November 15, 2014

Technical differentiation

I commonly write about real or apparent technical differentiation, in a broad variety of domains. But actually, computers only do a couple of kinds of things:

And hence almost all IT product differentiation fits into two buckets:

As examples of this reductionism, please consider:

Similar stories are true about application software, or about anything that has an API (Application Programming Interface) or SDK (Software Development Kit).

Yes, all my examples are in software. That’s what I focus on. If I wanted to be more balanced in including hardware or data centers, I might phrase the discussion a little differently — but the core points would still remain true.

What I’ve said so far should make more sense if we combine it with the observation that differentiation is usually restricted to particular domains. I mean several different things by that last bit. First, most software only purports to do a limited class of things — manage data, display query results, optimize analytic models, manage a cluster, run a payroll, whatever. Even beyond that, any inherent superiority is usually restricted to a subset of potential use cases. For example:

A third reason for technical superiority to be domain-specific is that advantages are commonly coupled with drawbacks. Common causes of that include:

And that brings us to the main message of this post: Your spiffy innovation is important in fewer situations than you would like to believe. Many, many other smart organizations are solving the same kinds of problems as you; their solutions just happen to be effective in somewhat different scenarios than yours. This is especially true when your product and company are young. You may eventually grow to cover a broad variety of use cases, but to get there you’ll have to more or less match the effects of many other innovations that have come along before yours.

When advising vendors, I tend to think in terms of the layered messaging model, and ask the questions:

Closely connected are the questions:

Buyers and analysts should think in such terms as well.

Related links

Daniel Abadi, who is now connected to Teradata via their acquisition of Hadapt, put up a post promoting some interesting new features of theirs. Then he tweeted that this was an example of what I call Bottleneck Whack-A-Mole. He’s right. But since much of his theme was general praise of Teradata’s mature DBMS technology, it would also have been accurate to reference my post about The Cardinal Rules of DBMS Development.

Comments

4 Responses to “Technical differentiation”

  1. Ranko Mosic on November 15th, 2014 9:23 am

    I’d expand to AI-inspired products where clear instruction/execution goes to the next level.

  2. Curt Monash on November 15th, 2014 11:26 am

    If a system is very intelligent, than that would likely be manifested by you being able to get away with very concise instructions.

    I guess there could be “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that” kinds of complications, but those are beyond the scope of this post. :)

  3. Data Profiling on December 8th, 2014 5:44 am

    In my opinion Technical diffierentation matterthe most it covers enterprise data managment and analytic technologies and practice and industry leader in its coverage of data warehouse appliance

  4. Sources of differentiation | DBMS 2 : DataBase Management System Services on October 26th, 2015 3:31 pm

    […] a post last year about differentiation, I wrote “Your spiffy innovation is important in fewer situations than you would like to […]

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