Is the Wave of Technology Innovation Over?

In a recent conversation with an investment analyst regarding a company that he was considering investing in he asked if it was necessary for a mature company to rely upon product innovation for growth. His belief was that if all the “big” development and technology frontiers had been crossed should a mature company focus more on milking a market rather than looking for ways to be competitive through product innovation.

I was somewhat taken back since in every market we continue to see companies use product innovation to enter markets or fend off companies entering their market. Apple is a recent example of a company reinventing itself through product innovation. Have all of the technology boundaries been met. No! As consumers we continue to press industry with high expectations for lower cost, higher performing products with high reliability under demanding conditions.

Successful products today need to be smaller, have more features, have higher degrees of integration and utility. The cell phone and IPod are a prime example of this compression of function, style and integration into an ever smaller footprint. Display and material science technology have been put to the test to deliver voice, music, video and other data to where we are almost anywhere in the world for an affordable price at the touch of a few keys on a keypad.

Design and manufacturing processes continue to evolve to meet faster product development cycles and the need to be able to manufacture in global locations with high volume, high mix and fluctuating or unpredictable supply of necessary components. Manufacturing lines need to be highly responsive to high mix and high volume demands under peak conditions. These demanding features require evolution in manufacturing technology, software design systems, and system integration to allow global integration and management of critical components in a highly secure environment where intellectual property is protected.

Our ability to manage teams of engineers not only in traditional corporate design centers but also using short term engineering resources located in other countries around the world. Effective product development requires project and management systems to have an around the clock communication and documentation environment so that product configurations are managed correctly, accurately and in a timely fashion to meet demanding schedules supporting ever faster product life cycles.

Looking back over the last 40 years we see the arrival of the computer, a rapid expansion of electronic products, the embedding of software to make products smart, the introduction of biotechnology just to name a few of the technology thresholds that we have crossed. Looking ahead we see research that is exploring the integration of engineered products (systems) with body tissue and the nervous system.

  • Research is currently underway at the College of Engineering at Washington State University into new materials to extend the life of the artificial joints by having the material bond with bone tissue.
  • New research showing people connected via electrodes in the brain conducting brain waves to a robotic hand causing the hand to close and sort through messages in an e-mail program. We seem to have many technology thresholds ahead of us and many opportunities for technology innovation to take us across that will increase the quality of life in many ways.
  • Apple is looking at integrating solar cell technology into the iPod and IPhone revolutionizing the traditional method of powering this class of devices.

Technology innovation is a strategic cornerstone for successful companies. Companies that allow there ability to bring technology innovation to their customers atrophy as they attempt to improve their bottom line and move into a position to “milk” their markets are putting their ability to respond to competitive changes in their primary markets at risk.

If you are investing in a company examine carefully where they stand in managing and delivering technology innovation to customers. Market leadership and security is just a technology innovation away. Don’t be a buggy whip in your market!

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