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Incumbent’s Curse: To be or not to be

Whether it is elections in India, or a service delivery model of a market leader in any sector, the incumbent is always at a disadvantage. Be it their government, their services like banking or healthcare, or their retail experience, the consumer wants them to continuously evolve in a direction which they perceive as beneficial to them. As time bound service contracts become passé, disruptive technology becomes available at affordable prices (think 3D printers, e-books, digital content, Google fiber, multi-core smart phones) today’s consumers and clients are exposed to a plethora of choices. With lowered exit cost barriers it is becoming imperative that a business does all it can to retain their customers.

Organizations realize that they not only have to ward off direct competitors but also cope up with tangential attacks from substitutes powered by disruptive technology. The choice between a successful well proven business model and a new idea is never easy. In the first case the organization risks its immediate client base by diverting significant funds and effort for turning an innovative idea into a winning product. This strategy has a high probability of failure which might cost them a significant market share. HTC lost a large portion of its small-medium priced phone market share in its bid to create a premium flagship smartphone model. In the second case, it believes in its business model and tries to take incremental steps to make it more robust till it is too late for them. Blockbuster, Blackberry and Borders are examples of organizations which could not counter the threat of new market players like Netflix, Android (Samsung, LG etc.) and Amazon. There is also a third case of the likes of Barnes & Noble and Nokia where the incumbent tries to play it safe by not going all out for the new technology but yet has a back-up plan to survive. So what’s the magic mantra? To me it remains the quintessential quest.

Though one thing I firmly believe in, is that the fickle consumer / client has become even more choice aware and will try out the new flavor of the month if they feel that their implicit or explicit objectives are not being met in the vendor-client relationship. Thus it is essential that organizations know the pulse of their clients and consumers and be geared towards meeting their changing demands. Analytics can play a key role here. Predictive analytics can help organizations preempt attrition by taking mitigating measures while social media and web analytics can help them know what some of their consumers are thinking and provide insights into their future behavior.

While the objective of analytics i.e. to provide actionable insight, remains the same, the demands of the information consumer have drastically changed. They want a lot more data crunched in much shorter time frames and yet presented with all the bells and whistles. With today’s scalable cloud computing infrastructure like AWS available and tons of reporting packages which play well with them it’s almost possible. It is also possible for the security conscious to invest and manage the requisite infrastructure in-house. The JIT (Just in time) lean principle applies here as well. An organization should only generate information and insights at the speed which it can take action on. Anything more could be a waste of resources.

Thus at the end of day, know the customer’s pulse, make an informed choice between evolutionary and revolutionary changes to your business model and be prepared to be blind-sided by someone your organization may have never heard of. To be or not be is an incumbent’s curse but making an informed choice and being prepared for change must never be a dilemma.

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