Architectural Innovation: Taking control of the value chain

Architectural innovations are often what customers do not see immediately but there are core of any good strategy. While in the last years we saw a trend toward concentration on core activities like marketing and branding, some companies take the opposite route. And that is good.

I was recently in Egypt to give a workshop on business model innovation. I received an invitation from the Executive Institute, a young and upcoming executive education institute based in Cairo. I was absolutely intrigued by the participants and their entrepreneurial drive. We can all learn from them in the so-called developed countries since they are true entrepreneurs and risk-takers. Participants came from different backgrounds ranging from food and telco, real estate development to plumbing and fixings.

Concentrate on the core

The traditional view on the value chain is to concentrate on the core activities. So almost all consumer electronics, computer or mobile equipment firms have outsourced their production to specialized manufacturers, so-called contract manufacturers or electronics manufacturing services (EMS). The western firms like Apple, Dell or IBM concentrate on the design, R&D, marketing and sales of the devices and leave the manufacturing to EMSs like Flextronics(165.000 employees) or Foxconn (113.000 employees).  Outsourcing manufacturing to specialized firms is the norm in their industries. Foxconn manufacturers for Apple and Intel while Microsoft is a customer of Flextronics.

This architectural or operational model looks very convincing since the story line “Concentrate on the core” sounds very plausible. By concentrating on your core capabilities, you focus on what you are strong at. In the case of Apple, that is design, usability, marketing and branding.

The perils of the “core”

However, there is a peril in this model as well, particularly when you are not as strong in core capabilities. E.g. Hong-Ta Corporation was the manufacturer of the innovative Palm Treo 650 or of the Compaq iPaq, one of the first smartphones.  Today, HTC as the firm is known today is very strong in smartphones and was one of pioneers in phones with Google’s operating system Android. Interestingly, Palm and Compaq are today irrelevant in the growing markets for smartphones. And both former pioneers are now part of Hewlett Packard.

Backwards Integration: You can do the opposite as well

At the same time as the IT and electronics industries are following the mantra of “concentrating on core competencies” other firms in other industries do just the opposite. Let’s look at food companies. Continue reading Architectural Innovation: Taking control of the value chain