Five Competitive Forces of Technology and Three Generic Technology Strategies: A New Theory of Competitive Technology Strategy

Each of the five competitive forces of Porter's theory is a blend of technology and management, deployed in different proportions by each firm. Theory and practice focus on how management and leadership are the variables to work on. To the extent that both management and leadership are significantly related to persons and personalities, there is a trainable or developable human element as an influencer. Less understood are the forces that determine the competitiveness on the technology dimension. Does education drive technological competitiveness or does laboratory infrastructure drive; and, does experimental culture drive technological competitiveness or does risk-taking culture drive? Probably, these propositions are too generic to explain the competitive forces of technology all by themselves.

The true and sustainable premise is that new competitive technology makes existing mature technology obsolete. There are five powerful forces of technology: (i) the power of new functionalities (ii) the power of substitute materials, (iii) the power of substitute processes, (iv) the power of operating system, and (v) the power of supportive ecosystem. Competitive forces are forces that need to be generated and harnessed by firms to attack or overcome the attacks of competitors. Factors like science and technology levels, investment levels, and R&D commitment are underlying enablers but not the manifestations of competitive technology forces. Product functionalities, materials and components, manufacturing processes, operating systems, and ecosystems, on the other hand, are the real sources of competitive force.

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Synergy of Innovation and Perfection: Towards the Ultimate Competitive Advantage

If innovation drives the boundary of user experience, perfection establishes the quality of user experience. Innovation has one-time design costs while perfection has recurring manufacturing costs. The combination of innovation and perfection thus determines the lifecycle costs for the company and the lifecycle value for the company. Companies choose combinations which suit their business position and market standing. The synergy comes from a combination of technology and people, a competitive and proactive mindset being the underlying behavioural foundation. Without innovation, perfection has little space while without perfection, innovation can go awry. Spark plug illustrates; it is the heart of the internal combustion engine which in turn is the core of the petrol-powered automobile.

Spark plugs have seen a leapfrog in sparking efficiency and maintainability over the last several decades due to a combination of more advanced materials (innovation in materials sciences) and the deployment of tighter tolerances in each of the components, not limited to the electrodes (perfection in design and manufacture). Use of exotic iridium and platinum materials for central electrode and ground electrode respectively, and tight ultrafine tapering and gap setting promote not only high-efficiency sparking but also long life and more effective self-cleaning characteristics. The synergy of materials innovation and manufacturing perfection that the modern-day spark plug represents is also illustrative of how innovation and perfection can be synergistic to achieve ultimate competitive advantage for firms.

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Scientific Temper and Technological Perfection: The Driver of National Competitive Advantage

Organizations contribute to a nation's wealth and national competitive advantage. The Government of India has recognized the importance of science and technology and created an exclusive department of science and technology. It is, however, a moot point if the fervour of science and technology truly pervades India, Inc; for, if it were, India would have been far less import-dependent on products of high technology and far more export-competitive in terms of India-made high-technology products. Part of the reason is the digression of talent, focus, and investments from the demanding aspects of science and technology to the glimmering aspects of management and administration. Scientific temper and technological perfection should be pursued as national core competencies to derive national competitive advantage.

In emerging economies such as India, in particular, science and technology must be deployed to uplift the vast sections of the society. This requires a two-fold deployment of science and technology. At one level, the best of science and technology must be mastered to make India a globally competitive industrial power. At another level, science and technology must be optimized to serve the vast indigent sections of the society through universal access to better social infrastructure and public services; roads, schools and colleges, hospitals, public transport, power, housing, for example. The former would bring in economic power while the latter would usher in social equity for India. Together they would make India's socio-economic development complete.

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