Cell phones and the value chain

What will your industry’s value chain look like in five years?

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Your customers will change the way they use your products in ways you don’t currently anticipate. Do you remember when you got your first cell phone? I was living in Chicago when the city was selected for the first FCC trial of a cell-phone network in 1984, and I jumped at the chance to try this new technology.

value chain

I had the stereotypical Gordon Gekko brick. For all its cost and glamour, I could do one thing with it: make a very expensive phone call. Who could have predicted that cell phones would morph into catchalls for our entire existence? With the improvement in technology, you can now run every facet of your life off of a webOS, iPhone, or Android. I was in the industry, and even I couldn’t imagine a day when cell phones would move beyond salespeople and high-powered executives to become ubiquitous with the general public. Remember, being prepared for the future doesn’t mean being a psychic or a mind reader. I am very aware that I don’t know what’s going to happen. What I do know is that I need to be flexible and responsive, and that the people and operations I oversee need to have the fluidity and fast reflexes to respond along with me. I don’t know what the next Twitter will be; the only thing I do know is that there will be a “next Twitter.” Five years from now there will be a radically new and different way of communicating with your customer. It may seem nuts at first (140 characters, really?!), but it will quickly become essential. If your kid or assistant comes to you with an idea that sounds crazy, or an idea that you tried and failed with ten years ago, pay attention to him.

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I’m a magazine hoarder. I have a copy of the every issue of BYTE magazine. I love Wired, in all of its international editions, so my home office is stacked with copies of Wired up to the windowsills. I was heartbroken when the print edition of the design magazine I.D. was discontinued. Yet the writing seems to be on the wall for magazines in general—not so much that they will cease to exist, but that they will cease to exist as we currently know them. Just as is happening with books, in a few years our understanding of what a magazine is will have fundamentally changed. It will be interesting to see what a magazine subscription will look like in five years, or if readers will be able to pick and choose the elements of the magazine they want to read and buy them piecemeal. Perhaps journalists will be paid based on the number of readers who opt to buy an individual piece of their writing. Maybe magazines will go “smart” and tailor content for the reader directly. Either way, it seems inevitable that magazines will strive to emulate the blogs and websites that are beginning to replace them, but I do regret that we will have lost these small, fixed snapshots of a particular moment in time and culture.

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You can’t know now what the best choice for your business is, but you must be prepared to take a chance and make a decision. I’ve never met Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue, but I would love to sit in on her publisher meetings. I’m guessing that the question How will my customer discover and buy our magazine? is coming up a lot these days.

Sparking Points

  • If you assume the same level of progress that your industry made in the previous five years, what will the value chain look like five years from now?
  • What elements of the value chain will no longer be there in five years?
  • What would be the effect of regulatory change on your industry? What regulatory changes can you anticipate now?
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