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But as the digital infrastructure continues to cut the distance between manufacturer and consumer, this model, and its conception of value, will most likely be questioned and restructured. When search cost was high, a retail outlet providing multiple side-by-side options had value. Convenience also dictated having as many items as possible available in one location. But then online sales brought consumers not just a near-infinite number of options, but reviews and feedback that helped buyers choose among them. Meanwhile, quick even overnight or same-day shipping has become cost-effective when substituted for the cost of multiple intermediaries.
In this environment, many hardware startups are forgoing traditional brick-and-mortar retail channels, going directly to consumers via online platforms, such as Amazon, eBay, and Etsy, that offer advantages to both buyers and sellers. As the value captured by controlling access to physical space and consumer access erodes, retailers that want to stay relevant as value chain players will have to reevaluate and reconfigure their business models. Eyeglass manufacturer Warby Parker, for example, has been growing at a rapid pace in an industry historically closed to outsiders, largely due to its ability to bypass traditional distribution and retail channels.
As a result, the company is able to offer high-quality frames at lower prices, unlocking value otherwise taken up by intermediaries. Traditionally, the consumer has been a few steps removed from the product manufacturer. As technology evolution accelerates, they focus on brand affinity rather than traditional intellectual property IP patent filings and protection. While consumer engagement is not usually seen as part of the supply chain, it is testament to the power of direct engagement that it can be redefined as a very early point in that chain—which may today be more aptly called the value chain.
Many of these startups are using crowdfunding platforms not only to raise initial capital, but to build a community of fans and supporters around their products—engaging demand in a way that ties it inextricably to supply.
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In shifting the power balance for market entrants, this stance strikes at the heart of the question of how to capture value, and which entities new entrants or incumbents, small businesses or large will do so. The Pebble E-Paper Smartwatch, an early entrant into the smartwatch market in , was one of the earliest crowdfunded hardware successes.
Though product delivery was delayed by several months, Migicovsky kept the crowdfunding community in the loop, offering detailed reports including play-by-plays on manufacturing fumbles. Community members were extremely supportive, even suggesting potential solutions and recommending specification upgrades, several of which were incorporated into the product. In the end, a highly engaged, loyal community and customer base helped the Pebble gain market traction where other, larger firms had failed. While small manufacturers such as Pebble embrace a measured pace of development informed by community engagement, larger players are more likely to distinguish themselves through speed.
And with ever more rapid shifts in consumer demand, speed to market is increasingly important. With the success of such models, manufacturers have inevitably followed suit, working to compress time from idea to market. Today, such rapid speed to commercialization is poised to become the rule rather than the exception.
In many respects, crowdfunding for new products is a kind of preorder. While build-to-order manufacturers may still use forecasting to optimize manufacturing efficiency, preorders are even better at gauging consumer demand. San Francisco clothing startup BetaBrand, for example, designs and releases a few limited-edition designs every week for preorder. This structure reduces the risk of excess inventory and gives the company constant demand data. Threadless, another clothing startup, hosts a platform on which designers can submit designs for users to vote on.
Users can preorder T-shirts, hoodies, posters, or card packs printed with the winners. Threadless then produces the items, paying designers a royalty. As consumer preferences shift toward personalization, customization, and creation, direct access to consumers will become critical. Intermediaries reduce speed to market and require capital to build up inventory; they can also make it more difficult for manufacturers to access valuable consumer insights.
However, many large manufacturers today rely heavily on intermediaries, weakening their connection to the consumer. This puts them at a disadvantage when compared to smaller players with direct consumer relationships that make them more responsive to changing consumer needs. Large manufacturers should consider how they might use their scale to enable these smaller players instead of competing with them directly. Xiaomi launched in , starting with software—the Android-based operating system MIUI—long before it entered the hardware market.
The company prides itself on its ongoing weekly operating system updates; at the time of writing, MIUI had been updated every Friday for more than four years. Now the game is an Ironman triathlon. To compete, a company must offer great hardware, software, and Internet services. With hardware manufacturing, Xiaomi has put significant energy into both community engagement and fast iterations. Product managers spend approximately half their time in user forums, and the company can incorporate user suggestions in a matter of weeks.
Instead, it spends on online and off-line events, including an annual Mi fan festival. Rather than pursuing traditional distribution and retail, Xiaomi generates 70 percent of its sales online, driving demand from fans, who often preorder or participate in flash sales to get their hands on new products. The world of manufacturing is shifting exponentially. Not only is it becoming more difficult to create value, but those who do so are not necessarily those best positioned to capture it.
Value resides not just in manufactured products, but also in the information and experiences that those projects facilitate. Rather than delivering value in their own right, televisions have become a vehicle for the locus of value—the content that viewers watch on them. With this fundamental shift in value from object to experience—or more specifically, from device to the experience facilitated by that device—comes the need for manufacturers to redefine their roles, and hence their business models.
The same trends that have pushed manufacturing in the direction of delivering more value for lower cost—and that have made it about far more than producing physical products—will become more and more pronounced over the next few decades. To succeed, products will have to be smarter, more personalized, more responsive, more connected, and less expensive. Manufacturers will face increasingly complex and costly decisions about where and how to invest in order to add value.
When assessing the future manufacturing landscape, there is neither a single playbook for incumbents nor a single path for new entrants. Instead, companies should consider these recommendations when navigating the path to enhanced value creation and value capture:. As consumer demands shift, the nature of products and production changes, and intermediaries disappear, we will see increasing fragmentation in the manufacturing landscape.
As lowered barriers to forming a business intersect with increasing consumer demand for personalization, the manufacturing landscape will begin to fragment in ways that touch the consumer. Collectively, these businesses can address a broad spectrum of consumer and market needs, with no single player having enough market share to influence the long-term direction of its domain. Fragmentation will occur mostly around specialized product and service markets, with a wide range of small players either designing and assembling niche products or serving as supporting domain experts or contractors.
However, accelerated technological change is likely to have a markedly different effect on this era of manufacturing than it has had in the past. Where before, new industry segments consolidated into a few dominant players as their industries matured, the future manufacturing landscape is poised to experience rapid, ongoing disruption leading to continuous fragmentation. Fragmentation will occur at varying rates and to varying degrees across regions, manufacturing subsectors, and product categories.
Barriers to entry in the form of factors such as regulation, design complexity, size of product, and digitization will affect which subsectors first experience disruptive shifts. However, the speed of the shift will vary greatly even within industry segments—for example, electronic toy manufacturers will have very different experiences from makers of board games, stuffed animals, or building toys.
Understanding the timing and speed of change in their industries and subsectors will help businesses assess when and where to play in these changing times. The regulatory environment is constantly evolving in response to market needs. Product complexity, size, and digitization are all affected by exponentially evolving technologies. When considering these factors, it is important to evaluate not just the current placement of your product category, but also potential shifts that could accelerate fragmentation in parts of the business landscape.
Public policy and regulation play a profound role in the current and future structure of the manufacturing ecosystem. Trade agreements, labor relations, consumer safety and environmental regulations, and privacy and security restrictions all have the power to shape and shift its dynamics and economics. In a survey of CEOs in all major industries, respondents listed the regulatory environment as their top concern, with more than 34 percent reporting spending an increasing amount of time with regulators and government officials.
Governments can speed the transition to a more fragmented manufacturing ecosystem by relaxing regulation and encouraging new entrants and innovation. The more complex the product—measured by the number of components, the intricacy of component interactions, and the extent of product novelty—the more the parties designing parts of the final product must interact.
In general, this factor matters most during design and prototyping. However, this is not always the case, as exemplified by the first Apple iPod. Faced with an incredibly tight timeline, the designer, Portal Player, tightly defined boundary conditions for each product component, then invited multiple players to compete for the best design in each category.
This approach allowed for greater innovation in the final product—as specialists worked on each part of the player—but led to more work for the engineers designing and testing how all the parts came together. Product complexity is also changing as a result of exponential technologies such as 3D printing. The advent of the 3D-printed car took the car from 20, parts to 40, significantly reducing product complexity—and enhancing the potential for smaller players to enter the design and final assembly market, leveraging the capability of a few large-scale component providers.
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Regardless of product complexity, physical product size matters. The larger the physical product, the more costly it is to prototype, manufacture, store, and ship. The equipment and space needed to tinker with a small consumer electronics device is much less than that required for a home appliance. And such requirements amplify as a product moves from tinkering to prototyping and on to production. Across the board, categories including larger products will be slower to fragment, in part because their shipping costs make up a significantly higher portion of the final delivered cost to the consumer.
However, increasing product modularity plus new manufacturing processes can drive shifts in product size from large to small. Size, it turns out, is not always a static measure. Technology is evolving at a faster pace each year—products contain more and more digital technology, and so become obsolete more and more rapidly. With the greater use of digital manufacturing tools, an increasing number of physical objects being digitized, and a growing number of processes digitally transmitted and managed, the speed of evolution and collective learning increases, in turn speeding the fragmentation process.
Consumer electronics and mobile phones have experienced this acceleration, facing ever-shorter product life cycles as a result. One counterpoint: If the software and applications on a product add more value that the product itself, it lengthens the product life cycle, since the software helps keep the product relevant.
The advent of categories such as wearables, connected cars, and smart lighting is likely to speed obsolescence as the technology in these products ages faster than the products themselves. Considering regulation, size, complexity, and digitization, and the movement of these factors in an industry, can help companies estimate the speed and intensity of coming shifts.
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The resulting estimates can help companies choose the best ways to participate in, and influence, the shifting manufacturing landscape. How fast is your industry or product segment fragmenting? Which factors—from regulatory environment to digitization—are driving that evolution? Now, however, leaders have the opportunity to use deep understanding of these drivers to anticipate potential changes.
They can then move their business in a direction both congruent with market forces and designed to position their company favorably. The ability to create and capture value will vary depending on the type of business. The companies that do the best job of capturing value will be those that figure out how to work with, and use, fragmentation rather than fighting it. Both incumbents and new entrants should be aware of possible roles in this system, and each business should determine the best fit based on its assets, strengths, and core DNA as a corporation.
In general, large companies are well suited to take on infrastructure management or customer relationship roles, while smaller companies are best positioned to play as niche product and service businesses. Entities looking for sustained growth may not be able to achieve it in the more fragmented downstream landscape, but will need to shift upstream to achieve their growth goals.
As product innovation, design, and assembly fragment, other parts of the business landscape will consolidate where scale and scope make it easier to support the niche operators. Areas of concentration will be marked by players, tightly focused on a single business type or role, that can muster the significant level of investment required to enter or sustain marketplace position in that role, and that generate value by leveraging resources such as large-scale technology infrastructure or big data to provide information, resources, and platforms to more fragmented businesses.
Because these areas of concentration are driven by significant economies of scale and scope, early entrants that can quickly achieve critical mass are likely to gain a significant competitive advantage. Businesses that choose to focus on one of these roles are advised to be early movers rather than fast followers.
Infrastructure providers deliver routine high-volume processes requiring large investments in physical infrastructure, such as transportation networks e. Infrastructure providers also exist in digital technology delivery e. In the second category are aggregation platforms —virtual and physical platforms that foster connections, broker marketplaces, or aggregate data. For example, online marketplaces such as eBay and Etsy connect buyers and sellers; Kickstarter delivers financing by connecting artists, makers, and innovators with their fans; and Facebook connects people socially to share knowledge or information.
The third category encompasses the role of agent. The consumer agent, a trusted advisor that helps consumers navigate an array of possible purchases, is the agent type most relevant to the manufacturing landscape. While agent businesses have always existed—from wealth managers to personal shoppers—their customer base has been mostly the affluent.
Now, however, technology is making such services more widely available to the general population. In manufacturing, fragmentation in the area of final product assembly will give rise to agents that guide retail consumers to the right options for them. The three roles above are based on scale and scope, making them attractive positions for companies looking to achieve significant and sustained growth. Businesses in these roles collaborate closely with the fragmented but focused niche players.
Mobilizers can add value by framing explicit motivating goals, providing governance that enhances interactions, and facilitating collaboration. It is not surprising for these roles to emerge in response to the shifts in the manufacturing landscape described earlier.
Each role represents an essential business type. For example, fragmented niche operators are product businesses, focused on designing and developing creative new products and services, getting them to market quickly, and accelerating their adoption. This business type is driven by the economics of time and speed to market. It requires skills and systems focused on rapid design and development iteration, supporting the quick identification and addressing of market opportunities.
The culture of this type of business prioritizes creative talent and is oriented toward supporting creative stars. Infrastructure providers and aggregation platforms are examples of infrastructure management businesses. This business type is driven by powerful scale economics. It requires skills to manage routine high-volume processing activities, and has a culture that prioritizes standardization, cost control, and predictability.
In this business culture, the facility or asset trumps the human being. The agent role is an example of the customer relationship management business type, which is driven by economics of scope—building broader relationships with a growing number of customers. The more this business type knows about any individual customer, the more accurately it can recommend resources to that customer.
Simultaneously, the more it knows about a large number of customers, the more helpful it can be to any individual based on its ability to see larger patterns. To succeed, such businesses need to understand the evolving context of each customer based on carefully structured interactions, plus a growing data set that captures context and history.
The culture of this business type is relentlessly customer-focused—seeking to anticipate needs before they arise, building trust, and positioning the business as a trusted advisor rather than a sales-driven vendor. Aiming to become infrastructure management or customer relationship businesses can help large companies leverage existing economies of scale and scope to occupy the concentrating portions of the business landscape. Today, most large companies operate multiple types of businesses and thus play multiple roles within a single organization.
Given the uncertainty of a rapidly changing world, such diversity is often viewed as a strategic advantage; a portfolio is comforting. However, when a company participates in too many business types at once, it can lack focus. Diverse groups compete for resources, chafe under inappropriate economics or metrics, and clash culturally. In the past, large companies bundled these business types together because of the high cost and complexity of coordinating activity across independent companies.
As competitive pressure intensifies, companies that keep the three business types tightly bundled will likely reduce performance as they seek to balance out the competing demands of these business types. Such businesses can become more vulnerable to companies that, by focusing on a single business type, become world-class in their chosen activities. Further, as the pace of change accelerates, the imperative to learn faster becomes more pronounced.
A company that focuses on a single business type is likely to learn much faster without the distraction of multiple competing businesses within its walls. It is more likely to attract and retain world-class talent, gaining employees seeking to be the heroes of the organization rather than take on second-class support roles. Its learning potential can be further enhanced by the ability to connect and collaborate with trusted top-tier companies of the other two types. To flourish in an increasingly competitive environment, a company should resist the temptation to do everything.
Instead, it should put its energies into one primary role. Given the divergent drivers, cultures, and focuses of the three business types, an organization that contains more than one can benefit from first separating them operationally within the firm. Perhaps paradoxically, such unbundling can set the stage for much more sustained and profitable growth. Large incumbents may be understandably reluctant to let go of their current positions in the value chain.
But failing to adapt to the new landscape is missing a powerful opportunity to own an influential new position in that chain—a foundational platform on which a large number of smaller players build. If this role is played out correctly, a new ecosystem of smaller, specialized niche providers will form around the large incumbent to customize and personalize products through physical products, software, or services.
All of these will be tied together by an entirely new set of players—mobilizers, data platforms, and connectivity platforms. Historically, to achieve growth, entities had two options: buy or build. Companies occupying the platform, infrastructure, and agent roles, which are inherently positioned for growth, can accelerate that growth and gain flexibility by leveraging trusted resources from outside their organizations.
In addition to financial resources, such players can leverage the capabilities of its third-party partners.
By doing so, they reduce risk, broaden their perspective to maximize learning and performance, and cut costs by taking advantage of existing resources. This level of transformation is very much in the domain of larger businesses—whether incumbent or entrant—with the resources to influence market factors.
These businesses will be doubly successful if they develop strategies—and platforms—that allow them to attract and support a large number of smaller, more fragmented players. Leveraged growth can also help the larger business sense the shifting environment more accurately, and continue to shape it. In turn, smaller firms can leverage platform businesses for financing, learning, and prototyping, reducing capital investment while increasing speed to market. They can address surges in demand by relying on infrastructure providers, and can more effectively connect with relevant customers through agent businesses.
Though they may have little power to move the market individually, they can maximize their influence as part of a broader ecosystem. Two potentially promising business models emerging in the manufacturing landscape can enable leveraged growth for large incumbents: the shift from products to platforms and from ownership to access. As digital and physical products become platforms, they enable a wide variety of participants to join, collaborate, and innovate. Platforms have a tremendous network effect, growing in importance as more participants join and thus extend their functionality.
They are also a cheaper, more flexible, and less risky way for participants to enter a space. Once platforms gain traction and achieve a critical mass of participants, they become hard to replace. The shift from ownership to access allows manufacturers to transform their focus from making products to developing deep, long-term customer relationships. At the core of this shift is a platform that aggregates resources and enables consumer access. With it, consumers can access products as they need them. Manufacturers can use data collection and product use feedback to continually grow and improve.
And as access providers gain a deeper knowledge of customers and their needs, they can identify and mobilize a broader range of third parties to enhance the value provided to customers. There are still more ways to capture value in the rapidly shifting manufacturing landscape. With eroding barriers to entry and continued exponential growth of the digital infrastructure, many companies are seeing their positioning weaken. Strategic positions in the value chain—or influence points—are shifting. These positions are often key to enhancing value-capture potential.
While patents and intellectual property remain valuable, their strategic significance is declining as the pace of innovation increases and product life cycles shrink. New influence points are instead emerging around flows of knowledge. Privileged access to these flows makes it possible to identify and anticipate change before others do, and to shape them in a way that strengthens future positioning. Access to these diverse flows can also speed up learning—the key to competitive advantage in a quickly evolving market. So how do influence points emerge and evolve?
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They attract participants through the value they provide, and inspire action with positive incentives. Influence points are most likely to emerge where they can provide significant and sustainable functionality to the broader platform or ecosystem, where their functionality can evolve rapidly, where network effects drive consolidation and concentration of participants, and where they can encourage fragmentation of the rest of the platform or ecosystem.
For example, in the early days of the personal computer industry, development of de facto standards for microprocessors and operating systems encouraged significant fragmentation in other aspects of the technology. These standards also created concentrations in knowledge flows as companies sought to connect with makers of the standard technologies to understand how they were likely to evolve. In February , GE launched its first crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. Funders and consumers may ask what a GE subsidiary is doing looking for crowdfunding.
The answer has to do with the way products are developed at GE.
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The company excels in scale and lean manufacturing and is very good at producing high product volume at a low price. Product innovation and development, however, is another story. In Kevin Nolan and Venkat Venkatakrishnan came up with a solution: a combined online and physical co-creation community for makers, designers, and engineers. The idea for FirstBuild came about when GE asked itself two simple questions: Why did it take so long to develop new products, and why could smaller hardware entrepreneurs develop them so much more quickly?
The answer was equally simple: To build products quickly, GE needed to test more ideas with more people more frequently. It needed a system combining the capabilities of a large manufacturer and a lean startup. Crowdfunding locks in sales before a product enters production, allowing for incredibly accurate demand forecasts and resulting manufacturing choices. If a campaign generates only a few pre-orders, FirstBuild can use a small manufacturing partner to produce the necessary units, then discontinue production without losing money on a larger effort.
In both cases, crowdfunding generates immediate viability feedback before production, allowing the company to build to order. FirstBuild also acts as a test lab for shifts in the future manufacturing landscape. Integrating community into design, building, and sales directly addresses changing consumer needs. The Paragon cooker introduces smart cooking and integrated test software platforms and apps. By applying agile prototyping and tapping into the Chinese manufacturing ecosystem, FirstBuild is testing the shifting economics of manufacturing. And by selling directly to customers and building to order, it is shifting the economics of the value chain.
In entering a space formerly inhabited by startups and individual makers, GE is changing the game for product development across the board—dramatically cutting development time and cost while insuring against large-scale failure. The effects on the industry are sure to be both fast and far-reaching.
Another example of shifting influence points is the ongoing value shift from physical products to digital streams created by smart products. As products become more digitized, value shifts from the product itself to the stream the product enables. Here the greatest knowledge flows may have little to do with specific products; instead, they become part of the emerging IoT infrastructure. Such shifts tend to create new influence points further from the core capabilities of current manufacturing incumbents—points that favor large external players such as Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon.
As the manufacturing landscape and value chain evolve, old influence points will erode and new ones emerge.
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