Dealing with Darwin — the Increasing Importance of Innovation on Competitive Advantage

Kevin Potts is the Vice President of Product Management and Marketing at Emptoris. In this guest post, he provides a perspective on how future technology will drive competitive differentiation in commoditized and globalized markets based on a recent interview with Geoffrey Moore, the author of "Dealing with Darwin -- How Great Companies Innovate at Every Phase of Their Evolution."

Two weeks ago, I was sitting at the drivethrough of a McDonald's close to work listening to the radio as I waited for my Big Mac value meal for lunch. A little known secret of mine is that when the work week gets too crazy for me, rather than eating healthy lunches, I revert back to my primal self, ordering Big Macs, downing Cokes, and lathering French fries generously with ketchup for lunch. As we move toward the final month of preparation before Emptoris Empower 2010, our eighth annual user conference, that week was no different.

As I waited in my car in the scorching Boston summer heat, I was half listening to Terry Gross's Fresh Air program. I became very engaged as she started interviewing Matt Richtel, a New York Times writer, on his recent story "Digital Overload: Your Brain on Gadgets." In the interview, he discussed his latest scientific research on how being connected 24/7 to the outside world through Blackberries, iPhones, Twitter and Facebook is rewiring our brain, and not necessarily for the better. As a techie, I was fascinated. As a parent of young children, I was worried as their brains are still developing.

Of course, there are downsides of never "turning off." Lack of focus, lack of empathy, and inattention to the really important signals all come to mind when we are constantly bombarded by outside noise. However, there is also an upside to our networked world, and that upside is what we will be discussing at our upcoming user conference.

I am very excited about this year's event because the key note will be given by Geoffrey Moore. If you don't know Geoffrey Moore, he wrote the revolutionary technology book Crossing the Chasm about fifteen years ago, focusing on how to gain mainstream adoption for disruptive technologies. Think, for example, of the work Free Markets did to move reverse auction technology into the mainstream with procurement teams. More recently, he wrote the book Dealing with Darwin, which discusses how great companies innovate at every phase of their evolution.

I spoke with Geoffrey Moore a few weeks ago to orient him to the background and challenges our customers and partners face to help him prepare his discussion. One point he mentioned really stuck with me -- that many middle managers are dealing with the conundrum "How do I make myself more productive, especially when there is ambiguity in decision making?" Workload continues to increase and budget cuts mean teams face greater pressure to do more with less.

One of Moore's central theses is that older "systems of record" technologies (think transaction-based ERP systems) are moving from being core to context. No longer are they able to drive improvements in efficiency, let alone innovation or differentiation. However, newer "systems of engagement" technologies -- think video on demand, web conferencing, Twitter, smart phones -- are now being looked at to help make decisions faster in an age of ambiguity. The good news is that people know how to use these "systems of engagement" because they are using them all the time outside of work to keep track of kids, to find the best restaurant, to guide their car from the hotel to the airport, and to share the latest baby pictures with far-away grandparents. The bad news is that companies are struggling to justify the ROI of these technologies.

Moore believes the ROI will come from massive improvements in productivity for the middle manager/knowledge worker. Issues that can't be resolved by the ERP transaction systems are traditionally solved by middle managers. The productivity comes from reducing the mean time to closure of a bottleneck issue (e.g., how to allocate a complex sourcing award among competing vendors while maintaining the ability to factor in individual stakeholders preferences).

I am excited to meet Geoffrey Moore in person, and I am very excited for our customers and partners who will have an opportunity to hear first hand his perspective on the role of technology in their work lives. If your readers would like to find out more about his keynote at Emptoris Empower 2010, I encourage you to visit:

Kevin Potts

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