It’s not About If or What, It’s About When

I open my Tech Trek Twitter and read a barrage of tweets bubbling with the latest tech gadgets on the market. A vacuum-extracting coffeemaker? It’s been done. An electronic, cord-less, hands-free breast pump with a downloadable app that tracks your milk production and lists seven different pumping “modes”? Yes, this exists. It’s very exciting to discuss about the future and the newest innovations that have massive potential to disrupt existing industries and our daily lives, making everything smarter and faster. What I want to emphasize today and continue this discussion further is something that has been sitting in my mind ever since the first class, which is: is innovation sometimes not a good thing? Is upgrading now worse than upgrading later? When is the right time to implement a new tech product or system?

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Over the past summer, I had the opportunity to attend a program at Harvard Business School where I worked on cases using the case study method. One of the cases was called Bitfury: Blockchain for Government. This was a long, 25-page case with lots of contextual details, but it was essentially about whether the government of the Republic of Georgia, should adopt a blockchain registry system for its land tilting processes, and if so, when. The efficiency of the whole process for a citizen to would improve tremendously, up to 400 times faster, reducing the registration and verification time from 1-3 days to about 10 seconds and cutting operational costs by 90%. Bitfury, the blockchain infrastructure company involved pitched: trust in the government is low. The government lacks funds. The government also wants to grow their economies. Blockchain is cheap technology, it can move assets out of the black market, and increase transparency and efficiency.

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However, the case is not so much about the splendors of blockchain and its mysterious and wonderous potential. It’s about preventing a scenario of “right tech, wrong time.” The government of Georgia was hesitant to partner with Bitfury on this initiative, raising a lot of skeptical doubts. How is the complexity of the technology going to affect its true efficiency? Will people be discouraged from learning it due to the notion of uber-complexity? What will be the adoption costs associated with moving a whole nation of people to an entirely different system?

The pace of adoption of new technology really depends on both the technology itself and the ecosystem around it. What I found really captivating to learn is the framework in assessing different technological products/innovations for market fit.

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This chart outlines the relationship between technology and the surrounding ecosystem, with We tried to debate and assess where blockchain in government would fall in a certain quadrant. The professor who taught this case told me with studying technological transformation, you cannot focus on just the technology in itself, ecosystems are just as important, and the rate of adoption should be amongst the top factors to take into consideration. Sometimes strengthening incumbent technology may be the more appropriate decision given the situation at hand. Being in different quadrants (which also have a degree of subjectivity) Then again, there rises the question of, how will we know to a certain extent when the ripe time is to introduce a new technological product or implement a new innovation. What exactly would be the best metrics to make such an evaluation? I can think of consumer feedback but consumer opinions alone, although important to regard, are not adequate to provide the most accurate analysis in choosing whether to begin a tech revolution. A lot of different industries from retail to government are no stranger to the urgency of innovation, but nailing the correct timing is the true challenge at hand, a factor that can really influence the success of such innovation efforts.

10 thoughts on “It’s not About If or What, It’s About When

  1. Thanks for the article Allison! I feel like in the tech world there is a large emphasis on speed and being first. At TripAdvisor over the summer, their slogan was “Speed Wins”; it was printed on everything – shirts, mugs, stickers, stuffed animals. The idea was that it’s better to get a product out instead of perfecting it, which really goes against the idea that most of us grew up with of putting your best foot forward. It’s hard to find that right balance between speed and quality!

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  2. Nice blog. Your thought on the relationship between innovations and ecosystem is thorough and critical. Both Uber and Airbnb can prove the importance of getting into the business at the right time. If the founders of Uber and Airbnb started the business of sharing economy and platform in the last century, they probably would fail because of the internet issue. People at that time couldn’t spread and share the information as fast as you could today. I firmly believe that a business needs both a right time and a right place to be successful.

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  3. Great post! It’s actually unbelievable how much work can go into bringing something new to market, and regardless of how useful and well-marketed the product may be, if the timing is wrong, it may never take off. I also think a big part of this has to do with choosing markets that are saturated or unsaturated, applying the blue ocean and red ocean principles of economics/entrepreneurship.

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  4. Great blog! The idea of releasing the right tech at the right time reminds me a lot of our discussion of VCs focusing on product market fit over all other factors of a pitch. Timing really is everything, as you can have the best product but if the world isn’t ready to adapt, it’s useless. It also reminds me of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, in which he explained the the success of oil barons like John Rockefeller and tech giants like Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer owe their fortunes to timing/luck as well (of the circumstances of their birth or resources they were given). It takes an extremely special person to accomplish what these people have, but had their timing been off, it might have been someone else.

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  5. Thanks for sharing Allison! This class has definitely helped me to better understand just how important the ecosystem is when introducing a product. Even if a new product is amazing and can really make a difference, it may not necessarily take to the market due to other factors of the current environment. It does appear that the question about timing a release may never have just one answer, and may in fact always incorporate elements of luck.

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  6. This is a super interesting concept, since blockchain is always questioned in terms of regulation. The thought of incorporating this foreign idea into government is hard to conceptualize. Over the summer, I read a book called “Flash Boys” that talks about how algo-trading has disrupting the finance world. It talked a lot about the traders needed to be ready to accept the idea and be willing to learn about this new concept. Thank you for sharing!

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  7. Great post, Allison! I really liked how you pulled in your outside experience at HBS to tie into that topic of “right tech, wrong time.” We are seeing bursts of new technology all over the place and all the time. It’s exciting living in a fast-paced world with constant innovation, but you raise a great point that sometimes a product just doesn’t have the right market fit and it wouldn’t be beneficial to be implemented. It’s definitely not something I consider often, so thanks for the reminder!

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  8. Interesting post! The relationship between the technology and the ecosystem is worth exploring more, and can help us understand the rationale behind product adoption (e.g. for Google Glass). As we start seeing more urgency for innovation across industries, the timing and ecosystem will become increasingly important.

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  9. Hey Allison,

    This is a great post and definitely so relevant due to tech announcements over the past few weeks. We always have to question whether technology is going too far, and whether people are ready for it. Recently Amazon came out with new Alexa products, including an Alexa Microwave. It will be interesting to see whether people are ready to integrate technology into their household appliances, or if it will be a flop.

    Like

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