Shazeeye's Blog Thoughts on User Experience, Technology and Business

31Oct/110

Using the Four Actions Framework to Craft a Firm’s Strategy

A firm has to have a clear vision in the form of a strategy to define who it is and where it wants to go. Sometimes somewhere along the way this strategy gets blurred and its customers can't differentiate it from its competitors. The four actions framework asks four questions to sharpen the focus and realign the firm's game plan. The four actions framework can also be used to reconstruct customer value in an industry to identify a gap or find new value. The four questions as seen in the image identify factors that reduce, eliminate, raise and create value.

Let's apply this to a case study- PetSmart vs. Petco. You can read the detailed analysis in my paper here - Petsmart vs Petco - 4 Actions Framework or get the highlights below.

Industry analysis

PetSmart and Petco compete in the Pet Care Industry which includes pet food, clothing, healthcare and other pet services. This is an attractive industry based on Porter's 5 forces analysis (read paper for details) with spending reaching $41 billion/year (number which doubled from a year ago). Americans spend more on pet care than what they spend on movies, video games and music put together.

PetSmart’s strategy was to connect emotionally with pet owners by providing services (services strategy) such as adoption, grooming, training, day care and pet hotels. These luxurious pet services made pet owners feel that their pets were being treated as well as family and thus commanded the higher market share (30%) of the pet care industry. Petco their rival which held 20% market share concentrated on selling a larger variety of pets at a premium price (11% more than PetSmart). As PetSmart was a services strategy it partnered with alliances such as Banfield to help in hospital needs and its stores were located in “power centers” unlike Petco whose stores were “neighborhood pet stores” and much smaller in size.

Recommendations to PetSmart to Refine their Strategy using the Four Actions Framework

Raise: Continue to focus on services and add to these based on trends. For example pet obesity is a big trend hence providing pet diet plans and support will grow the pet food (diet meals for pets) vertical as well as services vertical (customer support), which is recurring revenue and ties into their current strategy. A limitation of this suggestion is that existing diet plans companies can easily enter this market with some modifications to their food to cater to animals.

Create: Provide pet super stores: hotel, grooming and hospital all in one. Owners will be willing to come to pet super stores. Based on maximum revenue based on location super stores that are a one stop shop for all pet owners can attract and even take away from mom and pop stores. Visiting vets from Banfield (PetSmart's already existing pet hospital) can be a part of this super store. This will also increase revenue for other verticals. For example, after the dog is treated at the vet the owner may pamper him or her at the spa and then buy the month’s food supply at the pet supply store. A limitation of this suggestion is that a lot of capital is required to create this and Francis is already working on expanding his pet hotels so this suggestion can probably wait once that is implemented and a detailed cost-benefit analysis of this suggestion is carried out.

Raise: Owners like to be a part of the pet grooming ritual as it fills an emotional need for the owners. Provide see -through rooms where owners can watch pets being groomed or trained while they wait (instead of waiting in waiting rooms). Remember, this is a business that caters to human needs through the pet. Feelings of belonging, care and connections are expressed through pets and sharing in these activities only strengthens the connection. A limitation of this suggestion is that this may be a small market (or not). In today’s busy world few may want to watch their pets being groomed. Again market research and testing will clarify this point.

Eliminate: As only 2% of their revenue comes from selling other pets such as birds and fish, etc evaluate if you still want to keep that business or use the revenue from there to better focus on the lucrative services, supplies and food verticals at PetSmart. A limitation of this suggestion is that this will change or limit the scope to only dogs and cats.

31Oct/110

Growth Strategies and Managing Differences in a Global Economy

As more businesses become global companies face challenges in balancing local conditions with economies of scale. The AAA framework by Pankaj Ghemawat is one way to address this challenge. The three A's stand for Adaptation, Aggregation and Arbitrage. Adaptation boosts revenue and market share by maximizing a firm's local presence such as Mc Donald's in India has adapted its menu to suit Indian tastes by providing the McAloo Tikki burger (spicy potato burger). Aggregation standardizes the firm's product or service offerings by grouping together production processes. Apple manufactures its products in China and markets its products in the US.  Arbitrage exploits the differences between regional markets such as call centers in India, factories in China and retail stores in Western Europe.

A firm can choose one of these strategies or a combination. It can also shift strategies at different points in its evolution. IBM started with the adaptation strategy by setting up mini IBMs in target countries and adapting to local needs. In the 1980s it transformed to a regional dependent organization thus shifting to the aggregation strategy. Most recently it shifted to the arbitrage strategy by exploiting wage differentials in India and increasing its headcount in India.

Which globalization option does a firm choose?

In making this decision managers can use the AAA triangle to make a decision. Firms that do a lot of advertising will need to adapt to the local market and lean more towards the adaptation strategy. Those that do a lot of R&D will use the aggregation strategy and firms that are labor intensive will use the arbitrage strategy. Though firms can use a matrix approach and have two strategies in place employing all three has its constraints in terms of limited managerial capacity and a confused culture. It is important to ensure the strategy is a good organizational fit. A firm could also get external support to integrate across borders. IBM has many vendors and joint ventures to help with its R&D and manufacturing. It is also critical to know when not to integrate as this minimizes points of contact and friction. Choosing to use or not use these strategies can help or hinder a  firm's global growth plans.

30Sep/110

Introducing my son, Zahan

Dear Readers, I would like to share some very exciting news. I gave birth to a healthy baby boy on September 12th. His name,  Zahan, is a Persian name and it means the world.  I look forward to the exciting times we will share and will keep you posted on major milestones. I will write one post this month instead of two so please return next month for more posts.

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31Aug/110

Entrepreneurial Ideas at Singularity University

On August 26th I was honored to be a part of the graduation ceremony of the 2011 Graduate Studies Program (GSP) at Singularity University. This university, located at the NASA Ames campus in Silicon Valley, aims to educate and inspire leaders to apply advance technologies to address humanity’s grand challenges. The goal of the ten week GSP program is to develop ideas and solutions that have the potential to positively impact at least one billion people within ten years. The program is well supported and funded by companies such as Google and Cisco and Venture Capitalists such as Vinod Khosla (Co-founder of Sun Microsystems and keynote speaker at GSP 11) and Bob Metcalfe (Founder of 3Com).  This year GSP11 students will choose one of six “grand challenge areas” to focus their projects: Education, Security, Energy, Global Health, Space and Poverty. A few of their ideas are detailed below.

1. IgniSolar: A team of six entrepreneurs have patented and developed a solar panel at one-tenth the price of regular solar panels. Their solution is a concentrated Photovoltaic Solar panel which is flexible, has reflective fabric, requires no tracking and had passive cooling. The technology replaces expensive heavy mirrors with reflective fabric, and minimizes extra features to make a cost effective product. IgniSolar's value proposition is in its complete solution and performance. It generates 20 times more energy at one-tenth the price compared to its competitors. Its target customers are households and commercial customers in sunny climates such as the Middle East, Southern Africa, Northwest India and other places with no or intermittent electricity.

2. Corruptiontracker.org: Dr. Clarence Tan and his team have created a corruption tracking and reporting system. People will be able to submit reports directly through CorruptionTracker.org via SMS, mobile telephony, and our Internet site. To expedite implementation, CorruptionTracker seeks to work closely with the internationally renowned open source platform, Ushahidi. To date, the platform is aggregating data from localized Twitter and Ushahidi anti-corruption deployments but soon will deploy a patented SMS system with mobile application implementation and will include photos, videos and audio recordings that take advantage of mobile telephony technologies.

3. Senstore: provides technological and community tools that make it cheaper and faster for developers to create health devices and applications. Senstore provides the technical and social infrastructure to empower developers to build health monitoring devices cheaper and faster by partnering with existing technology platforms and partners. Their goal is to be open sourced and driven by the community.

You could read more details on projects of the GSP 2009 class here.

30Aug/110

Managing Disruptive Innovation

PARC or Palo Alto Research Center, a Xerox Company in Silicon Valley has contributed tremendously to commercial innovation through ethnography. I am a huge advocate of ethnography and PARC pioneered this process of studying human behavior and "hybridized" it with other social science and analytical methods to optimize it for business application - particularly for addressing new opportunities, customers and markets. PARC owns 2500 patents and have created products such as GroupFire (acquired by Google), Inxight (acquired by SAP) and Uppercase (acquired by Microsoft). You can see some of their presentations here. On August 18th I went for a presentation on Managing Disruptive Innovation by Tamara St. Claire, VP of Global Business Development and Head of Commercial Operations.

Tamara spoke about managing disruptive (vs. incremental) innovation, its risks, two case studies and lessons learned.  Incremental innovation happens in existing markets (left column in image on right) while disruptive innovation happens in new markets (right column) and is more challenging to manage. She mentioned three risks in disruptive innovation - technology, market and execution- emphasizing that markets and execution are the most challenging factors to overcome. A further breakdown of the risks are found in the image below. Lack of credibility/experience (includes C level stakeholders), lack of channel (sales/distribution network) and lack (actually the inability to filter through too much) of information are critical risk factors.

The best way to enter a market of disruptive innovation (with existing or new technology) is to start with a minimal viable product (MVP) introduced at the right time and a strong value chain. MVP is a product with a limited set of features that fits the user needs of a niche market. Once the product has gained an audience ideas to gain mass market with added features can be explored. Tamara gave an example of one of PARC's chip packaging technology which was introduced seven years ago but shelved due to bad timing. It was reworked seven years later by partnering with Sun Microsystems and Oracle due to their advances in chip technology. The value chain are a group of activities (see image below- extreme right) that help to bring the product to market. In existing markets best practices help define a path to market entry but in disruptive markets one has to be flexible and shift gears depending on learnings. It is also critical to partner with experts and consultants studying these new markets as well as visit trade shoes and conferences to learn as much as possible. Partnerships are forged to strengthen the chain and build credibility.

Case Study: Printed Electronics Services

PARC developed low cost disposable printed flexible electronic expertise and devices can be applied in health electronics, packaging and biomedicine. When DARPA (Defense Agency) contacted them to develop an early detection solution to prevent brain injury for soldiers they partnered with consultants and experts to expand their printed electronics services for defense applications. They soon realized they couldn't manufacture the films at the scale desired and thus decided to play a connector role (flexibilty to change is key) between materials and manufacturing.  They partnered with Polyera and 2 other manufacturers thus giving up positions in the value chain and concentrating on their strength (network orchestrator). The lessons are outlined in the image on the right where N=1 means that they relied on more than one consultant or expert to help traverse this new territory and in many cases related to disruptive innovation a group of experts help bring together a holistic viewpoint and a superior product. The other lessons were to be flexible to change course, focus on strengths in the value chain and partner in areas of weaknesses.

Case Study: Content-Centric Networking Protocol

PARC developed a communication protocol complementing existing IP infrastructure to reduce the cost of distributing video and other content in IP/TV networks. Content-Centric Networking uses a unique architecture that caches content closest to the users who request it most thus reducing network capital cost and operating expense.  To create this solution PARC collaborated with Van Jacobson, Chief Scientist at Cisco and an IP/TV expert and took it to open source for feedback. They tested this network with the government and early adopters and used feedback to improve the solution to get critical mass. The lessons here were to get the right commitment, gain critical mass and engage user feedback early.

Overall lessons are to use ethnography to understand how people are using your products and thus have a well defined MVP. Disruptive innovation is more about unique business models and integrating technology. As a company expands it is critical to have a portfolio of products ranging from core to next gen products and using a process to manage this innovation can be the difference between success and failure.

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