Michael Lewis (2014)
There are times, when one is developing a new product or devising a business strategy based around technology, that you can be surprised by how the technology gets used. In the fast-moving world of particle physics, a rule of thumb for cable length between instruments is that one foot equals one nanosecond of signal transit time.
“Time is money” is a quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin. Optical fibre connections between any two locations can produce different transmission times (depending on routing). This enabled ruthless business models based around network transit times.
“Flashboys” is a fascinating read – giving an insight into disruptive uses of natural phenomena (in this case, the speed of light) and some unintended consequences. Where people talk about disruptive technology, they also need to recognise disruptive behaviour – as illustrated by ‘Flashboys’.
Corporate strategy in optical telecoms
Our client was a multi-national company with a division that developed and produced precision optical components, many featuring sophisticated thin film coatings. The client possessed strong technical abilities and wished to take their products into the optical telecoms market, which at the time was booming. Whilst they knew this could be achieved, they were unsure of how to manage the process.
The client had previously engaged a major consultancy to help them meet their objectives; however, that consultancy did not help them clearly understand the opportunity or show them in detail how to achieve their ambition. They needed a consultancy with both technical and business experience, to work closely with senior executives in making sense of complex strategic issues. This project encapsulates the key features of the way Grounded Innovation operates:
- We worked on-site with close interaction with senior management. This ensured good, open, and regular communication both formally and informally. We were thus able to ensure objectives were clearly explored, challenged, clarified, and no surprises occurred. This allowed both sides to clarify the realistic ambition for the company, and to develop a high level of trust.
- The first activity was to develop a model of the optical telecoms network that was relevant to the client. It allowed them to understand better the nature of the opportunity. It helped them make sense of the complexity of the situation and their potential position in the supply chain.
- By conducting a technical audit, we identified the current level of technical competences relevant to the opportunity – both for the short term and for the future.
- In a time of rapidly changing forecasts, we gathered, challenged and reviewed data to develop a strategy that was appropriate and relevant to the client.
- We were able finally to make a series of coherent recommendations beginning with a market entry strategy (short-term, building on current competences); a market development strategy (medium term); and potential acquisition targets that matched the strategy and gaps in forecast competences (growth strategy).
The excellent level of communication throughout the project ensured that the executive board was able to implement timely strategic changes with the confidence they had not felt before.
For Grounded Innovation, a successful project brings clarity to complex technical and business issues so that clients are able to make well-informed business decisions for future success.
It is interesting to read Michael Lewis’s recent book, “Flashboys”, to get a sense of how new technology can introduce disruptive behaviour. When one mentions ‘disruptive technology’, it is very rare that one can imagine how people might use it in unexpected ways. Or, as Lewis put it, "The haves paid for nanoseconds; the have-nots had no idea that a nanosecond had value”.
NOTE: This case study is drawn from personal experience; the client’s name has been with-held for reasons of confidentiality.