What Business Are You In?

It goes without saying that the rate of change in business today is staggering, and it shows no signs of slowing. But as we grapple with that pace in our day-to-day business lives, it's usually difficult to see the forest for the trees. We tackle our tasks faster, take on more responsibility, all with near-term goals in mind.

Sometimes, though, we might be lucky enough to catch our collective breath and wonder just what we're doing — not just ourselves but our businesses.

Let's take a trip back in time to the 1970s. Back then, if you worked in electronics, odds are your company made something like mainframes or spacecraft or jet airplanes or communications systems. The people you worked with made everything that went into the end product.

But over the next four decades, the industry disaggregated slowly but surely. If you worked in the semiconductors division of that vertically integrated company, you might have ended up working for a semiconductor company after management sold off that unit.

The more things change…
This photo below from Tim Kastelle's recent blog post tells the story. Each of the technologies in the top part of the picture had enormous revenues… until each one didn't. Suddenly.


Flash forward to now and today's supply chain. If you're in distribution, your company is radically different than it was 15 years ago. If you're in contract manufacturing, you're not just making things any more. You're designing them. So are you a contract manufacturer or a design house ?

If you were a company that sold software into systems, odds are you are in the services business today, maybe hosting something for your customers via the cloud.

Kastelle's point — that your market is never stable — is spot on, but could you have predicted in 1993 that the Newton, of all products, would effectively end up sweeping up the functionality of all those other devices? Never in a million years.

The drivers turned out to be Moore's Law, software, and wireless connectivity.

What the future holds
For the supply chain, the battle during the next 20 years (maybe just 10, given the quickening pace of innovation) will be driven by data and the Internet of Things. Established companies that get that will grow; new companies that get that will disrupt today's smaller players.

The one constant will be the semiconductor components hot potato: They're crucial to innovation, but no one wants to hold them for longer than is absolutely necessary. Now, some financial innovation may emerge in the next decade that makes holding inventory less onerous — only time will tell.

The bottom line is things will change faster than we imagine, and it may behoove you to put the words, “What is your business?” up on a wall near your desk as a daily reminder.

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7 comments on “What Business Are You In?

  1. SunitaT
    May 8, 2013

    @Brian, thanks for the post. I agree with your point that the photo from Tim Kastelle's blog post tells the entire story. I think we will see more such features being added to smartphone in coming days. For example we will see smartphones being used as projectors.


    Brian I am not able to view the infographic titled : “Infographic: A Snapshot of Transportation Logistics”. Please let me know if the link is broken.

  2. _hm
    May 9, 2013

    Changes are integral part of life and this should be thought to student in ealry part of their university education.

    There are many PhD student with specialization in one field. However, if you observe their profile, after five years only 25% of them are working in same field of specialization.

    Education and work life teaches new tools and this is continuing process. You must expect chnages in your work and business. If not, perosn may be stagnant and obsolete – situation to fear.




  3. Wale Bakare
    May 9, 2013

    Good peice, thanks Brian. It summed up everything in today's ever wrangling ongoing technology innovations and its undisputed power of disruption. 

    One thing is certain – we are heading to unknown business path; some businesses are almost gone into extinction, some are emerging/have emerged and would continue for the next 2 or 3 decades, while some are on the verge of collapse and being replaced with newer tools. 


  4. elctrnx_lyf
    May 10, 2013

    The business are definitely changing every day. The technology is always developing at a faster rate to put new things onto the market. It really matters to have inight of what business we are doing even for the individual working as employees. This provides a clear picture of how it works anywhere and set right goal for the future.

  5. prabhakar_deosthali
    May 10, 2013

    One of the effects of these fast changing business scenarios and the technologies is that no one remain an expert on something for a long time.

    Back, say 30 years or so, once you earned your degree , you could rely upon the knowledge you gained for at least a few years.

    Now the time you are out from the college, your learning actually starts and it never ends .

    It is all the same whether you are an engineer, a doctor , a technician or just aoperator.

  6. Wale Bakare
    May 10, 2013

    There are many things taking away from us. When businesses owners subjected to under-intense pressure from left, right and center reliance on some expertise that would deliver and helping achieving targeted goals a big task, this seems impossible today. But to employ Jack of all trades – especially in technology field.

    May 11, 2013

    Great photo.  I often wonder what the future of electronics will hold for my grandkids. I can only imagine it will involve some sort of web directly implanted into their brains. I hope it is not too painful 😉

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