Just imagine if you were a movie studio executive back in the early 1980’s: what format should you release your new movie on for the home market – VHS or Beta? Both technologies were battling it out and it was very difficult to try to predict a winner. That was a long time ago (buy the way, VHS won), but product managers today still face the same challenge of trying to make sure that their product uses the correct next generation technology.
The names have changed, C++ vs C#, Java vs .NET, Adobe vs Silverlight, but the dilemma remains the same: how do you make the right decision when you can’t see the future? Well Dr. Gerard Tellis and Dr. Ashish Sood have spent some time looking at how to do this and they’ve come away with some surprising (to me) insights.
One of their biggest discoveries is that we seem to do a lousy job of trying to distinguish between the different levels associated with a given technology. What this means is that we’ll spend too much time looking at one level of a technology and then we’ll get whacked in the back of the head when something changes on a different level.
The Dr’s believe that each technology actually has three separate levels of what they call “technological innovation”: platform, design, and component. The platform level is the underlying technology. An example is the LCD platform used in TVs.
The design and component levels of a technology is what we often spend our time looking at. This is because it is where the rapid innovation is occurring as companies try to leap past each other.
Finally, the platform level sees very little change normally, but when things do change, it can turn the world upside down. The arrival of thin & light LCD displays was a platform change that put the CRT manufactures out of business almost overnight.
We’ll talk about what product managers need to do in order to pick a wining horse in a future post.
Have you had to choose an emerging technology for your product? How did you go about doing it? Did you choose the right one? Leave me a comment and let me know what you are thinking.