Customization is the effort which is involved to significantly modify the inherent utility of a product or service to fit a specific need using highly trained resources to accomplish a specific purpose. Customizations are typically more expensive than simple configurations given the highly talented labor pool that is required to execute. A very good heuristic to use when determining if something is a configuration or a customization, is to think of someone that you know well outside the field of endeavor that you are in, then postulate a situation, where you wanted something changed in a technology that you use frequently. If this individual could accomplish your request with minimal guidance, then most likely you requested a configuration. If the request that you made cannot be satisfied with ease or without several additional questions, then most likely you have requested a customization for which this individual does not possess the necessary skills to accomplish.
Configuration and Customization are terms that many use interchangeably and easily without thoroughly understanding the difference between these highly divergent concepts. The act of configuration is modifying the attributes of a product or service for particular use. In economic terms, there is some utility or function which the product or service inherently provides, which is preferred; however, the product, device or service needs to be modified in some way to fit the particular use for the organization or individual.
A simple example of configuration involves a software application such as Microsoft Word. Suppose that there are two individuals who are using Microsoft Word for different purposes. As a result of these different purposes or use cases, one individual requires that the font size of what he or she is typing be Times New Roman 20 pt, while the other individual requires the font size of their document to be Times New Roman 16 pt. Within Microsoft Word, each individual can readily change the font size of the document with great ease between 20 pt and 16 pt font sizes through the simple click of button. This action, by two distinct users can be performed with relative ease and minimal effort. This activity does not require a high degree of technical knowledge of the inner workings of the Microsoft Word application, nor does it require hours of training. The aforementioned trivial example indicates configuration.
A wonderful illustration of the Technology Paradox is the case of the New United Motor Manufacturing Incorporated (NUMMI) venture which began in the mid-1980’s and which ended recently in 2010. The highlights of the case study are that General Motors observed that the Japanese auto manufacturers were out producing American automobile manufacturers with an increased consumer quality rating. Given this situation and the challenges that the American auto industry was experiencing, General Motors had the foresight to propose a joint venture with Toyota to observe Toyota’s development and production practices. The site of the experiment would be in Fremont, California and would incorporate both organizations developing automobiles in two distinct plants that were in close proximity. Toyota would agree to this venture as to also observe U.S. manufacturing processes, and learn how to better market their automobiles to a highly fickle U.S. automobile consumer market. The irony of the story now unfolds very quickly and supports my Technology Paradox argument. Toyota is provided antiquated technology and General Motors is provided cutting-edge technology of the time.
After several months of production cycles, resource and environmental challenges, the executives of both companies observed the aftermath of their socio-technical experiment, which unbeknownst to them would serve as a foundational lesson for years to come in many Harvard Business Review articles and cases. What both parties came to determine, was that Toyota out produced General Motors by several times. This came as quite a surprise to the General Motors’ executives who surely would have expected equal if not slightly better production than their Japanese colleagues who were given an unproven workforce in a foreign environment.
This experiment immediately resulted in detailed discussions and activities focused on determining the primary attributes for the significant success of the Japanese manufacturer. After thorough deliberation and research, the General Motors’ executives realized that the social culture, processes and communication structures of the Toyota manufacturing environment greatly influenced Toyota’s success leading to further introspection into the closely held belief that technology is the most crucial element in an organization’s success.
In Macro-Economic Theory, there is a very well-known model known as the Solow-Romer Growth Model, which applies to the Macro-Economic theory of countries and which mirrors my Technology Paradox argument. The Solow-Romer Growth Model primarily asserts that each country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) / Gross National Product (GNP), essentially the country’s output of product or services is dependent upon four key factors. The primary factors that the Solow-Romer Growth Model asserts distinguishes one country between another are: Ideas, Technology, Available Capital and its Labor pool.
The prior incarnation of the Apple iPhone was the Apple Newton. A device which nearly twenty years prior to the advent of the Apple iPhone was a dismal failure of the Apple Corporation; however, Apple’s insight into future trends of technology development as well as consumer preferences paved the way for Apple’s iPhone product roadmap which revolutionized the consumer mobile telecommunications landscape.
Through innovative design and avant-garde marketing, Apple was able to essentially reinvigorate the Apple Newton to the iPhone that it is today. The purpose of this story is to demonstrate that sometimes the success of an organization is not predicated solely on the implementation of cutting-edge technology but its vision and its utilization of supporting resources such as people, processes and marketing, which can eventually propel a company to unprecedented accomplishments.
The consulting landscape is such that a consultant’s primary goal is to provide guidance and utility to the client, so that the client’s overall end state is better than the original beginning state. In the consulting landscape, the client continues to employ the consultant as long as the consultant provides value in some capacity and in alignment with reasonable fees charged by the consultant.
The consultant perhaps provides additional intellectual capital, physical labor or business intelligence to supplement the client’s current limited resources. The consulting paradox occurs when the consultant becomes such a trusted advisor that the client begins to treat the consultant as if they were an employee of the organization. Given this, there is a tendency for the client to become more casual with the consultant, thus prompting similar casual interactions from the consultant. The irony of the situation is that the consultant may eventually lose the very objectivity and formality which made the consultant valued in the first place by the client.
Technology is a strategic asset viewed by the CIO Elite, which can be used to automate extremely manual processes and facilitate processing of data and tasks for organizations. As such, technology is a highly strategic asset which can also have an adverse effect on an organization if the product or service that an organization provides is of poor quality or processes.
Professor Emeritus and Statistician Edward Rolf Tufte, has with great simplicity and eloquence, described the importance of the interrelationships between data and information as well as their placement. Mr. Tufte’s intense public criticism of Microsoft PowerPoint and the misplacement of information has resonated with many across the business and scientific community; Mr. Tufte’s analysis of the events which lead to the Space Shuttle Columbia Disaster resulted in Mr. Tufte’s opinion that the misplacement of data and information in Microsoft Power Point resulted in oversights by NASA program management.