The battle for the customer’s mind – and wallet

Ever since Ries and Trout developed the term “Positioning” in their seminal book “ Positioning – the battle for your mind”, companies that create products have been fighting this imaginary battle of trying to stake claim to a crevice or cranny in the customer’s brain.  Over the last couple of weeks, we have been struggling to excogitate the competitive landscape in which NEPHILA will exist – a seemingly non-existent, yet crowded marketplace.  This note presents some of the insights that have dawned upon us during this period.  I went back to the definition (or at least one of the definitions) of knowledge management to create the canvas on which we would be able to portray the landscape.  The three critical aspects of knowledge management would be:

  • Identify insights and experiences
  • Create, represent and share these insights and experiences
  • Enable adoption of learning from these insights and experiences

We then used the Knowledge Management Maturity levels as props to identify the kind of tools, systems and applications that organizations would use as they went about capturing these insights and experiences to knowledge.  An organization at a lower level of maturity would focus more on discovering insights while an organization at a higher level of knowledge management maturity would strive to create a Knowledge ecosystem – one in which all participants would contribute to and benefit from sharing knowledge; the participants of the ecosystem, at such an advanced level, would not just be constrained to within the employees of the organization, but would expand to include partners, vendors and even customers.

If we were to draw a rough map of the KM Maturity level to the kind of KM that would exist:

Level 2 – Ad hoc knowledge: Primarily drawn from operational reports and MIS.  No formal sharing of knowledge exists.

Level 3 – Applied Knowledge : Processes would be well-defined and technology-enabled solutions would exist to drive the core operations of the organization.  Well-defined reporting and MIS exist; sharing of this MIS across teams – through emails, or social collaboration tools is likely.  Descriptive and diagnostic analysis tools will exist.  A content repository will also likely exist.

Level 4 – Leveraged Knowledge – Strategy-focused organization with possibly a formal budgeting and forecasting process; Balanced ScoreCard or other Performance Management tools may exist.  All business processes will be automated, business rule engines drive automation of workflows.  Datawarehouses and data mining solutions will exist.  Social Collaboration tools may be used extensively.  Enterprise Content Management tools are integrated to core solutions to capture operations-related content.  In larger organizations formal learning management tools will also be used

Level 5 – Dynamic Knowledge – Continuously improving practices – where a high level of integration of data and content is likely.  Such organizations may normally implement data integration platforms (like Websphere or Oracle Suite) where data and content co-exist.  The effort in such organizations tend to “Big Data” integration and including applications that allow sharing of knowledge across the business ecosystem.

In such a scenario, as the level of technology enablement increases, we are likely to find deployment of the following categories of tools:

- Business Intelligence and Analytics
- Data integration tools
- Data warehouse and data mining systems
- Social Software in the workplace
- Performance Management
- Business Process Management
- Enterprise Content Management Solutions
- Learning Management tools
- Knowledge Management Portals
- Knowledge Management systems for specific processes
- E-discovery software
- Bespoke systems
- Enterprise Information Platforms

Depending on the level of automation and process maturity in these organizations we would find one or more of these tools co-existing.  I have tried to order these tools set in increasing order of process maturity.  Of course, some of the tools lower down in the order may exist in some basic form in organizations with lower level of KM Maturity too.  Similarly, the functional breadth of these individual tools itself can vary depending on the sophistication of the tool (for example, a BI tool may provide parts of Performance Management and Dashboards)

Having drawn up this two-dimensional framework, we need to discover our place on the map!

At one end of the spectrum, we can find ourselves a very nice niche in Level 2 organizations – one in which organizations will see a lot of value – a little bit of everything and just what is required to make them take the first step towards discovering knowledge in the workplace.  On the one hand, we are in a position to play the role of consultant, evangelist and a lot of things in between.  On the other hand, where we have identified specific sectors, and a niche set of tools to integrate with, we can offer an on-the-cloud solution – no consulting – take-it-as-it-is approach.

Level 5 – at this point is perhaps not our preferred market for multiple reasons, the customer not even willing to look at us, notwithstanding.  However, that will be the target market in the future – where NEPHILA can be the knowledge biosphere in which the ecosystem can exist.  We will need to ensure that the product roadmap takes us to that point.

So, in a sense – our primary market in the immediate future would be the companies which are in level 3 or level 4 of KM Maturity.  Who do we expect to see in this competitive landscape:

a) Companies that have one or more characteristics that we offer – and therefore would compete on budget
b) Companies that are niche solutions and address one or more specific aspects of the business – which would make it difficult for us to compete with

As organizations move from Level 2 to Level 3 – they would invest in Business Intelligence and data integration tools.  They would predominantly be focused on making sense of the data they have.  They may have content management systems and those would enable the organization drive process maturity.  These are likely to be two disparate activities – however, both would be investments from the same budget – one that has been allocated towards “non-critical (read non-operations or transaction-based) applications.  Our ability to present a case where we are able to bring content and data together, and present them in the context of business performance can be the critical success factor against such competition.

As organizations move from level 3 to Level 4 – they are likely to have the BI and analytics tools in place.  The focus is in driving strategy and from an operational perspective; the value they would seek is in prescriptive and predictive analytics.   Here, the competition is the more sophisticated analysis, and recommendations based on data patterns.  Social collaboration and learning tools will already exist – in whatever form of usage.  Here, our competition is in being able to show the seamless transition of learning to knowledge and how value derived from recommendations is being transformed to knowledge.  We will not be able to compete with any of these tools.  Our success will depend on how well we can integrate with such tools, and provide greater value than is possible from the mere use of these disparate sub-systems.  The ability to succeed will depend on a high level of seamless integration and ease of use.  We will be in coopetition with these tools – complementing their existence rather than taking them head-on.  Our product roadmap is driven towards higher and better level of integration with these tools to enable seamless interaction.

So, what will our roadmap look beyond the initial 18 months when we are still in the primary development phase of the product:

  1. Creating ready-to-go solutions for specific markets
  2. Integration with the higher-end players to provide seamless interactions
  3. Creating the tools and utilities required to transform insight and learning into knowledge in an intelligent manner
  4. Developing a Knowledge ecosystem – more as a solution, than as a platform.

Are you in agreement with this landscape?  What elements do you see that are not in conformity with what we are doing now?