One of those two was from Karsten Manufacturing, maker of Ping golf clubs, and he described how each day was an unscripted adventure because Ping's customers and prospects expect and demand a certain level of customization with their equipment. As he explained the challenges such a business model requires, I could see some of the other guests around the room shaking their heads in wonder: Could my company do that? Are we that agile and nimble? Are we that attuned to what our customers want, and to what our suppliers can deliver? If my competitors started down such a path, could I keep pace or would they put tire tracks down the middle of my back?
I would suspect that over the next several years, lots more companies will develop the capabilities to perform that daily alchemy of turning what in the morning is the unknown into what by 5 p.m. are finished products and services. And that will be an enormous step forward for those companies and their customers.
But it won't be enough. Because the rules always change, don't they? And I think that one day last week at lunch, I heard one of the new rules. It's in the form of one of those "event to resolution" chains, and it came from SAP executive board member Shai Agassi. He calls it "availability to sale." If you're playing with any sharp instruments, I suggest you put them down because grasping this concept requires more than a little concentration.
Agassi said SAP has a customer in Europe that has turned the old model (gee, it just got new---can it really be "old" already??) on its head. Instead of saying, "This is what we're going to build today, so go find the suppliers who can get us the best materials at the lowest price," Agassi said that this highly tuned company instead says, "Let's call up our best suppliers, find out what they might be selling today that's really, really cheap, and then figure out what we can build with that while simultaneously investigating if there's enough demand for that whatever-it-is for us to go ahead with the purchase." If the market-demand inquiries show enough hunger for the product, then this company buys the stuff that today is really, really cheap and begins to make stuff that is either better or cheaper than what any competitor can offer.
This, Agassi said, is a perfect example of how process innovation is totally overwhelming technical integration as a value driver for CIOs and their employers. This type of approach allows companies to compete on speed, to compete on unique competitive advantage, and to interlace more tightly the bond between buyer and seller.
Agassi positioned this unfolding approach as vital evidence behind one of his theories on what enterprise software today is all about. Over time, he said, technology's focus has shifted across accomplishing certain tasks more quickly. At first, it was "time to [financial] transparency," and not so long ago it could take a company months to close its quarterly financial records; then it was "time to product," where IT was essential in reducing development times. Today, Agassi says, it's about "time to change" -- helping us move faster than our competitors and at least as fast as our customers.
So even if the "availability to sale" strikes you as a tad too outre, look at the bigger picture: How would your "time to change" curve stack up against your competitors?