Friday, November 07, 2014

How Portugal's Age of Discovery is Related to Enterprise Mobility

Lisbon, Portugal
This week I had the good fortune of spending time in Lisbon, Portugal.  I met with several hundred business men and women at a mobility event in Microsoft's auditorium in Lisbon, at banks and with mobile network operators where we discussed digital transformation, enterprise mobility, IoT and mobile strategies.  In preparation for these discussions I did some homework.  Here is what I learned about Portuguese history and how it relates to digital transformation and enterprise mobility.

The Portuguese developed innovative sailing technologies and navigational skills in the 15th-century that enabled ocean-going ventures, where before most ships stayed within sight of land or took very short excursions. Portugal's Vasco da Gama (among others), using these innovations and skills, sailed south and east and ultimately reached India in 1498.

As a result of reaching India and exploring trading opportunities, the Portuguese were able to corner the profitable trade in eastern spices by displacing their competitor, Venice, who had a long established monopoly on a land-route for bringing spices to Europe.  Portugal transformed and optimized supply chains and logistics which gave them a giant competitive advantage!!!  They opened new markets and trading routes, globalized and took advantage of economies of scale.  For over 100 years the Portuguese had no European rivals on these long sea routes round Africa.

What were these innovations that enabled Portugal to develop such a competitive advantage?
  1. They thought bigger and more strategic
  2. They explored new technologies and invested in the winners
  3. They recognized the value of innovation
  4. They recognized the value of opening new markets
  5. They recognized the value of globalization
  6. They recognized the value of optimizing existing business processes, logistics, supply chains, etc.
  7. They recognized strategic global economic opportunities
  8. They understood the value of navigation technologies and how they could optimize routes and logistics
  9. They developed a navigation school to scale these skills in order to better compete globally
  10. They invested in advanced naval architectures to enhance ocean-going capabilities
  11. They invested in the knowledge of astronomy to enhance navigation skills

The Portuguese were able to establish sea routes round the Cape of Africa, which enabled Portugal to undercut the Venetian trade with its multiple layers of middlemen, slow and risky deliveries, and costly and inefficient transportation.  Seemingly overnight Portugal had a competitive advantage gained by being able to sail large ships, across oceans, carrying huge loads, great distances, efficiently.  These capabilities transformed markets, globalized, opened new sales channels and displaced competitors.  These transformations sealed the fates of two nations.

Technology has been shaking things up for millenniums!  Today mobile technologies are transforming markets in much the same way.  Here are some comparisons for your consideration:
  • The ability to use turn-by-turn navigation transformed the GPS device market and helped optimize routes and workforce utilization.
  • Mobile devices and apps transformed field service work. 
  • Smartphones with powerful cameras killed Kodak and most stand alone digital cameras.
  • Mobile apps for banks are quickly reducing the need for branches.
  • Mobile apps and mobile browsing killed Blackberry
  • Mobile apps for insurance claims are reducing the need for claims adjusters and optimizing claims processing.
  • Web and mobile technologies are changing the way education is provided.
  • Mobile apps for research and shopping are impacting retail stores.
  • The ability to read books and watch movies and to listen to music on mobile devices eliminated the need for video stores, record stores and bookstores.
  • Mobile and IoT technologies are in the midst of transforming healthcare 
What lessons can we learn from the Venetians who lost their businesses to Portuguese innovation? No matter how secure your position in the market seems to be, competitors are innovating and looking for opportunities to jump ahead of you.  Your company should be that innovator!

Kevin Benedict
Writer, Speaker, Senior Analyst
Digital Transformation, EBA, Center for the Future of Work Cognizant
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I am a mobility and digital transformation analyst, consultant and writer. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.