Tapping into periodic business model renovation to refresh competitiveness
Not too long ago, a tweet from Hutch Carpenter @bhc3 caught my eye:
First step in disrupting an industry: identify the "business clichés"
The tweet linked to an article by Luke Williams, known for his work on ‘disruptive thinking’ for transforming businesses through seeking the unexpected and through adopting proactive disruptive behavior and strategies. The article elaborates on what is meant by business clichés:
In other words, what are the clichés - the widespread, hackneyed beliefs that govern the way people think about and do business in a particular space… inverting or denying industry clichés can often lead to significant business breakthroughs
Williams’ notions of ‘business clichés led to a couple of tweets from me that boil down to:
…apply internally to tech co’s biz model > question assumptions, status quo, disrupt business as usual…to move to new possibilities, competitiveness, new solutions & markets
As with the Social Business, starting internally with change frequently is a better route for companies when faced with the need to disrupt current business models for survival and success purposes. Software companies are especially prone to stand on old business models well past the expiration date. And many software companies are surprised when strong competitors emerge, based on fresh business models.
What is a Business Model?
Business models focus software companies on target markets, customers, the solution space and, somewhat indirectly, the competitive landscape, the same matrix that underpins market intelligence. When companies seriously embrace the selection of a business model, the process introduces good and rigorous strategic thinking into decisions about company direction, as well as definition of company scope. Through the business model, the focus is holistic and interactive in terms of how the company will proceed to achieve success.
Of course there are many definitions and concepts about what comprises a business model. A lot of MBA school, entrepreneurial, and VC hours have been spent on not only deciding what is the optimal business model for a particular undertaking but on the strategies to carry out its intentions.
The shortest definition that I’ve come across is in a post by Tim Berry: A business model is a description of how your business intends to operate and make money. Berry then goes to the next level:
But innovative business models go beyond this simple formula to create customer loyalty, make value in unusual ways, and define new products or services that people didn’t know they needed.
This dovetails somewhat with a business model definition put together by IBM:
• What value is delivered to customers: Customer segments, the value proposition, the specific “job to be done,” what is sold and how it is sold
• How revenue is generated: the pricing model and forms of monetization
• How the company positions itself in the industry: the company’s role and relationships across the value chain
• How the value is delivered: Key internal resources and processes as well as external partnerships.
There is lots of disagreement, lots of vague notions regarding whether business models matter or not. Some consider the business model almost a sacred object, carved in stone. More and more, many see each iteration of the business model as disposable. A new class of thinking sees the business model not as an end but an ever-evolving means to success as a company.
Articulating New Direction - Most Companies Not Very Good At Doing This
Intriguing idea: the disposable business model. But how many companies pull off such an approach?
From my experience in the software industry, not many. Particularly bad at changing direction are mid-sized software vendors that are publicly traded. While being a smaller company would suggest agility for change, often these companies are ham-strung by boards of directors who seem to want growth without risk. There is no growth without risk for most companies. One piece of advice to mid-sized software vendors is to never go public and thus retain a healthy ability to reinvent the company without the inertia of boards of directors and Wall Street expectations. Another piece of advice: learn to embrace risk: that is, the good kind that can lead to growth and new success.
But no matter the size of the company, many software vendors usually wait too long before assessing the health of the current business model and even then, are slow to articulate change, even slower to act effectively. As a result, core markets increasingly stagnate, management still tries to work with the old way of doing things, and fails to work genuinely on a new business model, or as Williams advises, to identify and then deny the business clichés that are dragging down the company.
In 2008 Mark W. Johnson, Clayton M. Christensen, and Henning Kagermann published the article “Reinventing Your Business Model” in the Harvard Business Review, an article that went on to receive second-place honors for the 2008 McKinsey Award. The article culminates research into the difficulties many companies have with pulling off success through business model innovation. The authors contend that these companies have such poor understanding of the current business model (really disturbing! but explains a lot…) that they can’t relate the current model to new opportunities, nor can they be confident about ejecting the current model for something new.
(Clay Christensen) also underscores the fatal flaw that managers make when trying to reinvent their business in the face of a disruptive competitor. Their solution is often to leverage what the company already has in place at marginal cost rather build an entirely new business model with heavy investment.
If you are trying to create a new business model because the world is changing, then you don’t want to leverage what is already in place. An entrant doesn’t have anything to leverage, so just creates what needs to be created.
When It’s Time For Reinvention
A 2005 survey by the Economist Intelligence Unit reported that over 50% of executives believe business model innovation will become even more important for success than product or service innovation. A 2008 IBM survey of corporate CEOs echoed these results. Nearly all of the CEOs polled reported the need to adapt their business models; more than two-thirds said that extensive changes were required. And in these tough economic times, some CEOs are already looking to business model innovation to address permanent shifts in their market landscapes.
Insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results
-- Albert Einstein
Of course, there’s no point to changing the business model if the company isn’t innovating its software offerings, which must come about by “disrupting business as usual” internal to the company. Not all product innovation demands a reinvention of the business model. Perhaps the salient question is: how does this new innovation impact the proposition articulated for customer value? Companies that find success with business model reinvention also possess clear understanding of their customers and the value to those customers that comes from innovations.
An opportunity to...
- Address needs of large groups who find existing solutions too expensive or complicated
- Capitalize on new technology, or leverage existing technologies in new markets
- Bring a job-to-be-done focus where it doesn’t exist
A need to . . .
- Fend off low-end disruptors.
- Respond to shifts in competition
To determine whether a firm should seek to reinvent its business model, Johnson, Christensen and Kagermann advise these steps:
- Articulate what makes your existing model successful. For example, what customer problem does it solve? How does it make money for your firm?
- Watch for signals that your model needs changing, such as tough new competitors on the horizon.
- Decide whether reinventing your model is worth the effort. The answer is yes only if the new model changes the industry or market.
So the new proposition for staying competitive may be that many companies will need to adopt the strategy of continuous business model reinvention. But to do this, tremendous internal change will have to happen, particularly around the management of the company. Reinvention, new directions, continuous competitiveness -- all are only possible in companies that embrace change and innovation in the corporate cultural DNA.
Source: IBM CEO study – Capitalizing on Complexity
Comprehensive Market Intelligence is Key to Business Model Disruption
A lot of what can make a software company more competitive – and can contribute to innovation of business models, markets and products – comes from well-executed Market Intelligence activities and processes. Excellent Market Intelligence is essential if business model reinvention will be an on-going initiative. Understanding customers, markets, channels and competitors is based on better information to create advantage in new and unique ways:
- New opportunities – identify new trends that will matter to target markets and customers; how to get there before the competition (whenever possible)
- Early warning of industry, market and/or competitor changes – take advantage of opportunities and leverage/deal with threats and risk, and always look over your shoulder…
- Enhanced customer interaction – understand customer POV, goals, needs, strategic direction
- Stronger target market selection & positioning – research, validate go-to-market and positioning; locate under-served markets for target customers and solution space; guide how to articulate positioning well for customers, analysts, industry
- Strategic view of competitive landscape – figure out true differentiation, figure out where competitors are not operating; understand the issues that matter to customers and the solutions they seek from competitors
Reinvention: Brand Equity / Brand Perception
I want to open up the question of how business model reinvention impacts Brand, both in terms of brand equity (value and general recognition built from the former business model) and brand perception (how current and potential customers – plus media, competitors, analysts, etc. – view the company). In the not-so-distant past, it had been considered near suicide to make business model changes that could negatively impact Brand. But in the digital age, when information is quickly disseminated through endless media, most people are easily educated about changes in a company. The Internet itself is all about constant change, and many have grown up in that environment.
I’m not going to explore the Brand aspect in this article but it is an issue that must be considered when reinventing business models and enacting innovation that impacts customer perception and receptivity to the company’s offerings.
Smaller Companies With Disruptive Genes – Better At Business Model Reinvention?
>> JackBe – Customer-Driven Disruption
JackBe started off as an Ajax tools vendor in 2001. After a while the company began targeting enterprises with a mashup platform that connects to all sorts of data sources. Responding to what JackBe customers wanted, the next development was to provide capabilities for ad hoc data integration mashups by end users.
Recently JackBe has been calling itself ‘the Real-Time Intelligence Company’, specializing in situational awareness, and is promoting the idea that the company may have a new way to provide business intelligence for enterprise end users. Real-Time intelligence for JackBe first of all means self-service BI, extrapolating its mashup services for end users. Real-Time also means fast, easy access to existing data sources, without concern about the freshness of the data. Essentially, the JackBe approach supports instant decision-making in certain scenarios.
A significant challenge entails the validation of data sources and value of the resulting mash-ups: do the end users understand what they are doing and are they intelligently combining the appropriate data? Is the intelligence that is pulled together relevant and accurate, and how do end users know or test the intelligence to provide validation?
By stepping into the larger arena of BI, JackBe now has invited in scrutiny from a well-established solution space. However, traditional BI is not without its problems and has suffered low adoption and success rates over time. It may be that JackBe is pioneering a new approach that could make a significant change to how BI is practiced or even what constitutes “business intelligence”.
JackBe has found itself moving into a new business model, seemingly a case where business model reinvention continues to be customer-driven, and where a company listens well to its customers and acts on their needs and wishes, to achieve competitive positioning and success. But with the new business model comes new challenges to ensure the validity and accuracy of its product directions.
>> NewsGator – One Business Model Dies Out, Another Adopted to Thrive
Starting in 2003, Newsgator focused on developing RSS usage for information and content consumption. A business model shift occurred when NewsGator changed from a consumer focus to targeting enterprises. Even though NewsGator still provides RSS, access is now free.
In 2007, NewsGator reinvented its business model by launching Social Sites, community / collaboration software that also provides tight integration with Microsoft SharePoint. NewsGator was already a SharePoint partner for its RSS capabilities, so its business model shift pivoted on a strategic, and rather significant, partnership already in place. NewsGator acquired Tomoye community software in 2010, mainly to enter new markets. Tomoye also had the SharePoint connection.
The move to a communities / collaboration platform that extends SharePoint has proven to be successful to date. The new business model includes a deep commitment to Microsoft and SharePoint – and active cultivation of an ecosystem of Microsoft partners around “making SharePoint social”. Social Sites is built directly on the SharePoint platform, is SharePoint cloud certified, supports multiple versions of SharePoint, including mobile and Office 365.
NewsGator has selected a niche for its social solutions in that it is dedicated to complementing the SharePoint platform and to making the experience of using Social Sites with SharePoint a seamless and smooth experience for end users. With this business model, NewsGator success is highly dependent on continued SharePoint success. The up side is that Microsoft makes available an extensive ecosystem that can greatly benefit NewsGator.
One aspect of business model reinvention for NewsGator tracks back to the impact of reinvention on Brand. Does the company name still make sense, shifting from RSS/aggregation services to social media platform? Or does the brand recognition of NewsGator’s name trump any confusion about what the company now does? Frankly, considering that a good many software company names are obscure, this really shouldn’t be an obstacle for NewsGator, particularly with such a targeted solution in conjunction with SharePoint.
>> Stone Bond – From Services to Software Vendor
There are many cases where professional services providers for IT solutions will either productize services work into a software offering or purposefully create new software solutions that eventually evolve into a packaged software business for the services company. A key change in business model comes when the company must decide if it is to be a dedicated software vendor or a services company – or even, perhaps, the company decides to split into two organizations.
Stone Bond’s consulting services began in 1993, providing IT solutions for the worldwide oil and gas industry. Among the services was data modeling projects, working with oil company engineers as end users. Many in the oil and gas industry have long understood that their data is a very valuable asset.
In 2002 Stone Bond Technologies launched a software solution called Enterprise Enabler for data and business integration projects. Enterprise Enabler presents as a single environment for EAI and ETL capabilities and is somewhat geared towards end users / business users through out-of-the-box “codeless” data integration capabilities. Stone Bond has developed several technologies such as AppComs (for connectivity) to innovate how integration projects are created and executed. BPM and workflow based on SOA utilize end-to-end shared metadata.
While Stone Bond still targets the oil and gas industry, and obviously has a great deal of expertise for that industry, the company has already taken Enterprise Enabler into other markets, such as financial services and government. The solution also straddles target customers by offering a solution that can appeal to business users and/or IT teams. Enterprise Enabler may be blazing a trail for bringing together IT and business to better execute data integration projects as collaborative partners.
The company is now working on showcasing Enterprise Enabler as a software product independent of the original consulting business, with work going into raising brand awareness. Enterprise Enabler already has a solid customer base, but also seems like a “best-kept secret” in the data integration vendor space. In some ways, Stone Bond has an interesting clean slate when it comes to marketing to and educating the world on what this solution has to offer.
About the author: Julie Hunt is an accomplished software industry analyst, providing strategic market and competitive insights. Her 20+ years as a software professional range from the very technical side to customer-centric work in solutions consulting, sales and marketing. Julie shares her takes on the software industry via her blog Highly Competitive and on Twitter: @juliebhunt For more information: Julie Hunt Consulting – Strategic Product & Market Intelligence Services
Disclaimer: Julie Hunt is not affiliated with any of the vendors in this article.