Exploration and Exploitation in the Tech Sector

Kodak prototypeBy Scott Strubel, Vice President, Americas Partner Organization, NetApp


Which is More Important?

The ways in which tech sector OEMs and their partners navigate the simultaneous demands of exploring and exploiting will determine their success in helping customers manage a transition of applications and workloads into and out of multiple cloud environments so their data is where they want it when they want it. As tech companies exploit many new technologies being explored, what is required from leaders, and often missing, is the conviction and absolute clarity of what must be exploited over different points in time. 


Organizational Ambidexterity

Harvard Business School’s Dr. Michael Tushman and Stanford University GSB’s Dr. Charles O’Reilly have written extensively on organizational ambidexterity: the need and ability of an organization to both explore and exploit technologies that can accelerate or retain their competitiveness and growth. 


In 1975, Steven Sasson showed his bosses at Kodak a prototype (picture above) for the world’s first digital camera. Kodak waited over 20 years before launching pocket sized point-and-shoot digital cameras. In 2007, Apple launched its first iPhone, which included a digital camera. Five years later, in 2012, Kodak filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Then in 2016, Apple shipped its one billionth iPhone. In doing so, it also shipped its one billionth digital camera. A market that Kodak arguably could have dominated. 


Both GM and Ford had designs pitched internally for a minivan before Lee Iacocca took it to market at Chrysler. By 1996, Chrysler was dominating a growing market for minivans, with sales driving more than a quarter of the company’s car and truck sales and two-thirds of its then record profits. GM had market research to support the viability of the minivan market in 1979, but resources were limited and the van was not prioritized. 


In 1999, Douglas Smith and Robert Alexander published Fumbling the Future: How Xerox invented, then ignored the first personal computer, which details how Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center) was in large part responsible for the first PC, Ethernet networking, the graphical user interface operated with a mouse, and the laser printer. The beneficiaries of their hard work? Apple, IBM, HP, and Microsoft. 


How did these great American corporations excel in innovation only to fail in execution when facing an emerging or evolving market? Some reasons were justifiable at the time, like a focus on priorities that were driving current quarter revenues. Some were not so justifiable, like hoping that disruptive markets would not disintermediate them, and not having the fortitude to forego something lucrative today that may not be there in tomorrow’s market. 


These history lessons can be instructive to both technology OEMs and the partners with whom we bring solutions to market. Dr. Charles O’Reilly has written that surviving and thriving companies can both manage an existing business line and prepare for change. Technology OEMs and their partners must balance what we bring to market with upfront revenue today (ELAs, perpetual licenses, consolidated hardware buys) versus what solutions customers will want that can be turned on and off at will and scaled up or down at will.  


Making available solutions that customers can buy and implement on-premises or buy as a service is not a question of providing one or the other. The answer is providing both and providing all options that the market will expect from us. Tech sector OEMs and their partners need to know where customers want their data today and where they may want it tomorrow. And they need to move their data to where they want it without obstacles. Our partners count on NetApp for great exploration of technologies that allow data to move between the cloud, multiple data centers, and all their devices that matter. NetApp’s successful exploration has led to the Data Fabric vision for how customers can seamlessly manage, secure, and move data across the hybrid cloud.  


But crisp and urgent execution is what our customers and partners will remember, and value even more. At NetApp Insight 2016, we have some exciting news that will make the industry’s most compelling storage and data management portfolio even better. NetApp’s exploration and innovation have led to the fastest, most scalable unified flash platforms. And working with our partners, NetApp will help our customers:

  • simplify their transition to a cloud-ready data center
  • deploy next-generation applications with enterprise-grade data services
  • radically change the economics of their data center
  • freely move data to where it runs optimally
  • manage and protect data with a single set of tools, wherever it resides

Our partners will help customers benefit from NetApp’s leading innovation in seamless data management.  Exploration AND exploitation with urgency. This is what NetApp's partners and customers will see at Insight 2016.