Lecture Notes for Competitive Strategies in Technology Management
“Successful and unsuccessful strategies shape a company’s destiny.” – R.A. Burgelman, Strategy is Destiny
Technology firms, in general, perform three important and interrelatedactivities: strategy, planning, and operations, each having a different intent and time horizon. The function of strategy, which has a time horizon of years, isto set the long-term direction or position of the firm (e.g., define the technology, product, or service that the firm intends to develop, and determinethe intended market for it). The function of planning, which has a time horizon of several months to years, is to translate long-term strategy into medium-term activities (e.g., determining the portfolio of projects the firm should execute, the time-phased planning of these projects, resource allocation). The function of operations, which has a timehorizon of days to months, is to translate medium-term planning activities into short-term product design, development, and delivery activities (e.g., prototyping, manufacturing, product release, product shipment). In this chapter we address strategy.
There are several different types of strategy, including competitive strategy, technology strategy, product market strategy, financial strategy, and supply-chain strategy. For a technology company to be successful, all these strategies need to be aligned with each other, as well as with the business goals of the firm. Competitive strategy, which is the focus of this chapter, is the highest level of strategy in a firm. It is intimately related to the mission and vision of the firm, and serves to set the direction for all the other strategies of the firm.
There are several schools of strategy formation: design, planning, and positioning (Mintzberg, 1998). In this chapter we focus on two important schools/frameworks for strategy-creation or “strategy-making” that are particularly important for high-technology companies. The first framework is the so-called “positioning” approach of Porter (Porter, 1980), which views strategy-making as an analytic process performed at the industry-market structural level. The second framework(not included in these notes) ofBurgelman (Burgelman 2002), based on evolutionary organization theory, views strategy-making as an evolutionary process performed at three levels: industry-company level, company-level, and intra-company level. When these two frameworks are combined, an integrated approach to competitive strategy emerges: from industry-market level all the way to intra-company level. A unique aspect of creating competitive strategy for a technology company (and in particulara high-technology company) is that the time-scales for the evolution of markets, industries, and technologies tend to be much shorter (“faster”) than those of other industries. For this reason, the strategy frameworks of the positioning school need to be augmented with functional maps (Clark and Wheelwright, 1993).Functional maps capture the evolution of the market, industry, and technology relevant to the company, and provide necessary predictive insight for strategy-making.
1.1 Objectives of the chapter
The objectives of this chapter are as follows:
1.2 Organization of the chapter
In Section 2, we establish the overall context foranalyzing and designing the competitive strategy in a firm. In Section 3, we describe the positioning framework of Porter (Porter, 1980), for developing competitive strategy within a technology company. The two key elements of this framework, structural analysis of industry and development of competitive strategy, are developedin this section. Section 4 describes the organizational evolutionary theoretic approach for strategy-making. The creation and use of functional maps is explained in Section 5. The positioning framework, the evolutionary organization theoretic framework, and functional maps are combined in Section 6 to develop a process for competitive strategy-makingin a technology company. Section 7 demonstrates the application of the process to an extended and detailed example. Section 8 summarizes the chapter and draws conclusions.
We analyze competitive strategy within the overall context of technology firms, which operate within an industrial subcategory(e.g., the computer industry, the consumer electronics industry, the cellular phone industry). Each industry serves a market comprised of the buyers or customers of the products and services offered by that industry.
Figure 1 goes here
Figure 1 shows a structural representation of the technology company from thestretegic viewpoint.Four important types of strategy are identified: technology strategy, marketing strategy, competitive strategy, and financial strategy. All strategies must be driven by and aligned to the vision, mission, and business goals of the firm.Business goals are usually expressed using quantitative metrics such as market share, revenue, and growth.
The objective of technology strategy (Clark and Wheelwright, 1993) is to guide the technology company in developing, acquiring, and applying technology for competitive advantage. An important part of technology strategy is defining technical capabilities (e.g., advanced device design, rapid prototyping, automated assembly)that provide competitive advantage.
The primary objectives of product/market strategyaretwofold: first, define what differentiates the product from its competitors; second, identify market segments for the product, the customer needs of these segments, and the corresponding products (i.e., product lines) that will be offered to these segments. One important output of product/market strategy is defining the product roadmap necessary to realize business goals. This roadmap will include setting sales volume goals and pricing.
The focus of this chapter, competitive strategy, is the high-level strategy used by the firm to realize its business goals (in particular, profitabilityin the face of competition).Competitive strategy conventionally refers to how the firm competes at the industry-market level (Porter, 1980). However, in the rapidly evolving industry and market landscape of high-technology, competitive strategy, in turn, depends on three levels of strategy-making as follows(Burgelman, 2002):
The success of a high technology company depends upon its ability to integrate each of these results in successful strategic action. In other words, what the company actually does (e.g., developing and marketing product lines)results in the realization of its business goals.
The first strategy framework, described in Section 3, analyzes competitive strategy at the industry-market level usingPorter’s“Five Forces” approach (1980) to examine the structure of the industry and the resulting dynamics between functional groups of players (e.g., competitors, suppliers, etc.) in that industry. In this positioning approach, strategy is viewed as taking a generic position in a competitive market. The second strategy framework, described in Section 4, analyzes strategy-making at the industry-level, company level, and intra-company levelusingevolutionary organizationtheory(Burgelman 2002). In theevolutionary organizational theory approach, each company is an organizational ecology within which strategy emerges viatwo basic mechanisms, external selection and internal selection. When companies start, because they are new and relatively small¸the external selection mechanism dominates. As a company grows in size and becomes more established, internal selection plays an increasingly important role.
Two other strategy types are closely related to competitive strategy: financial strategy and supply chain strategy. Financial strategy includes issues such as capital budgeting and portfolio management (i.e., deciding which technology and product development projects to fund in order to maximize cumulative expected profit). Supply chain strategy specifies the service, distribution, and operations functionsthat the company should do well in order to successfully realize its competitive strategy. Each of these functions may be performed either in-house, outsourced, or both.
We first present a historical overview of the positioning/analytical school of strategy. Then, we develop the five forces framework (Porter, 1980) and a corresponding competitive strategy. We will use the personal computer industry to illustrate this approach.
The analytical approach to strategy started in the 1960s and culminated in the year 1980 when Michael Porter published “Competitive Strategy”. Porter was influenced by the field of industrial organization, which focuses on analyzing industries rather than individual firms.
The positioning school of strategy is based upon the following assumptions: the marketplace is competitive; strategy is a generic position in the marketplace; and strategy formation is the selection of a generic position based on analysis (Mintzberg, 1998). The overall underlying assumption is that industry or market structure drives position which drives the organizational structure of the firm.
The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) introduced two techniques: the growth-share matrix and the experience curve. The growth-share matrix for a firm, developed in the early 1970s, is a 2×2 matrix with “growth” along one dimension and “market share” along the other. Each of these variables can take one of two values, “high” or “low”. Therefore, the product portfolio of a firm can be expressedas one of four types, each with a well-defined meaning: “star” (high growth, high market share), “question mark” (high growth, low share), “cash cow” (slow growth, high share), or “dog” (slow growth, low share). The strategic approach using this matrix is to have a portfolio balanced mainly between cash cows (the stable business of the firm, e.g., “MAC” computers in the case of Apple) and stars (e.g., the iPod, in the case of Apple).
The experience curve, developed in 1965-66, is based on the idea that a firm’s accumulated experience influences costs and prices. The central claim of the experience curve, as expressed by Ghemawat, is “for each cumulative doubling of experience, total costs would decline roughly 20% to 30% because of economies of scale, organizational learning, and technical innovation” (1999).
In 1971, the consulting firm McKinsey developed the GE/McKinsey nine-block matrix called the Industry Attractiveness-Business Strength matrix (Ghemawat, 1999).This plotsbusiness strengthalong one axis, and industry attractiveness along the other axis, each evaluated as high, medium, or low. The basic idea is to divide the company into “strategic business units (SBUs)”, and then make the appropriate strategic recommendations for each SBU depending upon its “location” in the matrix.
These methods of portfolio analysis have some drawbacks. First, the recommendations for each SBU are very sensitive to the method of portfolio analysis employed. Second, the mechanical process of using historic industry and company data to determine recommendations usually led to adjusting and modifying current initiatives rather than addressing how to deal with existing and new forms of competition. In 1979, Gluck suggested a four-phase strategy to improve this process: financial planning, forecast-based planning, externally-oriented planning, and strategic management (Ghemawat, 1999). Portfolio analysis also came under attack from Hayes and Abernathy in 1980, who contended that the methods used tended to focus on reducing financial risk at the expense of technological innovation.
However, portfolio analysis brought out two important high-level determinants of the profit potential or profitability of firms: industry attractiveness, which is the profit potential of an individual industry relative to other industries; and the competitive position of the specific company within a given industry. These two determinants play an important role in Porter’s analytical approach to competitive strategy that emerged in 1980 (detailed in the next section). The structural analysis of industry, a cornerstone of Porter’s approach, can be viewed as an extension of two earlier frameworks: microeconomic supply-demand analysis, and industrial organization (IO), which focuses on the relation between the structure of industries and their profit potential. Porter relaxed the two basic assumptions of supply-demand analysis (many competitors and homogeneity of competitors), while expanding the focus of IO to business strategy.
In this framework there are two stages in the creation of competitive strategy, each stage corresponding to a high-level determinant of profitability mentioned in the previous section (industry attractiveness and competitive position).
The first stage is astructural analysisof the attractiveness of the industry in which a given company is embedded. In this stage, known as a Porter framework, five forces that influence industry attractiveness are identified, as well as the factors (e.g., number of competitors, size of competitors, capital requirements) that determine the intensity of each force. The purpose of the Porter framework is to relate the intensity of competition in a given industry (as qualitatively measured by the combined strength of the five forces) to the attractiveness of the industry, defined as its ability to sustain profitability. Based upon the structural analysis, a particular company may be in a very attractive industry (e.g., pharmaceuticals) or in an unattractive industry (e.g., steel). Note thateven if a firm competes in an unattractive industry, it can still be highly profitable by choosing the proper competitive positionwithin that industry.
The second stage of strategy creation addresses the competitive strategy available to the firm in order to achieve a strong competitive position. Ideally, a firm would want to be in a very attractive industry (e.g., pharmaceuticals) and have a strong competitive position within the industry (e.g., large pharmaceutical firms such as Smith Klein or Glaxo).
The Porter (five forces) framework utilizes the following terms: industry, market, competitors, new entrants, substitutes, buyers, and sellers. The term industry denotes (1) the manufacturers (or producers) and (2) the suppliers of a primary product or service, as well as (3) the manufacturers of alternative products and services that could serve as a substitute. For example, the (conventional) personal computer (PC) industry would include PC manufacturers like Dell and Apple, suppliers of semiconductor chips like Intel and Micron, suppliers of storage drives like Seagate, suppliers of software such as Microsoft, etc. Substitute products include pen-based tablet PCs and small hand-held personal digital assistants (PDAs). In the five forces framework described below, manufacturers and producers will be designated as (1) competitors in the industry if they already have established products, (2) new-entrants if they are trying to enter the industry, or (3) substitutes, if they provide alternative (substitute) products. The term market denotes the buyers (or customers) of the product or service. For example, the market for PCs would include enterprises and individual consumers.
The analytical process of strategy analysis and creation can be decomposed into the following five steps.
There are five key sets of players that constitute the business landscape: competitors, new entrants, substitutes, suppliers, and buyers. Identify key players (companies) for each industry.
The five forces influence the intensity of competition in a particular industry, and therefore the profitability of the firms within the industry: Force 1: the degree of rivalry (or competition) between the competitors; Force 2: the threat of new entrants (or the inverse of this force, the barrier to entry); Force 3: the threat of substitutes; Force 4: Buyer Power (to demand lower prices); Force 5: Supplier Power (to increase material prices).
For each force, determine the key structural determinants which affect the intensity of the force. Porter and Ghemawat provide a detailed set of the determinants for each force, some of which are given in the table below. In the last column of this table we indicate plausible values of each force for the PC industry in the nineteen nineties.
Table 1 goes here
In theory, one wouldqualitatively determine the strength of each force, as indicated in the third column of the above table, then determine the cumulative or combined intensity of the five forces.The collective intensity or strength of the forces will determine the structural strength of the industry, as characterized by attractiveness(profit potential) of the industry. The profit potential is measured by the long term return on invested capital (ROIC). If the collective strength of the forces is high, as in the steel industry, then the corresponding profit potential or attractiveness is low, and vice-versa. At one extreme of this analysis is the perfectly competitive free market, where there are numerous firms all offering very similar products that cannot be differentiated (therefore, the force of rivalry is high), entry is free (therefore, the threat of both new entrants and substitutes is high), and bargaining power of both suppliers and buyers is low (therefore, they are unable to influence price).
Using the PC industry of the 1990s as an example, the qualitative values of the forces shown in the last column of the above table would lead one to conclude that the cumulative strength of the five forces was medium-to-high, and therefore the attractiveness of the industry (i.e., its profitability) was medium-to-low. The PC industry in the 1990s would therefore not be attractive to new entrants.In fact, in the early 2000s, HP’s computer business was unprofitable, and IBM sold its computer business to Lenovo(It is important to note that HP’s unprofitability in computer business in the early 2000s cannot be attributed solely to industry attractiveness being low, but is also due to issues associated with its acquisition of the computer company Compaq).
The basic premise of Porter and Hall was that for a firm to be successful (within a given market) it had to compete based on one of two sources of competitive advantage: cost (i.e., by providing low cost products), or differentiation (i.e., by differentiating its products from its competitors with respect to quality and performance). Porter also proposed that a firm needs to select its strategic target: either by offering a product to the entire market (“market-wide”), or offering a product for a particular market segment. Using these two dimensions (“source of competitive advantage” and “strategic target”), Porter proposed the following three generic competitive strategies:
Porter’s claim is that for a company to be successful in the industry in which it operates it must choose between one of the three generic strategies: cost leadership, differentiated, and focus. If one uses the personal computer industry in the US during the 1990’s as an example, then the competitive strategies of the major players were as follows: Dell was the low-cost leader; HP had a differentiated strategy with high-quality products; Apple had a focused strategy, targeting a narrow market segment of users who whom the user-experience (look, feel, and graphical user interfaces) were extremely important; and IBM had a mixed strategy.
In order for a company to derive competitive advantage within its industry, the company needs to maximize, relative to itscompetitors, the difference between the buyer’s willingness to pay and the costs incurred in delivering the product to the buyer. Therefore, the next step in competitive analysis is for the company to link competitive strategy to strategic planning by analyzing all the activities involved in differentiation and cost.
The value chain (Porter, 1985) is an extremely important tool for this analysis. According to Porter, “the value chain disaggregates a firm into its strategically relevant activities in order to understand the behavior of costs and the existing and potential sources of differentiation.” A three step process for using these activities, first to analyze costs, then to analyze the buyer’s willingness to pay, and finally to explore different strategic planning options to maximize the difference between those two factors, is developed in (Ghemawat, 1999).
Finally, it is important to keep in mind that competitive strategy needs to evolve, especially in a high-technology company where markets, industries, and technologies, are changing relatively rapidly. A good example of the evolution of competitive strategy is IBM’s strategic decisions to evolve from a product-based company in the early 1990s to a services-led company at the present time. In the early nineties, when the company was in trouble, IBM closely examined its business model and strategic direction, and decided to “stay whole” by moving its focus from products and hardware to solutions. One result of this strategic shift was the creation of IBM Global Services in the mid-nineties. By the late-nineties the company moved into e-business solutions, and extended this model in the 2000’s to “business-on-demand”. One result of these shifts in strategy was IBM’s decision to exit the personal computer market by selling its PC business to Lenovo.
A useful framework for understanding these shifts in competitive strategy within a company is the Evolutionary Organizational approach, discussed in the following section. A useful tool to guide the shifts in competitive strategy is the functional map described in Section 4.
The integrated approach to strategy for a technology company, which relates company strategy to the company’s business goals, business strategy, technology strategy, and product marketing strategy, is an important unifying feature of our approach to developing competitive strategy in a technology firm. Since markets, industries, technologies, and products for a technology company are continually evolving, the functional map is an indispensable toolthat plays a vital role in the creation of strategy, and, in particular, competitive strategy (Clark and Wheelwright, 1993).
A functional map essentially is a time-based evolutionary map of one or more key metrics for an important organizational function (e.g., a product performance metric map for the engineering function in a technology firm, such as the well-known Moore’s Law in the semiconductor industry). Since the time-scales for the evolution of markets, industries and technologies for technology companies, especially “high-tech” companies, is short compared to other industries, the creation of the appropriate functional maps is critical to strategy formation in a technology company. As an example, in the relatively short span of four decades, the dominant form of mobile information technology evolved from mainframes accessed viaterminals, to servers accessed via physically networked personal computers, to internet-based and mobile computing accessed wirelessly. Here are some useful “dimensions” along which to create functional maps for strategy creation:
A multi-dimensional functional map for Intel is given in the next section. As an example of how functional maps can shape strategy, we look to the information technology industry. A functional map of the Information Technology Industry from the 1990s to the 2000s would reveal a shift from “products” to services”. The value of the Services business in this industry in 2007-08 was approximately $750B(billion), with IBM as the leader at $54 billion. Seeing this shift in the industry and the need to build competitive strength, HP ($17B) acquired EDS ($21B), one of the largest service companies on the Fortune 500. The combined share of HP and EDS ($38B) allowedHP to compete more robustly with IBM in the expanding IT services market.
The software industry provides another simple example of the use of a functional map in creating strategy. In the 2000s the software market was moving from a “packaged” product to online software, where individuals could get software that is mostly free, supported by advertising. Google used its leadership on the Web to provide online software that competes with Microsoft’s packaged software. Understanding this shift from packaged software to online applications, and the corresponding change in the revenue model from direct sales (of product) to advertising, Microsoft aggressively entered the online advertising business.
If we combine Porter’s positioning framework for competitive strategywith Burgelman’s evolutionary organization theoretic framework, then augment these with the creation of relevant functional maps, the resulting process of developing competitive strategy in a company can be decomposed into four stages, as follows.
Stage 1: Company Analysis
Stage 2: Industry Analysis
Table 2 goes here
Stage 3: Assessment and Evolution of the company’s strategy within the relevant markets and industries
Burgelman, R.A., “Strategy is Destiny”, The Free Press, New York, 2002.
Chopra, Sunil, and Peter Meindl, “Supply Chain Management, Strategy, Planning, and Operations”, Third Edition, Pearson Prentice-Hall, 2007.
Clark, K. B., and S.C. Wheelwright, Managing New Product and Process Development, Text and Cases, The Free Press, New York, 1993.
Edwards, Cliff, “Intel”, Business Week, March 8, 2004, Pages 56-64.
Ghemawat, Pankaj, Strategy and the Business Landscape, Text and Cases, Addison Wesley, 1999.
Mintzberg, Henry and Bruce Ahlstrand, and Joseph Lampel, Strategy Safari, The Free Press, New York, 1998
Porter, Michael, Competitive Strategy, New York, The Free Press, 1980
Porter, Michael, Competitive Advantage, The Free Press, New York, 1985
Autonomous Strategy (also see induced strategy). Autonomous strategy refers to actions of individuals or small groups within the company that are outside the scope of current high-level corporate strategy. While autonomous strategy is constrained by the company’s distinctive (core) competencies, it usually (1) involves new competencies that are not the focus of the firm, and (2) results in so-called “disruptive technologies” that could change the strategic direction of the firm (Burgelman, 2002).
Company Structure(vertical vs. horizontal). A vertical company is one which uses only its own proprietary technologies. A horizontal company is one which (usually because of the existence of open-standards) does not solely rely on its own proprietary technologies, but uses technologies and products from other suppliers. In the computer industry, Apple is an example of a vertical company, while Dell is an example of a horizontal company. The computer industry itself moved from a vertical structure to a horizontal structure in the 1980s (Ghemawhat, 1999).
Competitive Strategy. Competitive Strategy is the high-level strategy used by the firm to realize its business goals, and in particular,profitability, in the face of competition. Porter identified three generic competitive strategies: differentiated, cost-leadership, and focus (Porter, 1980).
Corporate Strategy (official corporate strategy). Corporate strategy is top management’s view of the basis of the company’s success. It includes distinctive (core) competencies, product-market domains, and core values (Burgelman, 2002).
Five Forces. Five forces that influence industry attractiveness are identified, as well as the factors (e.g., number of competitors, size of competitors, capital requirements) that determine the intensity of each force and therefore the cumulative intensity of the five forces. The purpose of the five forces framework is to relate the degree (or intensity) of competition in a given industry, as qualitatively measured by the combined strength (or intensity) of five forces, to the attractiveness of the industry, defined as its ability to sustain profitability (Porter, 1980).
Functional Map. A functional map essentially is a time-based evolutionary map of a key metric for an important organizational function, e.g., a product performance metric map for the engineering function in a technology firm, e.g., the well-known Moore’s Law in the semiconductor industry (Clark and Wheelwright, 1993).
Generic Competitive Strategy (also see substantive strategy). Porter proposed that for a company to be successful, it must adopt one of three generic competitive strategies: differentiated, cost leadership, and focus. Generic strategy is derived from a firm’s distinctive core competencies (Porter, 1980).
Industry. The term industry, e.g., the consumer electronics industry, denotes (1) the manufacturers (or producers) and (2) the suppliers of a primary product or service, as well as (3) the manufacturers of alternative products and services that could serve as a substitute (Porter, 1980).
Induced Strategy (also see autonomous strategy). Induced strategy refers to actions, e.g., new product development, on the part of operational and middle-managers that are directed at gaining or maintaining leadership in the company’s core business (Burgelman, 2002).
Market. The term market denotes the buyers (or customers) of the product or service.Typically markets are segmented, for example, a two-dimensional segmentation based on the types of product (product segmentation) along one axis, and the types of customers (customer segmentation) along the other axis. The market, as represented by “Buyers” is an important part of the industry analysis in Porter’s framework.
Substantive Strategy(also see generic competitive strategy). Substantive strategy is the implementation of the company’s generic strategy in a particular product-market domain (Burgelman, 2002).
|Force||Key Determinants||Strength of the force|
|Rivalry between competitors||Concentration (number) and size of competitors||Medium to high|
|Fixed costs/value added|
|Barrier to entry||Economies of scale||Medium to high|
|Threat of substitutes||Price/Performance of substitutes||Low to medium|
|Buyer Power||Buyer concentration|
|Buyer size (volume)||Medium to high|
|Supplier Power||Supplier concentration||Low to medium|
|Supplier size (volume)|
|Force||Key Determinants||Analysis||Intensity of Force||Actions|
|Rivalry between competitors||Concentration||4 players (Dell,..)||Medium to high||Entry into this market would be difficult|
|Size||1 dominant player|
|Barriers to entry||Brand||High brand identity||High||Since the PC market is hard to enter, explore a different business model, possibly services|
|Threat of Substitutes||Switching costs||High|
|Supplier Power||Concentration||3 major suppliers|
|Influence of complementors|
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