Several months ago I found myself in Istanbul. This, I hasten to add, was intentional. My madness does not stretch to random trips to random places – yet. This trip was for the annual Subex User Group. The keynote speaker was Futurist Gerd Leonhard and one of his themes was the emergence of arenas. I wrote about it just afterwards, to be honest more because I thought it was an interesting and wind swept way of describing the shifting sands of the digital world.
I now realise that Gerd and those who use the term regularly now have it ‘spot on.’
You can only understand some of the news of last week or so by thinking about it with the word ‘arena’ in mind. If you think about it with the grey, concrete term ‘industry’ in your head, it will start to hurt. Take the news that Google and possibly Facebook are becoming MVNOs. Or Apple is going to build a car. Or that retailers are running scared because Amazon is getting serious about the grocery delivery business. Business models are being broken apart as quickly as they are being designed.
Anyone, therefore, who thinks they work or play in a particular, static industry will be left behind. If you make cars and you laugh at the notion that Apple, who is ‘in the computer and phone business,’ will become a competitor, then you live in yesterday’s world.
Luckily most operators have grasped this, even if they do not describe the fluid nature of the digital world as a series of arenas. They, too, are competing with companies that, a few short years ago, they would never describe as competitors. In Healthcare and metering, home security and consumer electronics. The cloud is throwing companies together as competitors, too. IT companies and network manufacturers are now competing for the business of connecting us – and then everything.
It may seem flippant to think up words to describe just how agile, flexible, swift and lean operators need to be, but it is useful. For operators to transform themselves into entities that can partner with companies that have a great idea on Thursday morning and launch it the following Tuesday afternoon is not something to dream about. It is an imperative. And if they cannot do it, those same companies will not be partners on Wednesday morning, they will be competitors.
So, my view is that we must now look at almost everything in the context of the arena where it is happening, not the industry where it used to be locked up.