Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Google: Can it orchestrate a business ecosystem?

Nearly a decade back, everyone wanted to distill lessons from Microsoft's strategy and success. In 1998, my friend and former colleague at MIT Sloan School, Michael Cusumano wrote a successful book Microsoft Secrets with an illuminating subtitle--'How the World's Most Powerful Software Company Creates Technology, Shapes Markets and Manages People.'

Now it looks like management lessons are distilled from Google. Instead of books (which tend to get outdated), we now have many websites and blogs that purport to examine Google. And, there are consulting companies and boutique think tanks that specialize in uncovering best practices from successful companies--including Google.

Ricahrd MacManus of ZDNet has blogged based on JupiterResearch report (which costs a hefty $750).

Understanding Google: Exclusive look at a JupiterResearch report by ZDNet's Richard MacManus -- JupiterResearch recently released a Concept Report entitled Understanding Google. Subtitle: Competing and Partnering with the Most Influential Company Online. It costs $750 to purchase this report, so I asked Jupiter’s Michael Gartenberg if I could get it for free and blog about it - as I did almost 1 year ago with their report on [...]

... (the full blog is worth reading).

The following two points are worth highlighting as they relate to strategy from a network perspective.
"Competitors and partners should think of Google as a platform company that creates marketplaces, products, and services that support consumers’ efforts to organize their information. Google’s corporate insularity results in biases toward secrecy and its existing search technology, and weakens Google in supporting industry ecosystems based on its platform." (my emphasis)
"Google builds platforms and marketplaces based on searching this information, and the way it builds them is colored by its intense inward focus. As it moves beyond information organization to information creation and storage (e.g., Blogger, Base, Gmail, Picasa), it’s not clear Google’s profitable scalability will hold up."

Both these points highlight the importance of structuring and managing a vibrant, dynamic business ecosystem involving a portfolio of relationships (often involving companies that may be competing against Google in some spheres of operations). This is more than superb technical infrastructure. Microsoft has mastered the intricacies of orchestrating a portfolio of third-party developers (independent software vendors, ISVs) to make Windows (and Office) succeed. Google may not have developed the routines to analyze and orchestrate the network of relationships till now but I would not declare them 'inward focused and insular' as the report seems to indicate.

If Google was so insular, how has it orchestrated the AdSense network that contributes to 40% of its advertising revenue ($4.16 billion--for the year ended December 2006)? If Google is so insular, how come, we see so many websites (see
here for a list) that create mash-ups using Google APIs?

If Google has realized that it is a platform company (as the report seems to indicate), then a critical competency is network orchestration. Here, Microsoft has the upper hand by virtue of over a decade of practice. But, in my view, it is premature to declare that Google is insular and inward focused.

We are in the early stages of the shift to the network era. Companies such as Microsoft, Yahoo, eBay, Amazon and Google are in the midst of architecting complex platforms that serve as the infrastructure for the network era just as telegraph, roadway and railroads created the infrastructure for the industrial era in the 19th century. These platforms are just taking shape and business innovations on these platforms are just beginning.

1 comment:

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