In the long run, vision is what drives the technology marketplace. Companies that have the correct vision in the long run will prosper and grow, and companies that have limited or incorrect vision will wither and die. In an effort to maximize the stream of revenue, companies tend to work against the tide of vision. Take the products and services of today and sell, sell, sell. The problem with maximizing the profits of today is that it ossifies the mind-set of the people working for the company. It simply freezes any innovation or expansion of vision. The same selling patterns, the same products (or different versions of the same product) and the same value proposition become institutionalized, and the company becomes crippled in its ability to change. In a way, companies in technology become victims of their own success. The more successful the company is, the more rigid it becomes with its vision.
In order to become successful in the long run, a corporation must not only have vision, but also have the right vision. The vision must be correct and comprehensive, as sweeping as possible and, at the same time, as intertwined with the needs of the customers as possible. Stated another way, success in technology puts a hammer in the hand of management and everything starts to look like a nail.
If the value of vision is not apparent, examine several companies. Look at Atari: their vision of the future consisted solely of games. Look at Cincom Systems: their vision was for a database management system (DBMS) and just a DBMS. Look at MSP: their vision was for a grand data dictionary. Look at VisiCalc: their vision was for a spreadsheet. At one time or the other, each of these companies held market share and a position of prominence. Where are these companies now? In no small part, these companies have been outflanked and outfought by competitors whose vision was more comprehensive and more in line with what the customer really wanted.
The world of hardware is even more treacherous. Hardware has the nasty habit of turning from technology to commodity. As long as hardware is a technology and that technology offers the world something new and important, the hardware can be sold at a premium. But once the competition catches up, the technology turns into a commodity, and the only differentiation between competitors is price. When a hardware company reaches that point, it better be prepared to manufacture like crazy because the economics of scale always favor the volume producer. Remember Amdahl, Magnusson, Memorex, Burroughs, UNIVAC, CDC or Honeywell? All of these companies at one time or another enjoyed a competitive advantage in the building and sale of hardware and had their own loyal following, but today they are gone or enjoy very limited market exposure and success. They have slipped over the threshold of a technology into that of a commodity.
How does a hardware company keep from becoming a commodity? It is, of course, through vision. Once the vision is there, it is relatively simple to figure out where the marketplace will be next year or the year after that. However, without vision, the hardware company can only hope to be another "me too" company. Once the hardware company becomes a "me too" company, it is, by definition, a commodity company and not a technology company.
Hardware companies become trapped by their own success because sales force and management want to repeat the sales process over and over. Vision just doesn't stand a chance in the face of a satisfied sales force.
Which brings us to Inmon's vision scale. Let's suppose that companies could be ranked according to their vision. The rankings on the scale might look like:
- Not aware that there are any visions.
- Aware that there might be visions but not aware that some visions are limited and incorrect.
- Seeking the right vision.
- Starting to implement according to the right vision.
I believe that in the fourth category - starting to implement according to the right vision -one vendor stands alone: SAP.
Most people know that SAP's background is application enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions. It is fair to say that SAP has a revenue stream from maintenance alone that will last them for as long as their management continues to work. However, has anyone noticed that SAP has extended their vision well beyond transaction applications? SAP is now into not only data warehousing and analytic processing, but also the entire analytic infrastructure that is needed - reporting, multidimensional data marting, customer relationship management and other decision support system applications. Additionally, SAP has not taken small steps, but large strides, going into simulation, forecasting, planning and geographical systems. Recent announcements also show that SAP is thinking long term for their customers in terms of database as well. SAP can house larger data warehouses than anyone because they can extend data beyond classical disk storage and into near-line storage. For years the DBMS companies have had the opportunity to stretch their technology beyond disk storage. However, in the desire to maximize revenues of current technology, the DBMS companies have not opened the floodgates of data management to non-disk and archival storage. So now SAP is going to go into that arena, thereby limiting the usefulness of the DBMS vendors.
While the rest of the world is wondering what a vision is or why one would need a vision, SAP is implementing a genuine enterprise vision.
Let's make a little bet. I'll buy some SAP stock, you can buy the stock of some of the DBMS companies that have dropped the ball, and we'll meet back here in 10 years. If your stock has grown more than my stock, I will give mine to you. But if your stock hasn't grown as much as mine, you will have to give yours to me. Unfortunately, yours wouldn't be worth much, so let's not play this game after all.
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