The evolution of products into intelligent, connected devices is revolutionizing business. In a November 2014 article, How Smart, Connected Products Are Transforming Competition, Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter and PTC president and CEO James Heppelmann looked at how this shift is changing the structure of industries and forcing firms to rethink their strategies. In this companion article, the authors look at the effects inside firms, examining the impact that smart, connected products have on operations and organizational structure. The new capabilities and vast quantities of data that smart, connected products offer are redefining the activities of the core functions of companies—sometimes radically. As software and cloud-based operating systems become integral to products, new product-development principles emerge, manufacturing components and processes change, and IT security becomes the job of every function. Companies need different skills and expertise, which creates new imperatives for HR. In the marketing function, the ability to track a product’s condition and use shifts the focus to maximizing the product’s value to the customer over time. Customer relationships become continuous and open-ended, service becomes more efficient and proactive, and new business models are enabled. The rich data on location and environment that products provide take logistics to a whole new level. Smart, connected products also alter interactions between functions, in ways that hold major implications for organizational structure. Intense, ongoing coordination becomes necessary across multiple functions, including design, operations, sales, service, and IT. Functional roles overlap and blur. Entirely new functions – unified data organizations, dev-ops, and customer success management- begin to emerge. What is under way is the most substantial change in the manufacturing firm since the Second Industrial Revolution, and the effects are spreading to other industries, like services, as well.
There is a fundamental disconnect between the wealth of digital data available to us and the physical world in which we apply it. While reality is three-dimensional, the rich data we now have to inform our decisions and actions remains trapped on two-dimensional pages and screens. This gulf between the real and digital worlds limits our ability to take advantage of the torrent of information and insights produced by billions of smart, connected products (SCPs) worldwide. Augmented reality, a set of technologies that superimposes digital data and images on the physical world, promises to close this gap and release untapped and uniquely human capabilities. Though still in its infancy, AR is poised to enter the mainstream – according to one estimate, spending on AR technology will hit $60 billion in 2020. AR will affect companies in every industry and many other types of organizations, from universities to social enterprises. In the coming months and years, it will transform how we learn, make decisions, and interact with the physical world. It will also change how enterprises serve customers, train employees, design and create products, and manage their value chains, and, ultimately, how they compete. In this article we describe what AR is, its evolving technology and applications, and why it is so important. Its significance will grow exponentially as SCPs proliferate, because it amplifies their power to create value and reshape competition. AR will become the new interface between humans and machines, bridging the digital and physical worlds. While challenges in deploying it remain, pioneering organizations, such as Amazon, Facebook, General Electric, Mayo Clinic, and the U.S. Navy, are already implementing AR and seeing a major impact on quality and productivity. Here we provide a road map for how companies should deploy AR and explain the critical choices they will face in integrating it into strategy and operations.
Information technology is revolutionizing products. Once composed solely of mechanical and electrical parts, products have become complex systems that combine hardware, sensors, data storage, microprocessors, software, and connectivity in myriad ways. These smart, connected products – made possible by vast improvements in processing power and device miniaturization and by the network benefits of ubiquitous wireless connectivity – have unleashed a new era of competition. Smart, connected products offer exponentially expanding opportunities for new functionality, far greater reliability, much higher product utilization, and capabilities that cut across and transcend traditional product boundaries. The changing nature of products is also disrupting value chains, forcing companies to rethink and retool nearly everything they do internally. Smart, connected products raise a broad set of new strategic choices for companies about how value is created and captured, how to work with traditional partners and what new partnerships will be required, and how to secure competitive advantage as the new capabilities reshape industry boundaries. For many firms, smart, connected products will force the fundamental question: What business am I in? This article provides a framework for developing strategy and achieving competitive advantage in a smart, connected world.