Recently, I participated in NASSCOM Engineering Summit conducted in Pune as one of two panelists for the roundtable discussion on “Telecom: Blending Costs and Innovation”. This post is a continuation of my views expressed during that event.
If I were to ask you the clichéd question: Who was the inventor of the mobile phone? You will answer that there cannot be a single inventor or a single act of innovation that created the mobile phone because modern appliances and gadgets are extremely complex. It is not anymore as simple as an electric bulb. This friendly all-powerful device in your palm is a product of a variety of technologies that have come to the right boil!
Indeed – we live in a highly specialized world. If an organization has to hire all the experts in multiple technologies to deliver an innovative new product, it will soon go bankrupt. Things have gone to a level which is far beyond a bill-of-material assembled together with specialist suppliers – such as what we have witnessed in the scientific management practices of the automobile industry. It is now an era of super-specialization in technology.
We have read about experts who have been involved in genome studies and already we see expertise emerging in specific genetic code sequences when we read about the recent advances in pharmaceutical industry. People have started talking about customized medicine, based on the gene code sequences in individuals and delivered into the body through nanomaterials! Are we talking about genetics here or nanotechnology?
Thus, we see that in the modern era, for meaningful technology innovation to take place it requires an ecosystem of experts to come together. My personal belief is also that this ecosystem will invariably have a large player around who there will be a number of small and niche technology players – for the jungle can never be big enough for two alpha-types.
This is especially true when we talk of communication services. Connectivity is a given element in the design. So what else is new?
As part of an industry engagement event from my organization called “i5 Talks” we had the Founder-CEO of a niche company working in M2M space, deliver a small 15 minute speech. M2M is not an inconceivable domain – but when you interact with the CEO, you realize that his nearly three decades of experience delivering power plant solutions and dealing with industrial equipment failures have made him appreciate the solution-needs in this space in a manner that is far more deep than anything that any organization can aspire to build capability in, starting now.
For an ecosystem to be successful, obviously, there has to be a real need for each player’s component. But, more than that, there is an important need for Standardization. The creation of the ecosystem is not possible if there is no clearly understood standard that is set for the ecosystem thereby allowing individual constituents to innovate, as well as, new innovators to join the ecosystem easily. A large part of the success of modern communications technology can be traced to the standards that have been built in this domain. One of my friends who used to work in an interop lab once quipped: If communication systems can’t communicate amongst themselves, they can’t help us communicate.
Another important aspect is the approach of the dominant partner towards the smaller players in the ecosystem. The dominant partner should carry the smaller players along and the relationship should be based on mutual respect. Quite often, we have seen that the interest for dominant partners would be to acquire the smaller players. While this is understandable, we also see that shortly after acquisition, the smaller partner is forced to learn the ways of operating like the dominant partner killing all the innovative spirit that the smaller partner originally had. This is also a pitfall that should be avoided.
So, how many does it take to change an electric bulb?
A lot – especially if it is an App on a mobile device and more than a lot if it involves a robotic bulb changer! It will still make economic sense, if and only if, the ecosystem abides by a uniform standard. And yes, one should also not hold the bulb too tight lest it should break.