Managing in an age of modularity.
Modularity is a familiar principle in the computer industry. Different companies can independently design and produce components, suck as disk drives or operating software, and those modules will fit together into a complex and smoothly functioning product because the module makers obey a given set of design rules. Modularity in manufacturing is already common in many companies. But now a number of them are beginning to extend the approach into the design of their products and services. Modularity in design should tremendously boost the rate of innovation in many industries as it did in the computer industry. As businesses as diverse as auto manufacturing and financial services move toward modular designs, the authors say, competitive dynamics will change enormously. No longer will assemblers control the final product: suppliers of key modules will gain leverage and even take on responsibility for design rules. Companies will compete either by specifying the dominant design rules (as Microsoft does) or by producing excellent modules (as disk drive maker Quantum does). Leaders in a modular industry will control less, so they will have to watch the competitive environment closely for opportunities to link up with other module makers. They will also need to know more: engineering details that seemed trivial at the corporate level may now play a large part in strategic decisions. Leaders will also become knowledge managers internally because they will need to coordinate the efforts of development groups in order to keep them focused on the modular strategies the company is pursuing.