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Thriving with digitized products : How firms leverage their generative capacity via experimentation, learning, and collaboration

  • Advancements in Internet of Things (IoT), cloud and mobile computing have fostered the digital enrichment—or “digitization”—of physical products, which are gaining increasing relevance in practice. According to recent studies, global IoT spending will exceed USD 1 Trillion by 2021 and there will be over 25 billion IoT connections (KPMG, 2018). Porter and Heppelmann (2014) state that IT is “revolutionizing products [as …] IT is becoming an integral part of the product itself.” Senior business executives like GE’s former CEO Jeff Immelt (2015) are even proposing that “every industrial company in the coming age is also going to become a software and analytics company.” This reflects the increasing relevance of IT components’ (i.e., software, data analytics, cloud computing) integration into previously purely physical products. We call IT-enriched physical products, “digitized” products to differentiate them from purely intangible “digital” products, such as digital music, e-books, and software. Examples of digitized products include the Philips Hue smartphone-controllable lightbulb, Audi Connect internet-connected cars, or Rolls-Royce’s sensor-enabled pay per use jet engines. Digitized products provide their producers with a wide range of opportunities to offer new functionality and product capabilities (e.g., autonomy) that traditional, physical products do not exhibit (Porter and Heppelmann, 2014). In addition, the digitization of products allows producers to continuously repurpose their offerings, by extending and/or changing the product functionality and, thus, enabling new value creation opportunities. Based on their re-programmability and connectivity, digitized products “remain essentially incomplete […] throughout their lifetime as users continue to add and delete […] and change […] functional capabilities” (Yoo, 2013). For instance, the Philips Hue connected lightbulb enables remote control of basic functions (e.g., switching on and off the light) as well as setting more advanced light scenes for day-to-day tasks (e.g., relax, read) via Amazon’s Alexa artificial intelligence assistant (Signify, 2019), offerings that were not intended use cases when Signify (previously known as Philips Lighting) created Hue in 2012. Thus, digitized products present limitless potentials for new functionality and unforeseen use cases, which provides them with a huge innovation capacity. Despite the limitless potentials offered by digitized products, there has been a slow uptake of digitized products by businesses so far (Jernigan et al., 2016; Mocker et al., 2019). According to a 2016 MIT Sloan Management Review report (Jernigan et al., 2016) only 24% of the investigated firms were actively using IoT technologies – a key technology for digitized products. In a more recent research study Mocker et al. (2019) found that the median revenue share from digital offerings (i.e., solutions based on IT enriched products) in large companies only accounted for 5% of the total revenue of the investigated companies. The slow uptake of digitized products might be explained by the challenges that firms face regarding the changing nature of digitized products. Pervasive digital technologies (such as IoT) change the nature of products by adding new functionality that was previously not part of the value proposition of the products/services (e.g., a pair of shoes embedded with sensors and connectivity allows joggers to have access to data regarding their run distance, speed, etc.) (Yoo et al., 2012). The addition of new functionality and use cases of digitized products makes it harder for producers to design and develop relevant products (Hui 2014). As described in the paper ‘Do Your Customers Actually Want a “Smart” Version of Your Product?’, “just because [firms] can make something with IoT technology doesn’t mean people will want it.” (Smith, 2017). The shift in digitized products’ nature poses new challenges for producers along the entire product development process (Porter and Heppelmann, 2015; Yoo et al., 2012) and create a paradox in product digitization, described by Yoo et al. (2012) as the paradox of pace: while technology accelerates the rate of innovation, companies need to spend more time to digitize their products, extending time to market. The production of these digitized products also becomes more challenging, e.g., as companies need to deal with different clock-speeds of software and hardware development (Porter and Heppelman, 2015). The above-mentioned challenges suggest that producers need to better understand how they can generate value from their digitized products’ generative potentials. The body of literature on digitized products has been growing in recent years. For instance, Herterich et al. (2016) investigate how digitized product affordances (i.e., potentials) enable industrial service innovation; Nicolescu et al. (2018) explore the emerging meanings of value associated with IoT; and Benbunan-Fich (2019) studies the impact of basic wearable sensors on the quality of the user experience. However, it remains unclear what it takes for firms to generate value with their digitized product potentials. This dissertation investigates this research gap.

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Author of HS ReutlingenNovales Uriarte, Ainara
Publisher:Erasmus University Rotterdam
Place of publication:Rotterdam
Contributor(s):Martin Mocker
Referee of HS Reutlingen:Mocker, Martin
Document Type:Doctoral Thesis
Year of Publication:2022
Date of final exam:2022/02/11
Page Number:173
Dissertation note:Dissertation, Erasmus University Rotterdam, 2022
DDC classes:330 Wirtschaft