I truly like to watch it: companies that during the course of the years transform into incarnations that just do not resemble the original any longer. Often, it is a sign of a strong urge to innovate. Also, it can be the demonstration of a grinding lack of realism or simply a proof of an inflated ego. Or all of that. Either way, there’s always something exciting happening near companies that are reinventing themselves.
In most cases, it is the evolving technology that creates the new horizons. How do these things happen? You may be a successful bank-insurer with lots of money on the .. well, bank and boredom is all around. Yet another all finance combination product, yet another new distribution channel: it just doesn’t excite anybody any longer. Buying your mortgage at the local supermarket, right between the butter cookies and the kitchen paper, been there, done that. It becomes more interesting if you realise that your home banking portal is one of the most-visited websites of the nation and you could actually be selling highly visible virtual shelves and billboards to entirely different markets than your own. Or, as a well-respected keeper of safe-deposit boxes, you might earn some serious street credibility (and money) with digital vaults. And they could store a lot more than just money and gold bars.
The examples are everywhere.
Imagine you are selling books through the Internet. Then, the next day you find yourself renting marketing facilities to clients that want to sell products themselves. Or wait, in all these years you have been building up quite a robust IT infrastructure and now you are selling the surplus of computing and storage capacity to the outside world. And while we are busy anyway, that nicely developed software that exchanges secure messages between A and B, can be put on sale too: sending 5000 messages ‘on demand’ for 1$, that could even make IBM nervous. You can only imagine how much fun the brainstorming department of Amazon must have had when they invented the Mechnical Turk: supply and demand of miniscule human services, handled through the same account and platform that you used – way back in the past – to buy a good old-fashioned book; remember, with a decent hardcover and rustling paper. Rest assured, you can still buy books from Amazon. It’s just that you need some guidance on the spot, finding your way between the 35 other product categories of today. And most likely, in the back office they are having a good laugh about your archaic clumsiness: have a look at that guy, he’s actually buying a book again.
I’m not easily surprised any longer. When I checked for the last time, salesforce.com was a quickly growing supplier of Customer Relationship Management software. Now they are occupied with building and running a directory of applications that are available as Software as a Service. En passant they also developed a new programming language. Seemed like a good idea at that time.
At WebEx, it apparently also has been a matter of free, random association. They just stretched the concept of ‘jointly collaborating on something’ (which is the very nature of audio and video conferencing, right) a little bit. Now, everything you need in terms of systems interoperability, workflow, business rules and process support to enable the collaboration between companies, is also available through the WebEx servers. Thanks to strategic partner Cordys, being in the business of supplying an Enterprise Service Broker and Business Process Management software (that is, they were so last week)
And we’ve only been watching the prelude. A very promising development that certainly deserves a dedicated blog-item (soon! here!) is the recent initiative of Wal-mart, Intel and British Petroleum to create a joint database of Electronic Health Records for their employees. First, you just tend to think it is a feasible strategy to defend the interests of hundreds of thousands of employees against a washed-out health industry, incapable of creating improvement in cost-effectiveness and responsiveness. But it only seems a matter of time before the consortium will consider this market as an unexpected, interesting area for commercial growth. Think about it, British Petroleum may be holding your medical history and Wal-mart may be running the data mining software on it to optimise the supply chain of medication.
According to Craig Barrett, chairman of Intel, “frankly, this industry is not capable of modifying itself “.
If that is so, innovation just has to happen elsewhere. Trust me, it’s on doctor’s prescription.