Traversing the Valley

In Walter Isaacson?s biography of Steve Jobs, Isaacson describes the time that Jobs cold called Wendell Weeks, the CEO of Corning, Inc., to learn about Gorilla Glass (which is now used in more than 500 devices). Weeks? assistant refused to put him through, but offered to take a message. Jobs described that as “typical East Coast B.S.” In response, when Weeks returned the call, he was told by Apple’s receptionist to put his request in writing and to fax it.
When the two ?nally did meet, Jobs tried to impress Weeks with his knowledge of glass, and Weeks had to tell him to shut up — Corning, of course, has been making glass and ceramics for a century.
This anecdote is partly funny, partly troubling. It is made funnier by the fact that Corning, due to customer NDAs, cannot publicly confirm that the meeting ever took place. It is troubling, because few Valley companies look at companies in Kansas or Kenya as potential suppliers or partners — though their CEOS are happy to fly there to close a big customer sale.
In broader terms, it is symptomatic of how little the Valley knows about how much technology is being developed in corporate America. And in reverse, it hints at how little corporate America knows about the world class operations of many Valley companies. Both sides should wake up to the consumerization of enterprise tech and the enterprising of consumer tech.

The consumerization of enterprise tech

When I started research for my book, “The New Technology Elite,” I assumed that about ten industries (autos, medical devices, etc.) and a few outlier companies, such as Nike with its sensor-enabled shoes, were leading the way when it comes to embedding technology in products and services. My assumption was quickly proven wrong. I discovered a wide range of companies offering “smart” products and services, and I ended up covering more than 75 industries in my book. Here are just a few examples:
•    The smart shirt from Under Armour has a removable sensor pack with a triaxial accelerometer, a processor and two gigabytes of storage to measure athlete performance.
•    Do (as in Dough) in Atlanta is serving up a smart restaurant. Not only has it replaced paper menus with iPads, but the tablets can also be used to tell the valet to pull up your car.
•    Moen is making the shower smarter. The IOdigital wall-mounted control panel with a handheld remote lets you set and maintain water temperatures and bath levels.
•    Rain Bird?s ESP-SMT irrigation controller makes lawn maintenance smarter. It utilizes historical and real-time weather data (you input data such as your zip code, allowed watering days and the plant and soil type for each zone) to determine the optimum watering time and amount.
•    John Deere?s FarmSight initiative helps farmers in three areas: Machine optimization for increased up-time, logistics optimization for better ?eet management, and decision support with user-friendly monitors, sensors and wireless networks to enable access to machinery and agronomic data.
•    Progressive Insurance offers Snapshot, a small telematics device that connects to the car?s electronic diagnostic port and allows Progressive to monitor your driving patterns. And if the data shows that you are a safe driver, Progressive promises to discount your premium by up to 30 percent.
Many in the Valley still talk contemptuously of Xerox or Blockbuster and think corporate America does little interesting in the way of technological innovation. Based on the list above, that?s clearly a dated perspective.

The enterprising of consumer tech

In reverse, corporate America dismisses much of the Valley as “consumer” tech. Instead, it should be studying the operations at tech companies. For example, corporate America has much to learn from HP?s complex global supply chain and how it can adjust to countless hiccups — including ones caused by the Japanese tsunami and the Icelandic volcano — and also how it deals with longer-term shifts as it integrates acquisitions and transitions from PCs to laptops to Ultrabooks. Similarly, Apple is running retail operations better than Nordstrom. eBay?s PayPal unit is running better operations than many banks. Google and Facebook are running data centers far more efficiently than IBM. There are many more examples that show that Valley companies are the new “best practice” leaders in many operational areas.

The new technology elite

The convergence of the two powerful trends described above is revising the de?nition of technology excellence and who quali?es today as a “technology elite.” It is no longer just about being fluent in the geeky jargon of Big Data and cloud architectures.
Today’s tech elite are focused on:
•    Product design elegance
•    Physical presence in strategic retail locations
•    Ecosystems of developers and thriving app stores
•    Social savvy
•    Combating hacker groups such as LulzSec and Anonymous
•    Pragmatism in a world where attorneys are even more in?uential than engineers
•    Being able to ?y to Xiamen or Xanadu at a moment?s notice
Geoffrey Moore popularized the saying “crossing the chasm.” It?s time for companies on both sides to “traverse the Valley.” There?s much to learn from each other.
Vinnie Mirchandani is the author of “The New Technology Elite” and other books on technology enabled innovation. He also consults with CIOs on technology strategy. He can be emailed at vm AT dealarchitect DOT com.