011

Spotting the Next generation ...

For the best part of a decade I've worked on how business activities evolve from genesis through to products to commodity. As activities evolve then practices (such as management methods) that are applied also have to change which is why one size never fits all.

I've also demonstrated how this process of evolution creates a cycle, with commoditisation enabling further genesis (as in innovation of new activities) and the importance of inertia barriers in regulating this cycle.

These cycles also appear at the macro-economic scale and they're known as Kondratiev waves, however even more localised cycles (i.e. specific to an industry) tend to be associated with organisational change.

Hence with the commoditisation of the means of mass communication (i.e. the internet), new forms of organisation appeared known as Web 2.0. These companies had different activities, practices, strategies and structure to the more traditional, enterprise organisations that existed before.

In general terms, this cycle of evolution and its interaction with inertia barriers creates three economic eras - peace, war and build. During the peace era, sustaining change is particularly high, companies fight to maintain their relative position and inertia barriers to change help support the status quo.

The war era occurs when an activity evolves from one state (such as products or rental services) to another (such as commodity or utility services) and during this time disruptive change dominates whilst inertia barriers become a hindrance to survival. Companies literally are fighting to survive, often against their own internal culture and inertia to change.

So during the last IT war, caused by the evolution of the means of mass communication, these new web 2.0 organisations formed and the rate of disruptive change was high. Those traditional, more enterprise like companies that were impacted but survived the war had adapted and learnt many of the lessons of web 2.0. Today, social networking, social media, rich internet applications are the norm.

However, cloud computing - which is nothing more than the evolution of a wide range of activities from products (and rental services) to commodity (and utility services) - has initiated a new era of war.

The models predicted (and this is what we found) that there are three main forms of IT organisation in the wild - the traditional enterprise who have adapted, the web 2.0 players and a new breed of Next generation companies. The practices, activities, strategies and organisational memes of these Next generation are the ones which will tend to diffuse and dominate our industry.

The underlying framework, models and principles of how this works is part of a report I'm finishing for the LEF. Including in-depth surveys of over a hundred companies, it provides a reasonable hypothesis of organisation evolution across activities, practices and strategies. I say reasonable because it's more than postulation as there is data that demonstrates the pattern but this is not peer reviewed, the sample sizes are small and hence its only a reasonable hypothesis and requires a good dose of scepticism.

I'm not going to go through the report but I thought it might be useful to just comment on how to identify the Next generation in general terms.

If your organisation :-
  • embraces change and is acutely aware of inertia barriers
  • has primary goals based upon disruption of existing markets and growing ecosystems rather than a focus on profitability and growth into emerging geographical markets
  • views commoditisation not as a liability but an opportunity
  • operates through small, highly empowered teams building and creating services
  • builds and exploits ecosystems by enabling others to build upon its services
  • uses data analytics rather than metrics to determine action
  • continually challenges and removes processes
  • understands evolution and avoids one size fits all mentality
  • builds distributed systems designed for failure that use commodity IT where possible
  • considers itself to be as, if not more, efficient than Amazon
  • games behaviour both internally and externally
  • views culture as malleable and focuses on talent density
  • views open source as a tactical weapon
  • is seen by others to be simultaneously highly innovative, customer focused and efficient despite what Porter said on the subject
... then you're Next generation. If this isn't you, you're not. If you're not, then just hope this war doesn't stretch into your industry or that IT isn't a major barrier to entry into your space or this hypothesis is completely wrong.

I've provided a comparison between the traditional enterprise and the next generation in the following table.

Along with retail, media, travel firms and others who have already suffered in the last war - we should see software products & hosting, insurance and retail banking dragged firmly into this one.
Of course, along with this war era comes a build era, a golden age where the genesis of new activities flourishes and we see periods of frenzied growth.

The cycle is continuous, and the next major war after this one should be related to the commoditisation of the manufacturing process itself ... now, that'll be a big one. For me, this is personally important as it creates an opportunity to test the hypothesis.

What we should see as the means of manufacturing becomes more of a commodity (driven by 3D printing, printed electronics and hybrid printers) is a high degree of disruption in manufacturing industries as inertia barriers to change are broken by new entrants whose practices will be remarkably different from the existing players. The practices of these Next Next generation of company will diffuse and become the norm.

If this hold true, then I'll have enough to finally put the work up for peer review - having initial data (covering 4,000 data points), a hypothesis which describes a pattern from that initial data and has been preliminarily shown to exist in this current war through a survey (providing in total over 6,000 data points across 100 companies) and finally a pattern which is predictive.

If it doesn't and is falsified then it's back to the drawing board. The downside is I'll have to wait many years (possibly as much as a decade) before the next war starts ... if only companies were more like bacteria that I could grow in a lab.
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