Case | HBS Case Collection | July 2011 (Revised January 2013)

Digital Microscopy Is Making Me Crazy!

by Willy Shih


For Carl Zeiss Microimaging, modular hardware and software enabled customers to tailor Zeiss's broad range of microscopy systems hardware and software to meet a wide range of needs from basic scientific research in the biological and medical sciences to clinical applications, materials science, and industrial sectors. Modularity also provided Carl Zeiss' engineers the benefit of decoupling the development schedules of individual components and subsystems. Yet the well codified interfaces at many module boundaries also opened the system up to outside providers of components, mainly software. This served research scientists who were doing cutting edge research extremely well, as they wanted to be able to apply the latest techniques and analysis tools. At the other extreme, clinical and QA/QC applications by their nature had a much higher need for automation, because of the repetitive nature of tasks. Simple, integrated solutions seemed to make more sense in these circumstances, and many applications did not demand the ultraprecision of Carl Zeiss's hardware platforms. Rather there was a call for simplicity and robustness, especially in production environments. The case exposes some of the strategic issues and opportunities facing the microscopy business.

Keywords: Hardware; Software; Corporate Strategy; Disruptive Innovation; Science-Based Business; Management Analysis, Tools, and Techniques; Business Conglomerates; Technology Platform; Opportunities; Medical Devices and Supplies Industry; Computer Industry;


Shih, Willy. "Digital Microscopy Is Making Me Crazy!" Harvard Business School Case 612-002, July 2011. (Revised January 2013.)