Monday, February 27, 2012

The New Technology Elite: A Book and Author Review

My friend and associate Vinnie Mirchandani has written his second book, The New Technology Elite: How Great Companies Optimize Both Technology Consumption and Production. I asked Vinnie if I could write a review, and he provided a pre-release copy of his book.

I’d gotten bits and pieces of the book from Vinnie’s blog posts and excerpts he released on LinkedIn. But getting a look at the entire book is a whole other experience.

In this post, I'd like not only to review the book--I'd like to also review the author.

A Curious Mind

For regular readers of the Spectator, Vinnie needs no introduction. I’ve been quoting and linking to him for years, even before I met him in person, around 2007. Since then, we’ve become friends. Among industry analysts, Vinnie is someone I consider like-minded.

At the same time, though, Vinnie is something of a strange cat. As a former Gartner analyst and PwC sourcing executive, his background is in enterprise software and vendor management (his blog title, Deal Architect, gives that away).

But over the past several years his focus has shifted to technology innovation more generally. Ever restless, he launched a second blog, New Florence, New Renaissance, I suspect, to help him on his flights of fancy outside the walls of enterprise IT. This has taken him far afield into areas such as nanotechnology, healthcare IT, sustainability, consumer electronics, mobility, and dozens of other corners of technology innovation. From time to time I try to scoop him, by sending him a link to some cool new application of technology, when I spot it. But generally, he’s not only spotted it himself: he’s also written about it. I still try, though.

Vinnie’s interests led to his 2010 book, The New Polymaths: Profiles in Compound-Technology Innovations. There he chronicled dozens of case-studies of organizations that are leveraging a wide range of technologies to solve the world’s grand challenges and improve our lives. Now in his second book, The New Technology Elite: How Great Companies Optimize Both Technology Consumption and Production, he weaves more case-studies into a larger story.

In Vinnie's view, some organizations that are, historically, buyers of information technology, are now turning into technology providers—as they embed new technology into their products and services. Virgin America, 3M, GE, and UPS are examples. At the same time, leading technology providers, such as Apple, Google, Amazon, and Facebook are becoming examples of best business practices, such as in their data center operations, retailing units, and supply chains. He then presents a framework for understanding what these organizations have in common: their 12 key attributes.

He concludes by examining the outside influences affecting these organizations, including the regulatory environment, their impact on society at large, and the ability (or lack thereof) of sell-side financial analysts to understand it all. Lest one think Vinnie is an unabashed technology enthusiast, these last three chapters strike a counterbalance—it’s not all positive.

A Disorienting Experience

Reading the book leads to one overriding impression: the pace of technology change is unprecedented. Sure, we all know this, generally. But, most of us really don’t.

The danger for anyone in a business leadership position today is to not recognize new entrants arising from outside traditional markets. At the same time, it’s no longer enough to look at best business practices within one’s own industry. Often, it’s players in other markets that are setting the bar higher. This is a problem for today’s market leaders, their customers and suppliers, and the analysts that cover them.

Vinnie’s fast-paced writing style matches his subject matter. Just one example: in Chapter 15, Vinnie discusses how quickly GPS technology evolved from in-auto dashboard systems, to standalone GPS devices, to smartphone apps—in less than a decade. He then launches into a discussion about technologies that are being embedded in home appliances, enabling them to connect to smartphones, tablets, and other devices and how this is leading to Samsung—a consumer electronics company—to take market share away from appliance market leaders, such as Whirlpool and Kenmore. He then jumps to an analysis of how difficult it is to forecast demand for new products such as Amazon’s Kindle, or Nintendo’s Wii.

If you have attention-deficit disorder, Vinnie’s book is for you. He piles on examples one after another, barely giving time to take a breath. For the rest of us, it is disorienting. But it serves a purpose: to give the reader overwhelming evidence of the magnitude and pace of the changes taking place in all industries.

A Positive Example

Although his book is on new technologies, Vinnie’s research style is definitely old school. Today too many so-called industry analysts take the lazy way, getting nearly all of their information from vendor briefings and press releases, writing analysis that regurgitates vendor PR talking points, and rarely speaking directly to customers. As a result, they have no original insight.

Vinnie’s way requires more work, but it’s more rewarding: Do your homework, pick up the phone, talk to those at the center of the action, and learn something new.

Then, take a position. Those who engage with Vinnie on Twitter or in blog comments know that Vinnie doesn’t hedge his views. From time to time, I get into debates with him. Although sometimes I don’t agree with him, I respect that he doesn't arrive at a position lightly, and that his opinions are research-based. He doesn’t shoot from the hip. (At the same time, though, I do see an evolution of his thinking in the final version of the book, as compared to some of his earlier blog posts on the same subjects.)

So, there’s much to learn from The New Technology Elite. Moreover, there’s a lot to learn in imitating the author’s example.

The New Technology Elite can be pre-ordered from Amazon. My copy is already on order. It is now scheduled to ship in March, 2012.


Charles Williams said...

Good post.

Phil Simon said...

Looking forward to reading it.