To squeeze more value out of limited resources, compress the innovation stack with (X)aaS
(X) as a Service businesses help the entire ecosystem focus on innovation because they shorten the distance between the vision holders and the market. It is not about user experience vs. engineering or design vs. functions. These are false choices. Enterprise value increases when vision and creativity touch the market more directly. (X)aaS is a conduit to this compression of the innovation stack and moves the innovation opportunity from the ability to build it to the ability to imagine it. (X)aaS represents a democratization of the product creation process and pushes us further into a world where the best idea wins.
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To build a shoe, you need to create molds for all the plastic and rubber parts and dies to cut the patterns for the leather and fabric pieces. When I started at AND 1, every shoe required the services of a designer, a developer, a materials engineer, mold technician and a pattern expert. It took 10 months and countless hours to get to a final product that could be tested, modified and put into production.
6 years later a designer could press print in Portland, OR and a CNC machine in China would carve production ready molds out of a block of aluminum. Technology product replaced the services of 4 people and allowed the vision holder to cut the metal. No translation or interpretation needed. The time from vision to actual product was shortened by a factor of 10 and we could now go from design to a production ready shoe in 30 days.
The most innovative designers, developers and engineers, drove creation and adoption of new technology platforms in the footwear industry. They leveraged technologies to move the vision holders closer to the consumer and redefined the steps in the product creation process. They also redefined the skills that were critical to a company’s success and drove a shift in resources from the steps required to build a single product to the process of product innovation — test and learn as fast as possible.
I see the same thing happening in technology today as some of the most innovative people across the industry produce products out of what used to be services. Platform as a service businesses from telco, to location, to mobile and infrastructure as a service businesses may serve as layers in the technology stack, but they are also compressing the innovation stack. The building blocks are getting bigger and more easily manipulated and this revolution is evident in modern programming languages like Ruby and Node.js and open source resources like GitHub and others.
In the footwear industry, the most effective companies leveraged platforms and products to free their best people to focus on unique, innovative solutions that were proprietary and built enterprise value. Ben Horowitz describes the power of a change in product development focus in the technology industry as the shift from mainframe to client/server computing lowered the effective cost of CPU cycles and drove adoption of relational database architecture instead of hierarchical database architecture:
By moving to the relational model, developers were released from the tedium of navigating hierarchical databases and used their new found freedom to rewrite every existing application…
Platforms replace people and redefine what is commodity by converting services into products. When this happens, the most creative people are empowered to unlock incredible innovation and dive more directly into the product. Iteration becomes cheaper, minds become focused and products become better, faster. However, if your company is not actively compressing the innovation stack and leveraging platforms to create direct connection between vision holders and customers it is game over.