"Strategy and the Internet" revisited

By mdangeard, published at 9 June 2008 - 6:07am, last updated 6 years 7 weeks ago.

In these times when economic trouble seems to be looming (did you hear about budget cuts and rising cost of gas?), and when the hype over the web20 revolution seem to have been another mini-bubble, it is interesting to go back to the basics. And a good place to look is this article "Strategy and the Internet" that Michael Porter wrote in the Harvard Business Review in March 2001. The lesson from the article is that we should not lose the focus on strategic development and competitive advantage. It was true then and it is true now. But in the light of what has happened since then, a few things should be added to the previous analysis.

Here are some exerts from the article:
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The great paradox of the Internet is that its very benefits –making information widely available; reducing the difficulty of purchasing, marketing, and distribution; allowing buyers and sellers to find and transact business with one another more easily–also make it more difficult for companies to capture those benefits as profits. (...) The openness of the Internet,with its common standards and protocols and its ease of navigation, makes it difficult for a single company to capture the benefits of a network effect. (...) In general, however, new Internet technologies will continue to erode profitability by shifting power to customers.
(...) As all companies come to embrace Internet technology, moreover, the Internet itself will be neutralized as a source of advantage. (...) Established companies will be most successful when they deploy Internet technology to reconfigure traditional activities or when they find new combinations of Internet and traditional approaches. (...) Only by integrating the Internet into overall strategy will this powerful new technology become an equally powerful force for competitive advantage.
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This remains true if you consider the Internet as a technology, which seem to be the "lens" Michael Porter used when writing his article. But I believe that we need to consider also that the Internet has become more than just a technology, it is now also about people, the famous social networks that appear everywhere and are today the next hot thing, the "ConsumActors" as Xavier Comtesse calls them.
When Michael Porter states that "new Internet technologies will continue to erode profitability by shifting power to customers", he was not taking into account (who could at the time?) the value that customers can add, the famous "user generated content" that can actually help boost profitability instead.

The good news is that in the end, we can all agree that the answer is that "only by integrating the Internet into overall strategy will this powerful new technology become an equally powerful force for competitive advantage".
And for this, Xavier Comtesse (see my previous posts about his work here and here) is offering us 2 very powerful tools:

  • A matrix to understand a market or how to deploy a product strategy that includes customers in the value chain
  • And now a Value Chain 2.0, to add on top of the "Prominent Applications of the Internet in the Value Chain" that Michael Porter show in his article


This latest document (Value Chain 2.0) is a great way to clarify how we should consider the management of the ecosystem, by including both internal and external resources into the equation, and by considering how the data+knowledge should shared as the main strategy driver: the company as the underlying platform supporting one large ecosystem rather than a fortress of employees interacting with customers and suppliers. If you had any doubt that there is no other choice than to do it, now is the time to take a look again. Thank you Xavier for clarifying all this for us...