A day at the Wharton School

Last Friday I attended a Wharton School conference on technology-enabled business transformation. It was a small gathering of students, academics, and Philadelphia-area businessfolk who partner with Wharton on variety of projects. The agenda was diverse and open-ended.

My own talk riffed on the theme of syndication. I borrowed Rohit Khare’s phrase syndication-oriented architecture, and talked about how Internet-scale publish/subscribe mechanisms — including not only RSS feeds but also things like Facebook news feeds — will also work inside the enterprise.

Coincidentally, BEA’s Shane Pearson was making a similar case at Defrag, as reported by Phil Windley:

Shane asked “what if wanted to know what articles and blogs my co-workers were reading?” He then put up a slide that showed what Facebook might look like if it provided enterprise-friendly functionality.

Shane Pearson's Facebook for the enterprise mock-up

This got my attention. Maybe it’s been obvious to others, but I’ve informally done similar things with co-workers—shared what we’re reading—but this could make it more automatic. I’d welcome the opportunity to see more of what my co-workers think is interesting in any given day.

Update: Andrew McAfee writes on this same topic today:

One of my Facebook friends told his network via his status message that he was going to accompany a foreign head of state to a high-level meeting on technology issues. Because I was only weakly tied to this person I had no idea that he was that well connected or interested in public policy. But as a result of his Facebook update, which took him about ten seconds to type and me one second to read, I now know who to reach out to should I ever want to dive into European IT issues.

I also suggested that enterprises will want to embed these kinds of feeds in their service-oriented architectures, in order to enable declarative control of authentication, reliability, and auditing. And I noted that in the Microsoft portfolio, the Windows Communication Foundation and the Internet Service Bus are ways of providing that kind of control.

This wasn’t a geek crowd, though, it was a business school crowd, so I didn’t spend much time talking about plumbing. But the broad theme of lightweight syndication, as an enabler of what I called the enterprise awareness network, was very well received. Perhaps that’s because technical folks take these concepts for granted. But in this group, very few were regular users of RSS readers. Afterward, though, I heard lots of comments along the lines of: “Hmm, that would make a lot of sense.”

The other speakers were mostly business school types, and their perspectives were quite different from those I encounter at tech conferences. Here are some snapshots.

Tom Eisenmann delivered a broad survey of emerging business models in which network effects play a key role. He said that 60% of the world’s 100 largest companies earn > 50% of their revenues from platform-mediated networks. One example of a platform-mediated network is the Xbox ecosystem. It is a “two-sided network”: i.e., developers on one side, users on the other. Network effects occur both within and across those two sides. The principles that govern the creation and management of businesses based on those network effects, he said, are only now emerging.

Peter Fader gave an entertaining “I told you so” talk on Napster. What he told us, back in 2000, was that Napster was the right thing for the music industry, if they could only have wrapped their heads around it.

His view of what the music industry should do (apart from not suing customers) is:

  1. Don’t let an outsider (i.e. Steve Jobs) drive your industry
  2. Create the celestial jukebox
  3. Get people sharing and discovering music again
  4. Make money with subscriptions

What about the claim that you can’t compete with free? He doesn’t believe that. With superior selection, convenience, and service — plus the innovation that becomes possible when you unleash network effects — he says you can.

Ravi Aron talked about a study in which people in Asian countries and in the US/UK were asked to rate the complexity of various tasks. A stunning difference emerged. In Asian countries, people said that tasks requiring analytical and mathematical skills were simple, whereas tasks involving judgement, negotiation, and interpersonal skills were complex. In the US/UK, it was exactly the reverse!

He suggests that as businesses reconfigure themselves into composable sets of services, outsourcing will flow in both directions, divided along these lines.

1 Comment

  1. “He suggests that as businesses reconfigure themselves into composable sets of services, outsourcing will flow in both directions, divided along these lines.”

    Hmm. That’s an interesting observation, but the prediction is a bit simplistic. On the one hand, in Asia mathematical/analytical skills are stressed in the education system (beginning with primary education), so from that perspective perception aligns with reality.

    On the other hand, negotiation and interpersonal relations are actually a much harder problem (and a much *much* higher-stakes environment) in Asia. This can actually lead to ‘deer in the headlights’ paralysis in spite of better developed skills in this area.

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