Category: Technology

Why commonality sometimes fails

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 25 days ago

Commonality, or the reuse and sharing of components, manufacturing processes, architectures, interfaces, and infrastructure across the members of a product family, is a strategy targeted at improving corporate profitability. Companies from Toyota to GE use product platform strategies to deliver more variety to their customers and compete more effectively. For example, Black and Decker uses shared motors and batteries across a range of power tools. Volkswagen models such as the Jett and TT share similar underbody components and other aspects.

Typical benefits of a commonality, or a product platform strategy, include:

  • Shared development costs
  • Common testing procedures
  • Production economies of scale
  • Amortized fixed costs
  • Reduced inventory

By definition, commonality seems like an obviously good thing. Why incur the cost of making different parts for different products if the parts do the same thing?  Because as it turns out, commonality is not always the right thing to do. And even when it is right, it can be difficult to achieve.

Dr. Bruce Cameron is a lecturer in MIT's Engineering Systems Division and a consultant on platform strategies. His research at MIT uses a healthy dose of systems thinking to tease out when commonality makes sense and how to get companies to pull it off. Cameron oversaw the MIT Commonality Study, which closely examined 30 firms over eight years. The study was the first work to uncover that many firms fail to achieve their desired commonality targets, showing weaker investment return on their platform investments. "That type of behavior and phenomenon is seen in studies that we did in automotive, consumer products, and transport," says Cameron.

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Better banking through IT innovation: A custom programs success story

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 4 months and 2 days ago

A decade ago, Commonwealth Bank of Australia--the largest retail bank on the continent--had been grappling with an IT operation that was costly, inefficient, and sometimes unreliable. Back then, the bank was determined to transform itself into an operation that was #1 in customer service with the lowest costs in class.

With that goal in mind, Michael Harte, a forward-thinking executive who joined CBA as CIO in 2006, connected with the MIT Center for Information Systems Research (CISR). (CISR develops concepts and frameworks to help executives and their organizations address IT-related challenges.) Soon after, MIT Sloan faculty and program designers from the Executive Education office collaborated to create a custom program that would help transform CBA's IT leaders from functional managers to strategic thinkers.

"We designed a program around what the bank needed to achieve in three to five years. It had three components that today's banks must have to be successful–one was effectively managing digitization or IT; second was strategy options for the company; and the third was organizational change," says Peter Weill, Senior Research Scientist and Chair of CISR. 

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Architecture: Amplify your value by thinking beyond IT!

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 4 months and 6 days ago

Contributed by Jeffrey Ton, as originally published on May 4th on the Intel IT Peer NetworkTon is the SVP of Corporate Connectivity and Chief Information Officer for Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana.

"Wait, wait, wait ... before we talk about all these projects, shouldn't we talk about our operating model? Are we really as diversified as we think?"

I couldn't believe my ears! I looked across the table at the EVP who had just spoken. He was the newest member of our IT steering team and he was talking about business operating models. I nearly jumped out of my seat! "ENTERPRISE ARCHITECTURE AS STRATEGY!!!! You’ve read the book!??!" To say I was stunned was an understatement. This EVP had barely shown an interest in anything to do with technology or IT. The only reason he was even added to the steering team was because the partners wanted him to take a more active role in other areas of the business, obviously grooming him for bigger and better things. He, almost sheepishly, replied, "I saw it in the airport bookstore coming back from Phoenix yesterday and bought a copy. I'm not done reading it yet, but the first few chapters sure made a lot of sense."

I know I was stammering all over myself as I explained we had used that book as the foundation for building our IT Strategic Plan two years earlier. We HAD discussed and defined our operating model, we had designed core diagram, we were progressing across the stages of Enterprise Architecture Maturity. I excitedly whipped out the core diagram and began to explain the projects we were discussing in context of the diagram. You could literally see the lights going on for him.

The book we were discussing, Enterprise Architecture as Strategy: Creating a Foundation for Business Execution, by Jeanne RossPeter Weill and David Robinson, has become my "bible" for guiding IT. While that discussion took place at a previous stop in my career, we used the same framework for developing the strategic plan here at Goodwill. In fact, it is the next step in our story. Last month, we discussed having a vision. Just like building a building, to turn that vision into reality you need an architect.

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Are mobile payments today's VHS / Betamax battle?

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 9 months and 16 days ago

People of a certain age likely remember the battle between VHS and Betamax. These were the first two affordable in-home video tape systems, and they were completely different formats, incompatible with each other. Sony’s Betamax hit the market in 1975, but the company had previewed the product to other manufacturers the previous year. The company hoped that the other manufacturers would back their Betamax format, thus enabling competitors to develop and market compatible products to the marketplace. 

Instead, JVC developed a competing format, VHS (Video Home System)—and the home video recorder format war began. The competing platforms battled on the retail cost of the systems and on recording time. JVC licensed the technology to other manufacturers, while Sony was the sole manufacturer of Betamax until the late 1980s. Sony went from owning 100% of the market share in 1975 to just 25% of the U.S. consumer home market.

What does that history have to do with the quickly evolving world of mobile payments? In “Mobile Pay Not Yet Ready for Prime Time,” Boston Globe’s Scott Kirsner writes, “We’ve got smartphone apps and accompanying devices [for mobile payments] that work at one retail chain or a bunch—but nothing yet that’s universal.” Given that, the market is poised for another potential platform battle.

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Managing the seasonality of products

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 10 months and 17 days ago

The seasonality of products is an issue that manufacturers, distributors, retailers, and consumers are well aware of. We all know back-to-school advertising, products, and sales hit stores in July. Soon after, we see Halloween items. And before Halloween even arrives, we start to see Christmas advertisements and promotions. Getting ahead of the season has become standard operating procedure.

But when is it too early to issue a seasonal product? Many craft beer aficionados are beginning to argue that the practice of "seasonal creep" has gone too far. Simply put, seasonal creep is when a beer specific to a season appears on store shelves way before the season actually hits. The best example is the category of pumpkin beers.

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It’s time to rethink wages

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 1 year and 3 months and 4 days ago

For the last year or so, there’s been a significant amount of news coverage around the wages paid to low-income earners, such as those working at fast food outlets and in retail stores. There have been public protests, calls for boycotts, and legislation to raise the minimum wage in some states.

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The digital business transformation imperative

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 1 year and 3 months and 24 days ago

“What exactly does a digital business transformation mean?” asked Michael Krigsman, CEO of Asuret, Inc., and moderator of the "CIO, CMO, CDO Perspectives on Digital Transformation" panel at The 2014 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium.

Each of the panelists—F. Thaddeus Arroyo, CIO of AT&T Services, Inc.; Robert Tas, CMO & SVP of Pegasystems; Tanya Cordrey, Chief Digital Officer (CDO) of Guardian News and Media; and George Westerman, Research Scientist at the MIT Center for Digital Business—had his or her own take on the digital transformation facing most businesses today. 

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Will big data go away?

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 1 year and 4 months ago

That was just one of the many questions debated during the “Big Data, Analytics and Insights” session at this year’s MIT Sloan CIO Symposium, held in late May 2014. The panel was moderated by Professor Tom Davenport, Fellow with the MIT Center for Digital Business, and included Barry Morris, Founder & CEO of NuoDB; Darrell Fernandes, CIO of the Professional Services Group at Fidelity Investments; Don Taylor, CTO of Benefitfocus; and Puneet Batra, Founder of LevelTrigger.

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