Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Biggest problem for a tech product company

Today, we live in an age dominated by technology. Our lives are getting more and more integrated with technology. Many of us check our email and twitter feeds even before we get out of bed in the morning. We have started e-banking, replaced post with email, shops with e-shops, telephone with VoIP and introduced new things such as video calling etc.

The computer and the laptop has played a big part in this progress and today slowly these products are being replaced with smart phones and tablets as the world is introduced to mobile computing. But as each advancement takes place, with it comes an increased problem of keeping up with these advancements. The world is now taking a larger and keener interest in technology. 6 years ago this was not the case. Technology companies used to take their own time in R&D and release new tech in their own time. But in recent years this has changed. With the advent of the iPhone and Apple publicly refurbishing its products every year. The speed of development of new tech has increased. The competition in the tech industry has increased and tech companies are now under greater pressure to do better. Not only are they competing with other manufacturers but they now compete with themselves. Apple changes and upgrades it products each year, and to keep pace with Apple other companies have to follow suit. Microsoft on the other hand, apart from trying to catch up is also taking the lead at a few places. For example, with the Kinect. MS terribly underestimated its power and lost out hugely as it saw hackers hack the Kinect and turn it from a gaming console to gesture computing.

Now MS has new ideas and is transforming itself into a new age company, one which is fast paced and is open to new types of ideas and products. IE 9 was a revolutionary improvement over its previous releases and Win 7 was the best MS OS released after Win XP. But after being branded as a bully, the consumers are still sceptical about MS. I believe this will change in the next few years as MS turns a leaf and takes on a new avatar, one that is consumer friendly, open to suggestions and can make good quality products (but thats yet to be seen).

With the development of products and keeping up with advancements, tech companies, have the problem of planning out their product strategies 3 years in advance, and on top of things these strategies will need to be dynamic in nature. I mean, today they are planning, strategising and designing (upgrading) a product and while they do this they will have to think 3 years in advance and plan out how that product is going to develop and how it will advance through its life cycle. And this will have to be done every year. As a result the previous year's planning and preparation might just turn out to be an effort in vain as the competition might have changed or over taken, or new tech was invented or innovated that needs to be introduced or planned for, or consumers' taste or preferences or needs might turn out to be something other than what was predicted in the previous year.

So product companies like Apple, MS, Samsung, Sony, LG etc seem to be in a pickle. Every year they have to take a gamble on product design for their present plans and their future plans. Until now Apple seems to be the only one with a plan and everyone else played follow the leader, but that's fast changing, Samsung and MS seem to have developed (ing) their own plans and products designs. While 2 big behemoths (Sony and LG) are being left behind.

In the past 4 years of Apple being the limelight, things are taking a turn. Apple is now running out of ideas. This year's iPad 2 release says it all. The upgrades are far reaching but nothing spectacular. Apple's momentum of product redesign and innovation seems to be slowing down (the WWDC will comfirm this). When Android was released, I doubt Google had thought out the product life cycle plan thoroughly, but it seems to have developed a plan while developing Honeycomb. What these product plans are are a whole different blog post.

But, whatever said and done, the whole dynamic planning is a big problem for companies. Apart from keeping its products upto date, the companies' culture will also need to be a dynamic one. Tall hierarchies and a closed door type of culture will not succeed in this new type of industry. Flat organisations with open cultures and transparent thought processes will be required and a more democratic approach with a strong knowledge of consumer behaviour is required. Developers being the end users themselves can select those options which they would use a lot, but the average consumer also needs options that developers don't normally use, need or like. So the design of the products have to a harmony of knowledge and preferences of the developers and employees who know the product and the product plan best,  with a thorough knowledge of what the consumers want and will accept.

We seem to have a perfect solution for the same, a concept called crowd sourcing, but its a difficult task to achieve considering the type of security and secrecy needed while developing a product. So as you can see the tech product companies are in a pickle. While analysts' and consumers' expectations increase, matching those expectations while keeping in line and developing a product plan can be a herculean task.

-> SJ

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