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What does Technology Ubiquity Mean for Your Company?

Today in my Managing Innovation and Technology class, we were discussing the 5 kinds of technology adopters according to Rogers’ typology. At first, only innovators and early adopters purchase the new high-tech product. The innovators are the type of customer so excited about technology they might even tape themselves unwrapping the technology itself. (It’s a trend known as “unboxing”, see example here.)

Subsequently,a company faces the challenge of convincing the early majority to adopt the new product. Geoffrey Moore’s “Crossing the Chasm” book is built around this concept and is worth a read. Finally, the company attracts the late majority and laggard segments by cutting price and/or making the product more reliable. See below, via Craig Chelius/Geoffrey Moore:

What fascinates me today is what happens when a technology becomes so ubiquitous that not having the technology makes you odd. While promoting a new album, the rapper Eminem admitted he did not know how to use a computer. This prompted such sensationalistic blog headlines as “Shock of the Century” from astounded bloggers. We’re now at a point where someone whose career does not require computer usage is now insulted for not being computer illiterate. There’s a great philosophical discussion to be had about what happens when our culture separates into tech haves and have nots, but I digress.

The question for today is, as a business owner, how can you take advantage of such tech ubiquity? I wanted to present three rather counter-intuitive ideas on potential strategies and get your thoughts on each. I stress that these are merely intended to start a discussion and are not necessarily a good idea for all firms. These are intended as conversation-starters rather than recommendations.

1. When a technology has become ubiquitous, completely neglect the opinions of innovators and early adopters. But wait, isn’t this a good source of new ideas? Still, consider this. Innovators and early adopters become more demanding as time goes on. Yesterday’s hot technology is today’s ho-hum customer staple. Because early adopters often are thought leaders, companies still try to stay in favor with them. However, the costs of pleasing sophisticated, ever-more demanding customers for a ubiquitous technology may become unbearable for many firms. If summer blockbusters can still become wildly popular despite the dismay of many a movie critic, why not your product?

2. Make sure fundamental aspects of  your product or service do not solely rely on ubiquitous technology. So often, it is tempting to think that ubiquitous technology cannot be replaced, and to lean heavily on existing platforms. However, in the last decade once ubiquitous technology such as analog TV or the VCR have been replaced by new standards. Shorter product life cycles make it easier for companies to correct betting on the wrong technology,but ask someone trapped using DOS software at work how difficult it can be to get rid of existing products built on old technology!

Besides the product being sold, consider customer service and marketing. Companies are emphasizing websites much more in their advertising campaigns, but more than 20% of Americans still do not have access to the Internet. It is tempting for tech-savvy office workers to just assume that customers will be able to access their website, or receive information via text or phone. But doing so leaves some customers unable to participate. There is still a strong no-tech/low-tech market out there that will appreciate simpler options in customer service and marketing.

3. Consider designing new products to target Late Majority and Laggard adopter groups. Amusingly, as technology becomes ubiquitous, these two groups are now the new customers just as innovators were once the new customers. It’s tempting to see these groups as targets that need to be supported and cajoled into accepting the basic technology that the other adopters already know and love. However, consider, for example, the appeal of the iPad to senior citizens, many of whom were reluctant or unable to use computers. Now of course, the iPad was not designed specifically with seniors in mind. But I think there’s a key principle here that can be gleaned from this story.

Sometimes, rather than developing simpler versions of existing technology to try to coax already-burned laggards back into the market, the answer is to try completely new products built on different core concepts. This is not quite targeting segment zero, nor is it a discontinuous technology per se, although elements of both are present in such a strategy. Rather, it is using the needs of the least technologically skilled users (“follower users”, if you will, as opposed to lead users) to drive innovation.

Any thoughts on those loosely-sketched ideas and the companies/industries that would best benefit by putting them into practice? How do you feel about technology ubiquity as a whole?

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5 Responses to “What does Technology Ubiquity Mean for Your Company?”

  1. Xanthe on September 15th, 2010 3:13 pm

    Laggards. What a great word.

    U r right on. In design research, we follow a principle called “look at extremes.” we hold that really valuble insights can be found by looking at Behavior of early adopters and laggards.

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