Viewpoint: Michael Treacy
CIO Insight You say any company can achieve double digit growth, that there’s
no excuse, even in hard times. How is it possible though under difficult conditions?
Michael Treacy: Well, the piece that everyone has to recognize is that the growth
of the market you compete in is only one of five ways in which a company can
grow. During good times, if you’re in a growing market, then you rise with the
tide. During bad times, you sink with the tide. But there are four other and
important ways you can grow a business. You can grow a business, first and foremost,
simply by holding the base of customers that you’ve already got. You can grow
a business by taking market share. You can grow a business by moving into adjacent
lines of business, or, fourth, by moving into entirely new and unrelated lines
of business. So, just because the market isn’t growing doesn’t mean that your
company can’t grow.
Because you can pursue one of these other approaches.
So if it is possible to grow by a different approach, why is it that most
companies fail to achieve double-digit growth?
Well, most companies fail to achieve it because they don’t look at growth as
a portfolio problem. What I mean by that is, most companies produce a static,
deterministic, and limited growth plan. They identify the four or five initiatives
they’re going to put in place to establish growth. They bet everything on those
four or five initiatives. If they succeed, that’s great. If they fail, they’re
out, they’ll miss their goal.
The companies that grow steadily at double-digit rates do two things that are
very different. First, they look for growth in each of those five areas. Second,
they recognize that every growth initiative is uncertain. To manage the uncertainty,
you need to have a diversified portfolio of initiatives, and you need to balance
the portfolio toward the kinds of growth initiatives that are most appropriate
to your market. So, if you’re in a high churn market, you might focus more on
base retention. If you’re in a market that’s reaching a level of maturity, you
might be more focused on adjacent growth. But all the firms that do it right
basically have an abundance of initiatives managed in a portfolio, and that’s
how they get the double-digit growth.
Can you give an example of a company that does this well, and an example
of a company that does this poorly?
Certainly. Let’s take a well-known example for the readers, which is Dell Computer.
Dell’s core market is personal computing, the growth rate in that market reduced
dramatically in 2001. It has remained a single-digit growth market, but except
for one two-quarter period, it hasn’t interrupted Dell’s spectacular growth
because they were able to do all the other components of the growth portfolio
Importantly, they have shifted into a series of adjacent markets, including
storage, printers, services, network devices. They continue to be aggressive
at taking market share. So even in a flat market they can continue to grow.
And they happen to be very, very strong at base retention. And so even as their
core market growth rate has declined, they’ve been able to keep up the engine
of growth. It did take them a couple of quarters through to recognize it and
adjust their growth strategy.
If you want to see an example of a firm that has done it miserably, look no
further than fiber-optics maker Corning. Corning is a company that for ten years
in the 1990s bounced between $3 [billion] and $4 billion of revenue. Then the
telecom bubble hit. It created enormous demand for both their fiber cable and
their flat-screen technology. In fact, they saw a growth of 24 percent and then
50 in successive years. It ballooned the size of the firm.
But their growth was built, quite frankly, on being lucky and in the right place
at the right time. They didn’t use that good fortune to establish a broad-based
growth strategy. As soon as the telecom bubble burst, they sank right back down
to $3-4 billion of revenue, but, worst of all, they had to declare a loss equal
to the last 20 years of profits.
You argue that in 2003 achieving double-digit growth requires focusing less
on process innovation and more on product innovation. Is that correct? Why is
it so, and what’s going on that’s causing the sea change?
Yes, it is the case. Across all of information technology, there’s a tightening
of information systems budgets, and one can ask why. Well, one of the reasons,
of course, is that across the board companies have tightened their belts because
there was a recession, there was slow growth, and everybody was focused on trying
to maintain profits during a slow period. But the budget belt got tightened
more severely in the information systems space. We’re now starting to see budgets
in marketing and other places loosen, but we’re not seeing the information systems
budget loosen very much. Why?
I think very simply because information systems has lost real credibility with
the executive team in many organizations. Information systems made major investments
in broad-based enterprise applications and solutions that have not paid off.
ERP’s impact on company performance is at best murky. CRM is a very troubled
investment in that people are not seeing a return. Supply chain integration
has turned out to be a very, very difficult investment to pull off.
And, therefore, what we’re seeing is, first and foremost, that the investments
that have been made in trying to innovate how companies do business are not
paying off. And that’s reducing the investments being made in information systems
Still, you’re saying it’s not just that IT is not paying off. There’s more
of an emphasis on product innovation. Again, in 2003, why is this more important?
What’s happening is companies have not just a mandate but an absolute requirement
to innovate, because if you don’t deliver better value, you die. And so there’s
an urgency, a necessity for companies to figure out how to improve the value
proposition that they deliver to their customers, while simultaneously improving
the value proposition they deliver to shareholders, which is more typically
called profits. So I’ve got to simultaneously deliver better value and deliver
better profits. I have to innovate to be able to do that.
Now for the last ten, 15 years, where we’ve poured the money into innovation
has been in innovation in how our companies do business. We’ve been innovating
in our operating model design. And I think the recognition is that we’ve overinvested
in that form of innovation. We are not seeing the results we expected. We’re
disappointed in that form of investment.
So what corporations have done is they’ve refocused on their traditional form
of innovation, which is product innovation. R&D budgets have not declined,
not for one quarter, during this recessionary period. Companies continue to
increase their investment in product innovation because there is a mandate,
an absolute requirement that they innovate. And if I can’t get that innovation
to occur in how I do business, then I’m going to innovate in what it is that
And both sides contribute to the company’s value proposition. The information
systems investments can be used to lower cost and, therefore, lower prices.
They can be used to speed up cycle times and, therefore, improve innovativeness
in a number of ways. But when that’s not paying off, I’ve got to look to other
means, and where companies I think are turning their attention is toward product
innovation. It’s a return to kind of a root/core/basic strategy.
Does this mean shifting your revenue growth portfolio away from retention
and taking market share away from competitors to other parts of the portfolio
such as market expansion, adjacent markets, and new lines of business?
No. With only one exception, innovation through information systems and innovation
through product innovation both can impact a wide range of the growth portfolio.
Here’s the one exception.
The organizational innovations through information systems can have a very profound
impact on base retention. Why? Because, essentially, customers stay with you
because you continue to offer best value. There’s this myth out there that customers
stay because of loyalty. Customers stay with you because each time they purchase,
they determine this is still the best value for me. And there are a number of
ways that information systems investment in customer service and other areas
can help ensure that the company has the best value every time.
There are limited ways to invest in product innovation to ensure that the company
always has best value every time, and then retains its customer, and those limited
ways have to do with incremental evolutionary innovations in product.
So they both have some impact there, but I would argue that the information
systems world actually can have a very big impact on base retention because
one of the big advantages as an incumbent you have is better information about
your customer than the competitors. So you should be able to engineer a better
value proposition than the competitor.
In the area of share gain, let’s take one marketplace. Let’s take the consumer
packaged goods industry. What consumer packaged goods has finally come to understand
is that you cannot build market share through marketing and promotion mechanisms.
That at best what will happen is you can maintain market share parity using
those techniques, but if someone is essentially out-advertising you, out-promoting
you, than it’s a relatively simple thing to match them in what they do, wrestle
them to the ground, and stop any share erosion.
If you want to move market share in consumer packaged goods, you must create
fundamental innovation in product. It’s the only thing that consistently drives
market share in an industry like consumer packaged goods. It’s the only thing
that consistently moves market share in pharmaceuticals. And across a broad
range of industries what companies are waking up to is basic fundamental innovation
in product is the best way to move market share.
The exception to this is a services business, in which case your information
systems investment in core services-say, you’re in financial services, your
information investment in banking services is, in fact, your fundamental innovation,
your fundamental tool for creating share gain and value innovation. So where
it’s a services business, the IT community has a major role to play in driving
market share. Where it’s a product-oriented business, research and development
is what’s going to fundamentally drive market share.
When it comes to market positioning, both have a role to play-
By market positioning, do you mean market expansion?
Market expansion. Market position or market expansion. Here, far and away the
more important innovation is in product innovation because-let me be careful
because we’re going to have the very same services and product split. So if
there’s a market segment that your analysis demonstrates is going to be a new
and fast-growing segment and we need to position ourselves in that segment,
what do we need to do? We need to do the fundamental innovation in product or
service that’s going to allow us to stake a claim to that market segment before
other people crowd in and try to take some places. That’s going to require either
an innovation in information systems to build that core service or in R&D
to build that core product.
And so they actually have a role to play, each of them have a role to play in
each of the different areas of growth.
And your decision on which area of growth to emphasize is going to depend
on your particular company’s strengths, weaknesses, the marketplace, what customers
are looking for. It’s going to be a very individual, case-by-case analysis.
It is, but I just realized something in this conversation. It’s actually a very
important distinction in information systems investment. And that is that if
we look at a product firm, all of the innovations that information systems brings
about in a product firm are essentially innovations in how we do business. There
are innovations in how we handle a customer, how we handle all the things that
wrap around the product.
But if we’re in a services business, like a bank, insurance firm, FedEx, people
like that, in those kinds of businesses we really do need to distinguish the
role of information systems in innovating how the company does business from
the role of information systems in innovating in what the company sells.
And I would argue strongly that, as I said earlier, there’s a return to focusing
on product innovation-I should more broadly have stated there is a return to
focusing on innovation in what the company sells. So I don’t think in financial
services, for example, there’s been any abatement of investment in information
systems to drive innovation in core products and services. I do think there’s
been abatement or a lessening of investment in the CRM and other kinds of systems
that are more organizational innovations. And I apologize, but that’s a very
Are you dismissing loyalty too quickly? Aren’t there companies that manage
to lock in clients?
Loyalty is an outcome, not a characteristic of a customer. In other words, we
do want to make customers loyal, but loyalty is not an innate characteristic
of a customer. Customers are loyal to one thing: they’re loyal to best value.
They’re not loyal to you, their supplier. They’re loyal to the best value they
can get in the marketplace. And, therefore, if you want to make customers loyal,
or in my terminology you want to retain them as base clients, what you must
focus on is delivering best value.
Now as the incumbent you have three significant advantages over the person who
doesn’t have that client as their own. First, you should have better information
about the client than your competitor because you’re in a relationship with
them. Second, I should have an economic advantage versus my competitor. Why?
Because my customer has incurred in some cases a small and in other cases a
very large switching cost if they’re to move from me to somebody else.
Third, I have an influence advantage over that customer. I have more of an opportunity
to get the customer to use the criteria for evaluating me and the other guy
that I would like them to use. So if I happen to be the low-priced product in
the marketplace, I’m going to emphasize those criteria and try to get the evaluation
skewed toward the characteristics of product that I’m best at versus the other
guy. So, information, economics, and influence are the three leverage points
that an incumbent has that makes it easier for them to sustain best value than
GE Medical Systems provides an excellent example of how information systems
can be used to innovate in what a company sells and thereby create a base retention
strategy that’s very powerful. GE Medical Systems is in the business of selling
ultrasound machines, CAT scanners, MRIs and other very expensive imaging devices.
They compete against Siemens, Hewlett-Packard, the spin-off of Hewlett-Packard,
and companies of that ilk. And, quite truthfully, in any given year, any one
of those companies might have the best point solution product because they’re
hop-scotching each other and leapfrogging each other in terms of innovative
GE has taken a deliberate strategy of broadening what it is they sell to their
customer beyond product to include a very substantial suite of services. So
they have software that allows the images that their products create to be captured
and transferred into electronic medical records. They have evolved further into
a broader set of clinical patient management systems. They’ve evolved even further
now and linked patient management records into financial systems for health
care organizations. So they’re going all the way through into reimbursement.
In other words, GE has taken a focused approach that says: To our principal
clients, hospitals and large physician groups, we will sell not only these expensive,
high-end pieces of equipment, but we will sell the application software that
will allow that hospital or that provider group to manage the flow of information
from the equipment all the way through the reimbursement process.
And products can be swapped in and swapped out with a little bit of operator
training. As we all know, information systems applications have a much higher
switching cost and, therefore, can’t be swapped in and out so easily. GE’s strategy
of broadening its offering from product to product-plus-profoundly-innovative-services
has, in essence, raised substantially the switching cost to their client, and
they have exploited one of the three advantages of incumbency, which is the
economic advantage of switching costs.
So, in effect, they’ve locked in their customers.
They have very much locked in their customers. It’s very much a one-way street
once you start to implement GE’s services solutions.
If you look at the auto industry, which is one of the biggest investors in these
loyalty management systems, it turns out the incumbent, the company that made
the car that you drive, actually is not very well positioned to have much more
information about your family than any of the competitors can have. They don’t
really learn much more about you other than perhaps your service records through
the dealers. There isn’t much of a switching cost that they can build up and,
therefore, an economic advantage. At your next car purchase, it really isn’t
any cost to you to buy a different brand than the brand you’ve bought before.
And they really have extraordinarily limited ability to influence your judgment
on what to buy because we so much distrust dealers and auto manufacturers.
So the very high churn rate within the auto industry is endemic to the structure
of the industry. They aren’t able to pull those three fundamental levers of
incumbency-information, economics and influence-and, therefore, it turns out
the fact, pick a company, the fact that Nissan sold you your last car gives
them virtually no advantage in whether they’ll sell you their next car.
Unless it’s the dealer, and the loyalty may not be to the car manufacturer.
It might actually be to the dealership.
That’s exactly right. And if you look at the sophisticated dealers that do it
well, they absolutely play the information game in spades, and they do create
an economic advantage for themselves because they introduce small switching
costs simply because they’re so easy to do business with, that you know that
it would be painful to move to some other place. You’re 100 percent right.
Then, last, if you look at the dealer strategy of people like Mercedes-Benz
and BMW though the lens of information, economics and influence, you completely
understand how they’ve used that dealer system to kind of pull those levers.
You’re 100 percent right.
So what they should be doing then is supporting the dealer in building that
Beyond supporting, they should actually build the tools for the lock-in and
own them themselves and let the dealer use them. But it’s very important that
they own the means of locking in the client.
They being the factories, the OEMs. So it’s extraordinarily important that these
are franchise systems, not the result of encouraging independent innovation.
And if you look at the Ford-GM dealer system, part of the problem those dealer
systems have is they don’t have compliance to the core factory approach to ‘here’s
how you run a dealership.’ So what you find is that there’s one Ford dealer
who’s a big discounter, and the next guy is all love and kisses and service-oriented,
and the third guy’s got another thing. And that’s a disaster.
When you go to a BMW or Mercedes or a number of other dealers, you find a consistency
and uniformity of approach. Why? Because all the means of locking in customers
have been engineered, designed and built by the factory not by the dealer.
So, in other words, it’s coming out of Mercedes. So what’s their strategy
at Mercedes and what could other car manufacturers learn from them here?
Well, you know, first and foremost, all the car guys’ base retention strategy
is 95 percent of the chips are placed not on the dealer, they’re actually placed
on product innovation. So let’s start with that, that the vast majority of their
mentality and their thinking is if I simply produce the world’s best car in
the price range and segment that the buyer’s at, that’s why they’ll repurchase
my car. And they’re right, that is the majority of reasons. That incumbency
can still only play a small role in getting you to repurchase the same vehicle,
but it can still play a role.
And so what are doing? They’re building sophisticated systems to capture information
about prospects and customers. So once you’ve been in a Mercedes or a BMW dealership
and shown a sincere level of interest in an automobile, you’re in their system,
and you’re getting special marketing to you that other people aren’t getting.
You’re getting routine kind of contact points with the company.
One of the most important things that they’ve done, and GM actually pioneered
this but hasn’t figured out how to leverage it the way Mercedes and BMW are,
is they’re building these in-car tracking devices so they know where you are
all at all times. Like the GM OnStar, in Mercedes it’s called the Tele Aid system.
And what they’re able to do with that is actually gather a remarkable amount
of information about your driving habits and your uses of that automobile. I
mean, every time that car moves, they know it, and they know where it moved
It isn’t clear to me either what the privacy limits are in their use of information,
but I am absolutely clear that that information is powerful for purposes of
building a profile on this customer so that the next time they’re up to buy
a car, you can more effectively respond to what their real needs are. There’s
a direct analogy to the Harrah’s Entertainment system here and what they could
Let’s go back to product information. One thing you say is that CIOs and
companies must get better information with which to diagnose the growth you’ve
already achieved, the gaps in that growth, and how you’re going to close those
gaps with new initiatives.
Exactly. In other words-
What kind of information are you talking about, first of all?
Well, first of all, it’s the information about the growth portfolio. So we need
to be able to drill down business unit by business unit and, in some cases,
geography by geography, and understand how much of our growth is coming from
base retention. Are we, for example, retaining 85 percent of our revenue from
last year? Is it 88 percent? Is it 92 percent? It’s very important information.
We need to know how much of our growth is coming from share gain and how much
of our growth is coming from market positioning or market growth. We don’t have
basic account reporting information now with which to make judgments about where
the gaps are against our stretch objectives and, therefore, where there needs
to be more focus.
So if I said to you that Nextel Communications, for example, experiences a 23
percent churn rate, that 23 percent of its clients go away every year, it means
that they can only rely on approximately 77 percent of the revenue from last
year to be in their coffers for this year, would you tell me that’s a good thing
or a bad thing? The answer is, well, I don’t know because we don’t know what
Companies need to start building reporting systems for revenue that are far
more sophisticated than what we’re doing today to give their management much
deeper, more granular, surgical insight into what’s actually driving the revenue
result that they’re obtaining month to month and quarter to quarter, and that’s
the starting point for where information systems should get involved. We should,
in conjunction with the controller’s department, build those reporting systems
that give much deeper insight into what’s happening on revenue growth.
Are there any other kinds of systems, besides reporting systems on revenue
growth and where revenue is coming from, that people need in order to diagnose
and identify gaps in growth?
Well, the other area is actually an area where we can innovate around how companies
conduct themselves, or innovation and operating model. If you look at the investments
companies have made in big enterprise systems, there’s a very mature investment
that’s been made in ERP at this point in time. CRM investments are probably
the next most mature, supply chain management’s perhaps the least mature of
The area that’s gotten very little attention in organizations is product lifecycle
management. There’s very few firms outside of automotive, aerospace, some of
the heavy engineering-oriented industries that have made substantial investments
in improving, in using information systems to improve how a company creates
innovative product. And there are still a lot of opportunities in that area.
There are opportunities to speed up the cycle time, the whole time-to-market
concept of how we go from concept to marketplace. There are significant opportunities
to improve the way companies make judgments and decisions about their product
portfolio management, you know, where they spend their dollars on product innovation.
And there are tools and investments that can be made in improving the overall
level of inventiveness, if you will, the degree to which a company is able to
bring out breakthrough products on a consistent basis.
Now the high-tech industries-pharma, information technology, aerospace-those
guys have made these investments because they know they live and die on product.
The auto industry’s done it because they’ve just had such a profoundly complex
process for how they design and bring to market a new product that they’ve had
to make the investment. But a broad sweep of other industries have made very
little investment in improving how companies create innovative products, and
that’s a very important way that information systems can start impacting growth
strategies across the board.
Let’s drill down a little bit further into this. If we’re thinking about
product development, it’s going to start with research. What do we do differently
Well, for starters, there’s a revolution that’s slowly fomenting in research,
and it is the following. Research can become a structured process. To date,
what most senior executives believe is that research depends upon unstructured
creative insight on the part of very high potential people. It is, in essence,
the Albert Einstein model of research, or university model of research. We put
enough very smart people into a highly unstructured situation, we pour in enough
money and other resources, and we have some statistical probability that some
good things will come out the other end. That process simply can’t survive.
That is no way to conduct corporate research.
Now that’s a model that Thomas Edison essentially established. It was his version
of a research lab. Now importantly, Thomas Edison built a corporate research
concept in which he was the central element of virtually every component of
research that took place in this very broad organization. We took that idea,
industrialized it mostly leading up to World War II and then for 20, 30 years
after World War II. We industrialized that process so that you didn’t have to
have one Thomas Edison in place, you could somehow have a hundred junior Thomas
Edisons, and you would achieve the same result. So we saw big research labs
develop in all sorts of companies.
But the process is still highly unstructured, and it’s unstructured because
what’s missing is a methodology for innovation. How do you put structure to
the process of creating breakthrough thinking and breakthrough ideas? And this
is where of all people the Russians actually have a leg up on us because they
have a methodology that’s was invented 50 years ago, refined over a very long
period of time, and it’s actually been proven as a structured approach to increasing
and improving the inventiveness.
TRIZ is a Russian acronym for the theory of inventive problem-solving. It was
created about 1950, it was first created by a man named Genrich Altshuller from
Azerbaijan Altshuller’s key insight was that, to improve the innovation process,
do not study inventors, study inventions. So don’t try to understand how an
Albert Einstein works, try to understand instead the pattern of invention within
any area of science or research or engineering.
So he took a very large database of patents, more than a million of them, and
he analyzed them to understand the trends in innovation. Out of that came 11
fundamental trends of innovation that point you toward where the next innovation’s
going to occur in your business, in your marketplace. He identified patterns
that anybody can use to foretell where technical or product innovation in an
area is going.
So as an example, one of the trends is a trend toward "dynamization."
That is to say, all products that start out static and solid end up being dynamic.
There’s a trend in that direction. I wouldn’t say all products, but many products.
So here’s this trend because I know this-
Can you give me an example?
The particular example I’m going to use is measuring devices. How do we measure
distances? The first thing you have is what? You have a ruler, like a yardstick
from grade school or a one-foot ruler. That’s a solid object, no dynamization
in the thing at all.
But the next evolution is you put a joint into a solid device, and then you
make it multijointed. A multijointed ruler is what a carpenter carries around
with these fold-up wooden rulers that they used to carry around in the old days.
The next trend in dynamization is from solid you go to flexible. Guess what?
That’s a tape measure. You then go to powder, then to liquid, then to gas, and
eventually to a force field. What’s a force field? That’s the use of laser measurement
devices. So you see a ruler, a carpenter’s multijointed ruler, a tape measure,
a laser measuring device. It’s a classic example of the evolution of a technology
along the dimension of dynamization.
And that’s just one of many possible paths down which product evolution
Exactly. And between all of the different trends and subtrends, there are identified
more than 250 of these trends.
If you’re a CIO and you’re hearing this, where do you use technology to help
companies use TRIZ to develop innovative products?
And let me give you one more thing on TRIZ, and then I’ll come back to that
question. So one of three powerful insights about TRIZ is that if you’re going
to innovate in any product area, you should plot where that product evolution
has gotten to on the relevant trends in technology, because that basically will
point you toward where the next innovations will occur, and it will substantially
reduce your search for finding those next innovations. So that’s idea No. 1.
I’ll give you three ideas, and then we’ll come and talk about technology.
Idea No. 2 within TRIZ is to look at functional requirements as the central
mechanism by which you invent and come up with new insights. So, as an example,
a company wants to take a paper-making machine, which is a multi-hundred-million-dollar
machine, and they want to reduce the capital cost of that equipment, let’s say
they want to cut it in half or they want to cut it in a quarter. It turns out
that the stated problem is, I want to reduce the cost of my machinery.
The key functional problem that is driving the cost of a paper machine it turns
out is one thing, and that is that for every pound of paper you produce, you
have to use 1,000 pounds of water. So the majority of the capital cost has to
do with moving water and applying it and drying it and squeezing it out and
doing all the things you do to water, that the key problem is the movement and
removal of water in the paper-making process.
How many ways can you remove water if you look at the problem functionally?
If you look through all the different sciences, how many different ways can
you remove water? Well, it turns out you could squeeze it out, you could boil
it out, you could do a whole bunch of things. When you look through all the
different sciences, you can find at least 42 ways to remove water.
And so by looking functionally, you open up your eyes to looking across all
scientific disciplines for the answer. You’re just interested in moving water.
You don’t care what field, whether it’s physics, chemistry, biology has an insight
for removing water. So that’s the second big idea: You look functionally across
all aspects of businesses, sorry, all aspects of the requirement.
And then the third big concept in TRIZ is essentially how you-and I won’t go
into the details-but it is how you ground your innovation in an understanding
of what produces value in a marketplace. Because there are obviously a lot of
ways you can innovate that don’t add value, there are a limited number of ways
to innovate that really make a profound difference in the use or value of the
product. And so those are the three basic ideas.
There’s a big insight in TRIZ about the evolution of technical innovations.
There’s a big insight in TRIZ about ‘look functionally and across all scientific
disciplines,’ and there’s a big idea in TRIZ about how you identify and connect
the functional improvements in a product you’re creating to things that really
deliver value in a marketplace.
Now what role does information technology have to play in this? Well, what I
ask you is, what role did information technology play in Six Sigma? Because
TRIZ is to research and development, TRIZ is to product innovation, what Six
Sigma has been to operations. It is a structured, disciplined approach to driving
consistent year-on-year improvements in productivity in a process and functional
area of the business. Six Sigma has impact on operations, TRIZ has impact in
And to the extent that information technology has found an important role for
itself in Six Sigma, I think information technology will find an important role
for itself in TRIZ. But the challenge is that TRIZ is very early, in this country
it’s very early in its evolutionary cycle.
Right, but where do you think IT is going to contribute to TRIZ?
I think it’s going to play a huge role, and the reason is that TRIZ is essentially
an approach to structuring what is today a very unstructured process of innovation.
And anywhere you can bring structure and process, information systems has a
Help me see this.
Okay, I’ll give you one instance, just one simple instance of its role. If you
are looking at innovating across a range of sciences in a product that’s important
to you, let’s say that you are a company that makes soap, just for argument’s
sake, and you want to innovate in the soap business. One way the information
systems can play a role is, if you plot and analyze where a bar of soap is in
its technical innovation today, it will point you toward, in all those different
dimensions of evolution of science, where to look next for innovations in other
fields that might apply to the soap business.
How do you actually go look? Well, one of the ways you go look is with a huge
patent search engine. There’s a simple application, needs a lot of investment
to make it work effectively, but there is a powerful, powerful tool that can
be given to the research community, which is a patent search engine tuned to
the kind of patent searches you need to do. There are a limited number of companies
out there that actually have products like that in the marketplace that can
help you do patent searches. You use a typical Google-type search, you’re going
to come up with garbage. It’s a very specialized process. That’s just one example
of where it could be done.
Second example: TRIZ itself as a methodology is still so new that effective
tools to provide a kind of a tool bench for someone practicing TRIZ don’t yet
exist, but the methodology’s complex enough that I am quite certain that those
kind of assistance tools are going to grow up as well. That’s going to be in
the field of application software, if you will. We’re going to see TRIZ work
benches and things like that evolve. They’re not here yet.
So it’s a little hard for us to see the role of systems right now because you’re
at the very early evolutionary cycle of this methodology in this country. It
would be like us sitting there at the very beginning of Six Sigma saying, well,
where does systems play a role, and the answer is, well, it’s going to, but
you’re just not going to be able to see it at the very beginning of an evolutionary
cycle. No one has enough foresight.
So you’re saying that structuring research is going to be one of the things
we’re going to be doing differently that IT can help. Besides TRIZ, is there
Sure. Yeah, the other things, I mean, remember that’s what’s typically called
the fuzzy front end of product innovation, you know, that conceptual stage,
that’s where TRIZ kind of applies, the real invention conceptualization. But
once you have a concept you believe in and you’re starting to take it into commercialization,
now there’s a whole series of tools, mostly around this product lifecycle management
(PLM) space, that can have real impact.
And so if you look at the kind of tool set that’s evolved-EDS has a product
lifecycle management group, IBM has a relationship with Dassault Systèmes
SA where they have some software, and then there’s some point solutions, smaller
players out there that are kind of losing share to those two big guys.
Tools like this have been around for a while, but what should a CIO be doing
Well, if the CIO is in one of these product technology-intensive industries
like aerospace and pharma and automotive, the likelihood is what the CIO should
do is just continue to evolve what they’ve got. They’re already heavily invested
in this stuff. But in the majority of industries there is very little investment
that has been made to improve the product innovation and product commercialization
And so a lot of these tools don’t have any use in consumer package goods at
the moment. They don’t have any use in medium-technology industrial products
like electronic components, plumbing components, you know, building materials.
You just don’t see that. You might see a standalone CAD system so people do
some drawings, so they’ve automated the blueprint process, but that’s it.
And there’s just an enormously sophisticated suite of software that’s out there
to be used. Now some of it may need some adaptation to the different environments
from shipbuilding to sports equipment design, but there’s a tool set out there
that’s on the shelf, very sophisticated, and it’s not being applied by a whole
bunch of companies.
That said, I would strongly argue that CIOs approach this by trying to cherry-pick
at first the point solutions that are going to be the highest impact right away.
I’d be cautious about kind of taking on a big enterprise approach to this software
because enterprise approaches, in general, haven’t had a very happy ending for
most CIOs. So I’d be looking at what is a very broad suite of software these
folks have developed and saying what in there are the things that could really
make a difference in unlocking some bottlenecks in our innovation process right
What do product development lifecycle products cover?
They cover everything from product conceptualization at the front end, with
some surprisingly sophisticated tools for that…and that’s all the stuff
that links, if you will, to the TRIZ discussion you and I just had, because
TRIZ is all about structuring a process for identifying, conceptualizing, and
defining kind of new inventive products that have some science underneath them.
It moves into product engineering, which is taking that concept and getting
the detailed drawings designed. It links into sourcing. It then evolves into
Sourcing from vendors?
From vendors, exactly. And you can see how there’s a loop back there because,
especially as companies outsource more and more of their design to their vendors,
they get subassembly people to do more of the design as well, then you start
sharing and collaborating with these systems across organizational boundaries.
It moves into manufacturing engineering which is, ‘Okay, I got the drawings
but how am I going to make this thing,’ and that then moves into an area around
kind of production asset decisions, deciding on what kind of machinery you need
to have in place and how to run the production line stuff.
And eventually it loops all the way around, this product lifecycle management
stuff loops all the way around to service and support issues. Why? Because if
we’re getting a lot of break fixes in the field on some product, that information
needs to be looped back into the design community.
Okay, so the bottom line is companies outside the industries that traditionally
use these tools need to begin looking at them and cherry-pick the spot solutions
that are going to meet their particular bottleneck.
Exactly. And the two vendors, it’s really come down to a duopoly this industry.
The two really driving this are EDS’s PLM Solutions and IBM’s Dassault relationship.
I mean, those guys are really starting to dominate this market.
You hold up the pharmaceutical industry as a good example of using IT for
Specifically, what is it that pharma companies do, and how do you use IT
to improve the productivity here and to accelerate the rate of adoption?
Well, it’s a long discussion, but let me go back to the basic science of research
and pharmaceutical. The basic approach of pharmaceutical research for the last
30 years has been that you create a very large number of chemical compounds,
and then you put them through filters to see what works. The first filters that
you put them through are very simple kinds of chemical tests, and then eventually
they go into animals and eventually they go into humans, and you’re testing
for both efficacy and safety.
The early phase of that, which is doing chemical testing, if you will, to see
their reaction and interaction with different chemical models that are supposed
to be, in essence, models of what will take place in the human body, that process
used to be a bench science process where literally somebody with a test tube
and a dropper was doing one chemical test at a time. They’ve automated that
process now to the point where they do batch testing of thousands upon thousands
of chemical compounds using highly automated systems. And so they’ve automated
and routinized that part so that they’re now able to look through hundreds of
thousands of compounds. That has been a gigantic breakthrough for the industry.
The next thing the pharmaceutical industry has done in the discovery end, and
it’s very important, is there’s an enormous amount of knowledge that comes out
of this whole process, the insight they have about the interaction with various
chemical compounds and all the rest. The second area they’ve made huge strides
is in managing that knowledge. Because you can imagine how often you could,
in essence, rediscover the same thing in pharmaceuticals two laboratories away
from each other. And so these guys have very, very sophisticated systems for
knowledge management when it comes to the kind of chemistry of their products.
So they’re doing a ton of stuff on the discovery end, and the goal there is
to make them more inventive. Give these people the tools and processes to make
them more productive and, therefore, more inventive.
On the other side then, how does one use technology to also accelerate the adoption,
the rate of adoption? Because when you invent a product, you’ve got a 17-year
patent life, but that’s from the date you filed the original patent. You’ve
typically got seven to nine years of marketing life to the product. You’ve got
to make hay while the sun shines. And so a number of things are being done on
One of the most important, and, in fact, probably the most important, is using
simple information systems, tools, and techniques to create more communications
to doctors who are early adopters of new innovations. So the industry has sorted
out who the docs are who adopt early, who are the docs who adopt late. They’re
using videoconferencing, teleconference, e-mail, a hundred other kinds of simple
technologies to stay in very close contact with these docs. They’re even doing
things like in late-phase trials, where the drug hasn’t yet been approved, but
they’re still kind of doing safety testing and things like that.
They’re very sophisticated in what doctors they’re involving in those research
trials, in how they’re helping those doctors promote their research and their
information among their peers. So there’s a very sophisticated-the term they
use is viral networking, viral marketing, and these guys are all over the idea
of how you use technology to accelerate viral marketing around your product,
so by the day the product is announced for sale, the market is not just ready
but hungering for your product.
You’ve said many companies that are attempting adjacency strategy fail miserably,
but some succeed. I imagine IT can be both helpful and dangerous. IT’s helpful,
in that perhaps it can be a competency that is your lead into an adjacent market.
Dangerous, in that it can trick you into thinking you have what it takes to
move into an adjacent market. How do you think intelligently about technology
when you consider or execute an adjacency strategy?
Well, the simple question you have to answer, and it’s 75 percent of the
issue in adjacency, is what is it about what I do and my capabilities that will
give me an immediate and practical advantage in this new market? If you have
a really compelling answer to that, then the likelihood is you’re going to succeed
with an adjacency.
But there’s a second question, and the second question is the one that often
doesn’t get asked and sometimes can be fatal. And the second question is, what
are all the other minimum standards of competition that I must meet within that
new market and do I have what it takes to do that?
So the guys that failed on the second one-the classic example is the defense
industry moving into commercial markets-oftentimes they possessed a technology,
some product innovation like GPS satellite systems, where they said, boy, we
have an immediate and practical advantage over the rest of the world. Look at
this technology, how brilliant it is.
The problem with those guys is that while they did have an answer to that, they
didn’t understand the standards of competition in any market they were going
to be in, and, therefore, they didn’t meet the minimums in all the other stuff.
So they didn’t know how to distribute their product, they didn’t have an after-market
service capability, or worse, they had a manufacturing capability that was used
to producing dozens, not millions, and they were used to having price points
at hundreds of thousands, not hundreds of dollars.
So it sounds like the danger is not so much misuse of the IT you have but
the lack of technology you need to have to compete on all those other areas.
That’s right. What usually is found out is that the information systems support
in the more core business is actually woefully inadequate for meeting the standards
of competition in this new market, and that there are gaps that I was completely
unaware of. I’m caught flat-footed-‘Oh, my God, this is how it has to be done
in this market’-and those little gaps become disasters.
Let’s look at Microsoft going into the gaming marketplace. Microsoft is a classic
mass marketer, but what’s happened in consumer electronics is it’s moved way
beyond mass marketing into some very sophisticated niche marketing kind of strategies
that companies like Sony are very, very good at. And Sony, whether it’s in the
music business or the television business, they really are at the forefront
of understanding how you manage channels of distribution, how you do niche marketing
to different customer segments, and how to really mine out this whole marketplace.
By the way, a Pepsi, a Procter & Gamble, all these guys are very good at
Microsoft isn’t. Microsoft may not be a monopolist, but they sure as hell behave
like a monopolist. And so they don’t have sophisticated consumer information
bases like a P&G or a Sony does. They don’t have the sophisticated systems
for managing multiple complex channels of distribution. And so when they go
out there to distribute the Xbox, guess what, they’re almost naked when it comes
to these kinds of marketing techniques because they don’t have the information
systems support or the marketing know-how to attack that market from a niche
You’ve talked about total solution companies, and you say they need to focus
on knowledge management and risk management. Let’s talk about that. What needs
to be accomplished? What do you mean by knowledge management or risk management
here with these kinds of companies and what should CIOs make sure gets done?
And I’m going to shift the word from knowledge to expertise management, and
there’s an important but subtle shift. Expertise would be my word.
If you’re a total solution provider, if you’re the kind of company that is,
essentially the biggest total solution market evolving now is going to be all
this business process outsourcing. So these are people who are basically able
to go to the client and say, ‘Look, I know you have this, you think you have
a product need. Let me ask you a question, well, why do you need the product,
what’s the problem behind the product that you’re actually trying to solve?
Why don’t I go in and just solve your problem rather than just deliver your
product?’ That’s a total solution provider. They’re people who focus on customer
And the only way that you can wrestle that problem away from the customer and
make a dime on it is because you have superior expertise to the customer in
how to solve that problem. And so the outsourcing of, oh, HR benefits would
be an example where, if people simply have dramatically higher levels of expertise
than the client does, they create economies of scale and they get to outsource
Just as a product over time becomes obsolete, just as a superior cost position
over time becomes obsolete and just an average cost position, the same thing
happens with expertise. So you have to constantly drive your expertise deeper
and broader because if you just show up to do the same thing three years later,
they’re going to say, there are 12 companies that can do that, I’m not going
to pay a premium for that.
So by expertise management, it’s how do I guide and manage the broadening and
deepening of that expertise and take the old expertise and make sure that we
automate it so that we can deliver it at a very efficient price.
If your company has a low-cost strategy, how are you going to use IT for
I think if we substitute for product development the word service innovation,
I think it’s gets clearer. Most low-cost players are kind of in the service
space anyway. So what you’re really talking about is, if you’re a low-cost player,
how do you continue to evolve your operating model so that you can assure you
stay at the low-cost position, and that’s how do you continue to innovate, and
essentially it comes down to two core processes. One is the supply-chain process,
whether that’s moving airplanes or moving bags of Wheaties, and the other is
in the customer service cycle.
One thing I want to clarify: Earlier, you corrected me and said instead
of knowledge management, we’ll be talking about expertise management. What is
Well, you know, knowledge is just one piece of expertise, the know-how to do
something. Let’s just take employee benefits management. To have the expertise
to better manage employee benefits, one piece of it is you’ve got to have the
knowledge, but the other thing is I’ve got to have the people in place, I’ve
got to have the apparatus, I have to have the systems. So in employee benefits
management, a big part of it is the interaction with the employees, and doing
that in a very efficient way, and creating systems so that they can self-manage
their benefits, and do all that. That’s all part of expertise, but that’s not
part of knowledge.
It’s know-how, not know-about.
Yes, exactly right. Yeah.
If a management team doesn’t know what information you need, what analysis
to make, what decisions to come by, how to assign responsibilities, how to follow
up the results, to grow a business by 10 percent, how do you get started? How
does the CIO start to address this?
The starting point is always better information. So the starting point, if you’re
to build a discipline to be able to know that you can grow at 10 percent rates,
is that we have to be able to take the budget statement that people now get,
which is typically one line for revenue, 15 lines for expense, and we need to
be able to explode out that revenue line so that it is delivering to us diagnostic
information about where our growth is coming from.
So take CIO Insight magazine, it’s a very simple example. We need to
be able to understand, if we look at revenue this quarter, this month, how much
of that is from base retention? How much is from share gain, from the bad guy?
How much is from market positioning or market growth? So your starting point
is to say, how much is coming out of each of these different areas, and track
that month to month, quarter to quarter. That’s step one. Step two is now I
have to create for myself stretch objectives in each of those areas.
Or take a manufacturing company. The first thing is to understand how much of
my revenue this quarter or this month is coming from clients where I’m getting
same or better share of wallet that I got last quarter or last month. How much
have I lost because I’ve got clients who’ve reduced their share of wallet they’re
spending on me versus the bad guy? That’s base retention.
And, number two, I’ve got to look at where have I made share gains, and how
much revenue has share gain contributed to my business. Number three, I’ve got
to look at how much the market has grown, how much that’s contributed. Once
you’ve got that data in place, then the next thing you do is you establish stretch
objectives for the management team in each of those areas.
So, if we’re in a market where we’re getting about 15 percent churn, which says
that I can count on 85 percent of last year’s revenue as this year’s revenue,
how do I move 85 to 90? The first thing I have to do is establish a stretch
objective. The next thing I have to do is put in place the tactics, a multitude
of tactics that are going to get me from 85 to 90. And that whole system of
‘let’s put proper baseline information in place, let’s create stretch objectives,
let’s identify tactics, and now then let’s measure performance against stretch
objectives’ simply doesn’t exist for revenue.
And the starting point that is so missing is solid information with which to
be able to track and evaluate what the sources of revenue are that are driving
the performance you’re seeing month to month.
It sounds like what you need is a combination of reporting systems, as you’ve
said before, but also analytic and business intelligence systems.
Precisely. Yes, it’s a classic-and incentive systems as well. It’s a classic
reporting, planning, controlling, and incentive-creating set of systems required
in that area, that’s exactly right.
And then you have the information to get started on your strategy and on innovation
But it doesn’t take that much. I mean, I’ve worked with companies where within
a year these guys have really moved the needle on growth because they built
a disciplined approach to how they look at the problem.
And then you can obtain the double-digit growth on a continuous basis.
We talked a lot about the systems that need to change and what you need
to invest in, very helpful. But if you’re the CIO, how does IT, your own organization,
or the business for that matter, need to change? Here we’re talking about the
organization and the people, not just the technologies you’ve invested in and
the processes you have.
Tough question. Well, I’ll start with a very basic change that needs to take
place. For at least 30 years, the IT community, the IT profession has been associated
with the issue of cost control, cost management and productivity, and the truth
is we know a lot about how to do that because we’ve been at that game a long
time, and we understand the whole game of cost containment and how you essentially
use systems to drive cost reductions and productivity improvements within business.
The IT profession now needs to become as proficient in their depth of understanding
about how organizations drive growth. The average senior IT executive could
deliver an entire lecture and an entire course of study on what companies have
to do to manage costs. How much time could a CIO fill discussing what IT has
to do to drive growth? The answer, not much. Just as their executive team doesn’t
have the discipline for how to drive growth, they don’t have the understanding
that is the foundation of that discipline. Most CIOs don’t have that knowledge
And so not a surprise that we don’t have a whole lot of IT investments that
are correctly oriented toward growth because we don’t have a whole lot of understanding
on how to deliver growth. So I’d start with just that as the most basic and
Beyond that, you know, I’m a big believer that architecture and enterprise are
like your underwear, they’re an important thing but they’re not something you
should parade around the office. And that what people should be parading around
the office is point solutions and impact and results. And the IT community should
be quietly doing the stuff in the background that creates good architecture,
that creates good integration, but that that activity isn’t sucking up a lot
of resources and sucking up a lot of air time. The CIOs need to be out there
talking about point solutions that deliver real results and real impact.
The growth area is an area they can find those in spades. There are lots of
places where we can put in place small, inexpensive point solutions that really
make a difference to the growth trajectory of the business, and the IT profession
has to get focused on finding those, putting more resources into those areas.
You emphasize point solutions rather than enterprise solutions. Why is that?
I do because you know what an enterprise solution is-an enterprise solution
is three things to me, two of which are bad. This is like Bear Bryant on passing
the football. You pass the ball, three things can happen, and two of them are
Here’s the problem with enterprise solutions. They contain three things. Number
one, they contain some really powerful, useful, high-result, high-impact point
solutions, that’s part of an enterprise solution. The other thing that’s in
an enterprise solution is all sorts of low-impact, low-value, low-result point
solutions. Why? Because they’re part of the overall family of what it is we’re
going to do when we do an SRM or an ERP or an ABC.
And the third thing they are is an enormous tax on all that activity, an overburden
of coordination, architecting, over-building, because we have this compulsion
for neatness within the systems profession.
And so, when you buy an enterprise solution, you buy three things. You buy some
really good powerful point solutions that are contained within the enterprise
solution. You buy some really lousy point solutions. And you buy an overburden
of architecture and integration.
But don’t you later on have the burden of integrating after the fact?
Yeah, of course you do. But we live in a ridiculously fast-moving world where
both the needs of the business and the possible solutions that are out there
are changing dramatically every three to five years. So how much value is there
in the perfectly integrated architected solution in a world in which everything
gets thrown up in the air every three to five years?
See, the problem is the information systems profession has this compulsive neatness
streak to it, has this deep fantasy about everything being integrated to everything,
but it has no value in a dynamic world. And so what we’ve not yet reconciled
ourselves to is, how do we create enough neatness to be able to continue to
proceed with great point solutions but not have neatness become an objective
The same problem they had in the total quality movement.