Sunday, 13 September 2015

Creating Customer Value Through Services

In the Cambridge Service Alliance we have long talked about the importance of focusing on outcomes - understanding deeply and intimately what it is that your customer or even your customer’s customer values and exploring how you can deliver this. One of the most powerful consequences of thinking this way is that it encourages you to change the way you think about the boundaries of your business.

Take, for example, Caterpillar - what is it that their customer’s customer values? Imagine, for example a mining operation or a quarry. Clearly the customer wants a safe working environment. Clearly they want equipment that is reliable and productive. Clearly they want minimum disruption to their operations and production schedules. But ultimately what they want is to be able to extract minerals in the volumes they need at the lowest cost. If lowest cost per tonne is what the customer wants, what can Caterpillar do to help their customer achieve this?

Well the first thing is they can recognize that the mine or quarry is a system - to achieve lowest cost per tonne you have to optimize the system and get all of the people and equipment working in harmony together. It is not enough for Caterpillar to be able to guarantee that their equipment has the lowest operating cost or even lowest total lifetime cost. Unless Caterpillar’s equipment works in harmony with the rest of the quarry the customer won’t achieve lowest cost per tonne.

Working in harmony requires coordination - coordination across mixed fleets of assets and equipment. One of the services Caterpillar and their Dealers now offer are quarry optimization services. They use the data coming back off their equipment to help the customer identify production inefficiencies and lost time. Trucks, for example, have sensors in their beds. As the truck is loaded with material, the sensors record the weight of material in the bed of the truck. So Caterpillar knows when trucks are fully loaded. They also track location, through GPS data, so if your data shows a truck is fully loaded, but its GPS position is not changing then its not moving. That’s lost time - once the truck is loaded it should be moving off up the haul road en route to dump its load in the crusher.

There are loads of similar examples. Bose thinks of itself not as a speaker manufacturer but as providing sound distribution systems. Pharmaceutical firms are reinventing themselves as healthcare solutions provides - seeking to find a new way to complete as the development cost of drugs increases and more and more drugs come off patent.

At this year’s Cambridge Service Alliance conference - creating value through customer services - scheduled for the 6th October - we’ll be hearing from three leading providers of services and solutions - ABB, Rolls Royce and Zoetis. Each of them will be explaining how they have managed to develop business models - often enabled by data and analytics - to create value for customers by focusing on the outcomes their customers and their customer’s customers really want.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

The Productivity Paradox: Is There a Measurement Problem?

There's been much debate in recent months about the productivity paradox - put simply there's a long standing concern that technology, particularly information technology, does not seem to deliver the productivity gains that might be expected. This concern has resurfaced in the UK, with the Government raising questions about why the UK's productivity has not grown as much as other countries. In fact George Osborne recently called the UK's low productivity growth "the challenge of our time".

This same topic came up in a recent email discussion with colleagues from ISSIP - the International Society for Service Innovation Professionals. This time prompted by an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled "Silicon Valley Doesn't Believe US Productivity is Down". In essence the Wall Street Journal argument was that developments in technology are not captured in the Government's productivity figures - apps that help people find restaurants more quickly or hail cabs from their phones clearly improve the efficiency with which we can do things. Doing more with less is a classic definition of productivity - so these apps must be improving productivity argues the Wall Street Journal (and those it quotes - including Hal Varian, Google's Chief Economist).

While I accept the argument that apps and associated technologies allow us to do more with less, I think there's a need to unpack the relationship between these developments and measures of productivity more carefully. Traditionally governments have measured labour productivity - in terms of GDP per hour worked. As technology replaces labour, GDP stays the same or increases, while labour hours go down - hence productivity increases.

However, there's an interesting new phenomenon which complicates the picture. Take, for example, Uber. I'm a fan of Uber - the app is great. Its convenient. I've never had a bad service from an Uber driver. I love the fact that I can rate drivers and they can rate customers at the end of journeys. I love the fact that the cost of the ride gets charged to my credit card and the receipt automatically emailed to me. But I also love Uber because it is cheaper - I pay less for a Uber car than I do for a black cab in London. Better service, pleasant drivers, lower prices - what's not to like. Other firms have similar business models - think Amazon or Airbnb. Still others provide me a service for free - Google and TripAdvisor - don't charge me for the information they provide, instead making their money through third parties.

When talking about productivity - or the lack of productivity - we need to think about the economic impact of these cheaper and/or free services. Lower prices to consumers must mean lower GDP. The efficiency gains are there, but they are not being captured in productivity gains because the benefits are being passed on to consumers in the form of lower prices, rather than captured in the official GDP statistics. Maybe a more nuanced discussion about productivity is needed - where we look at both sides of the equation - increases in value and hence GDP - and increases in efficiency reflected in lower costs to consumers.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Servitization and Service Innovation in China: Reflections from Shanghai

I’ve just spent a week in China, visiting the Southern China University of Technology (Guangzhou) and Ceibs, the international business school in Shanghai. While at Ceibs I participated in the first seminar on “Servitization and Service Innovation”. Attended by around 100 people, industrial speakers at the seminar included eCoal (an online coal purchasing platform), HP, Sevalo (a construction and mining equipment services business) and SKF. While Professors Marjorie Lyles (Indiana University), Chris Voss (Warwick Business School), Xiande Zhao (Ceibs) and I delivered academic presentations. It was a great trip, fascinating in so many ways, but I thought I might write a short blog about some of the themes that came out for me at the seminar. These include:

1.     The importance of technology to China - all the speakers talked about the way technology is changing China’s approach to business. They talked about all the traditional topics - cloud computing, big data, mobile, the need for better security. But they also talked about internet plus, China’s equivalent to Germany’s industrie 4.0 and the rest of the world’s internet of things. They recognise that as more and more devices are connected to the net, ever greater volumes of data will be created and these data can potentially deliver new and valuable business insights if analysed and interpreted correctly.

2.     Platforms were also a major theme - many of the firms that spoke, including many of those in the audience, were looking to create platforms, often to combine buying power and/or to utilize spare capacity. eCoal, for example, has created a coal buying platform which allows it to drive significant cost savings by pooling purchasing across multiple organisations. HP claimed to be the world’s biggest retailer of paper. With their print on demand services, where you pay per page rather than for the printer, HP is forced to buy large volumes of paper. But with large volumes comes the opportunity to negotiate discounts for bulk purchasing.

3.     One reason so many firms were interested in platforms was the massive success of China’s three stars of eBusiness - Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent (the Chinese refer to them as BAT). These three firms dominate China’s discussion of eBusiness and have all successfully created platforms, which in turn create multi-sided markets. Tencent, for example, offers users access to free online games, sells the eyeballs to advertisers, but also sells the players of games equipment upgrades. A dominant question underlying many of the comments at the forum, was how do we create platforms that will allows us to capture multiple, complementary sources of revenue for our businesses.

4.     We also talked about challenges of servitizing - the fact that having a strong product heritage or brand sometimes makes it more difficult to offer services. Interestingly a number of the speakers referred back to the roots of their organisations, obviously product of their firm’s history, but I wondered whether history also constrained their thinking about the future. SKF asked some fantastic questions about servitization. How do we persuade our customers to buy solutions from us before we have proved their value? Who buys services and solutions? Procurement is typically not structured that way. It thinks about products and categories, yet services and solutions often cross multiple products and categories.

5.     And finally we talked about enablers of servitization - what would make the transition to services easier. Through the course of the seminar I heard five key themes: (i) get inside the mind of your customer’s customer. Understand what is value to them, so you can better help your customer create value for their customer; (ii) to understand you need deep relationships - ask yourself are we really close enough to our customers; (iii) seek to balance control and collaboration in the ecosystem - not everyone needs to control or create a ecosystem. Sometimes you have to accept you are part of one and the best you can do is seek to influence it. Think about creating win-win-win across the ecosystem to drive change; (iv) learn from your experience, codify it and share it; and (v) think about solutions - SKF has created solutions factories where they can work with customers to solve their problems. Using your own ideas and technology collaboratively with the customer is a great way of getting inside their minds and building a deep relationship with them.

One of the great privileges of life as an academic is the opportunity to travel, to experience different countries and cultures. I never fail to be inspired when I go somewhere different and meet someone new. My latest trip to China was no exception.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Watch Out for the Industrial App Economy as the Battle for the Industrial Internet Heats Up

About six months ago I wrote a blog entitled "GE, The Industrial Internet and the Battle to Come" - in which I asked the question "will GE be the equivalent of Apple, Facebook and Google for the industrial internet or will someone else seize this market?". Its clear the battle for the industrial interne is heating up.

Last week (on 5th March) Caterpillar announced it was extending its partnership with Uptake, a Chicago based predictive analytics company. Uptake have been developing predictive diagnostic and fleet optimisation solutions for Caterpillar's the locomotive business. Under the new agreement Caterpillar and Uptake will "develop an end-to-end platform for predictive diagnostics to help Caterpillar customers monitor and optimise their fleets more effectively". Notably the new technology will be available for both Cat and non-Cat products.

Today (12th March) Siemens announced it was creating an open cloud platform for industrial customers based on the SAP HANA cloud platform. Siemens will offer Apps for predictive maintenance, asset and data energy management. They are also opening their platform so other Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) or indeed Apps developers can create their own applications to exploit the open infrastructure for data analytics.

Separately I've had conversations with half a dozen different firms, from a variety of sectors, in the last couple of weeks all of which have centered around the idea of an Industrial App Economy. It seems that there's a groundswell of opinion that the future for industrial services lies in open, cloud based platforms, where developers can offer Apps to make the end users service and support experience as seamless as possible.

There's an interesting question with all of these developments - namely how will the investments be monitisied? Is it through sale of the Apps? Provision of the insights that can be derived from the data? Or sales of new products and support services - as customers are tied in to particular OEMs? It'll be interesting to see how this battle evolves as other potential competitors for the industrial internet declare their hands.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Rethinking Competition and Collaboration in Ecosystems: Who Should You Work With?

One of the themes that keeps emerging in the work of the Cambridge Service Alliance is the importance of the ecosystem. We define an ecosystem as the wider network of firms and organisations that can or could influence the way the focal firm creates and captures value through the provision of its products and services. Members of this wider network might include, but are not limited to: collaborators, regulators, clients, customers and consumers, their stakeholders, suppliers and competitors.

Why does an ecosystem perspective matter? The first reason is that thinking about ecosystems encourages executives to take a broader view on the opportunities they face. This argument was first made by Moore in his Harvard Business Review article - "Predators and Prey: A New Ecology of Competition". As the boundaries between traditional industrial sectors break down organisations change the way the create value for their customers. Take a simple example - airlines. Are they in the travel business? After all their primary function is to transport people from A to B. Are they in the entertainment and catering business - they feed and entertain people while on their planes. Are they in the holiday business? Witness the emergence of BA and Virgin holidays. Are they in the telecoms business - think about in flight telecoms and wireless services. Even more extreme examples are seen in electronics and telecommunications. Phone companies now double as internet service providers. They offer on demand TV and video services. They are debating what else they can do given the cables they have running into your house. Utilities companies in general are blurring - water companies will provide gas and electricity. Gas companies will reduce the price you pay if you buy electricity from them as well. An even more radical example is provided by electric vehicles - some are exploring how they might be used as energy storage devices when not being driven. Boundaries between sectors are blurring and disappearing. As they do new opportunities emerge. Being constrained by a logic that says "we are an automotive firm" or "we are a pharmaceutical firm" simply limits innovation and creativity.

This theme of innovation and creativity is a second reason why ecosystem thinking is so important. Firms define often themselves in terms of their markets, customers and competitors. Yet one thing we have seen in our work is the increasingly complex nature of inter-organisational relationships. It is common to see firms competing for some contracts, while collaborating on others. IBM, for example, competes with software vendors such as Oracle and SAP, yet also installs Oracle and SAP systems when their customers want them to. BAE Systems partners with Babcock to deliver services at Portsmouth Naval Base, yet competes with Babcock for other MoD contracts. This complex and nested set of relationships raises some interesting questions. If you define another organisation solely as your competitor there's a danger you miss opportunities for innovation and collaboration. The car industry provides an excellent example. Many car manufacturers have close relationships with (or in some cases own) Dealer networks. They see the Dealer as the primary route to market and the obvious choice for all after-sales service and support. Yet there are loads of small, independent garages that offer vehicle service and support. Often customers prefer these independent garages - they are cheaper, operate with lower overheads and only use genuine original equipment spares when needed. Traditionally the automotive manufacturers have seen these independent garages as the enemy. They take work from the Dealer network, build direct relationships with the end customer and generally disrupt the industry.

But if you draw a broader circle and include these "annoying independent garages" in your ecosystem, you could - as an original equipment manufacturer - start to ask how might we collaborate with these independent garages? Should we offer to manage their spare parts inventories through consignment stocks? Should we provide them specialist tooling and equipment, creating a larger market for proprietary technologies? As the use of telematics and remote monitoring increases, should we - the original equipment manufacturer - sell the engine diagnostic data to independent garages to help them provide better service to their customers? Perhaps the original equipment manufacturer can create a more seamless, integrated and lower cost service for their customers by collaborating with their traditional competitors.

Its only when you start to challenges the assumptions that you hold about how your industry operates and where the boundaries lie that you start to think creatively about the opportunities that are open to you. Taking an ecosystem perspective and broadening your horizon is a great way of thinking about how you might innovate your business model.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Business Model Innovation and the Evolving Market for Electric Vehicles

Much has been written in recent years - both about business model innovation and electric vehicles. One of the Cambridge Service Alliance PhD students, Claire Weiller, has been studying the evolving market for electric vehicles - looking at the business models adopted by Better Place in California, TEPCO in Japan, Autolib' in Paris and Move About in Norway. Claire's just finished her PhD thesis and I thought it was timely to create a short summary of her research insights. Of course if you want the full story you'll have to: (i) talk to Claire, (ii) read her thesis and/or (iii) have a look at the various reports available on the Cambridge Service Alliance website. For the sake of efficiency, however, here's a short summary of Claire's key findings...

There's no uniform business model for electric vehicles...
The first thing that the research shows is that there is no uniform business model for electric vehicles. The different firms studied adopted different models - ranging from battery swapping (Better Place), fast charging (TEPCO) through to mobility as a service (Autolib' and Move About). Clearly there are different pros and cons to each of these business models.

Battery swapping as a business model...
The battery swapping business model is based on the premise that the cost of the battery is a significant deterrent to customers buying electric vehicles. So Better Place experimented with a model where customers bought cars, but then leased batteries from Better Place. The idea was that when the battery was running out of charge you could call into a battery swapping station and replace the discharged battery with a fully charged one in less than five minutes. Customers pay a monthly fee for the privilege of using Better Place's services, as well as a charge "per mile".

Better Place filed for bankruptcy in May 2013 despite having raised $850 million investment. The fundamental flaw in the model was the failure to create a standard battery adopted by multiple auto manufacturers. Because the Better Place battery was not widely adopted it became impossible to efficiently manage the range of inventory - different batteries for different marks of vehicle. The battery swapping model could still work, but it requires coordination across the ecosystem, with the vehicle manufacturers agreeing a standard for batteries that would simplify the challenges of logistics and distribution.

Fast charging as a business model...
One of the barriers to consumer adoption of Electric Vehicles is the issue of range anxiety - the fear that the car won't go as far as you need it to. Couple with this is the time taken to refuel the car (or recharge the battery). If it takes too long and you have to recharge too frequently then clearly Electric Vehicles offering significantly worse performance than regular cars. To address these concerns an alternative business model is fast charging - firms like TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) are investing in technologies to speed up the time take to recharge batteries. Today's fast-charging technology allow a 100-mile electronic vehicle with 24kWh of storage to fully charge in less than 30 minutes. Even 20 minutes gives an 80% recharge. TEPCO - through its CHAdeMO fast-charging connector - have been trying to shape an international standard for fast-charging technologies. They appeared to be making good progress, but were blown off course by the Fukushima tsunami that severely damaged four of TEPCO's six nuclear reactors. The subsequent clean up costs and the decision to shut down nuclear reactors in Japan have put an enormous financial burden on TEPCO and so their efforts recently have been diverted. 

Mobility as a service... 
The final business model studied concerned mobility as a service. Both Move About (Norway) and Autolib' (Paris) were examples of this. Under the mobility as a service business model customers does not take ownership of the product, but instead pay for the right to use the product - through a monthly subscription fee - supplemented by a time-based usage fee. The context for both Autolib' and Move About is interesting. Autolib' is heavily supported by the Marie de Paris and focuses its service on Paris and the surrounding 63 municipalities. Bolloré, an industrial conglomerate with activities in transport, infrastructure and logistics, won the contract to support Autolib' and provides the cars, as well as the charging infrastructure. The density of Paris - 105 km2 versus London with 1,570 km2 - means that a car with a 250 km range covers almost 100% of daily drivers needs. Move About, based in Norway, also benefit from natural resources that make electric vehicles more appealing. In Norway's case there is a significant over-capacity in hydro-electric power. This means that spare electricity is relatively cheap and so the costs of operating electric vehicles drop significantly. 

Fit between business model, ecosystem and environment is the key to success... 
One of my key take aways from this research is the importance of the fit between the business model, the ecosystem and the broader natural environment. Autolib' and Move About's relative success are a function of small and dense distances for travel - e.g. Paris and its immediate surroundings - coupled with cheap (or subsidised) and plentiful energy supply. Better Place failed because it didn't engage its ecosystem partners - it could not create the standard battery. TEPCO failed because of a natural disaster which diverted attention elsewhere. Without these interesting experiments and forays into new business models we'd never learn which worked best, but without alignment between the business model, the ecosystem and the broader environment, its clear that firms struggle to survive.