Technology and Innovation

Technology and Innovation is a featured research topic at Harvard Business School.

The early works of William Abernathy on roadblocks to innovation and Richard Rosenbloom on technology and information transfers in the 1960's and 1970's started the Technology Strategy field and helped pave the path for our research today, which focuses on value creation of platforms and two-sided markets; use of open architecture and leverage of its collective value; development and execution of innovation strategies; innovative attributes of executives and firms; development of new markets through the creation of disruptive innovations that displace earlier technologies; development of innovations in sectors; and the impact of innovation on economic growth.​ 

  1. The Mirroring Hypothesis: Theory, Evidence and Exceptions

    Lyra J. Colfer and Carliss Y. Baldwin

    The mirroring hypothesis predicts that organizational ties within a project, firm, or group of firms (e.g. communication, collocation, employment) will correspond to the technical patterns of dependency in the work being performed. A thorough understanding of the phenomenon is difficult to achieve because relevant work is scattered across multiple fields. This paper presents a unified picture of mirroring in terms of theory, evidence and exceptions. First, we formally define mirroring and argue that it is an approach to technical problem-solving that conserves scarce cognitive resources. We then review 142 empirical studies, divided by organizational form into (1) industry studies; (2) firm studies; and (3) studies of open collaborative projects. The industry and firm studies indicate that mirroring is a prevalent pattern but not universal. However, there is evidence of a mirroring ‘trap’: firms focused on the current technical architecture may fall victim to architectural innovations arising outside their boundaries. Thus in technologically dynamic industries, partial mirroring, where knowledge boundaries are drawn more broadly than operational boundaries, is likely to be a superior strategy. Firms can also strategically ‘break the mirror’ in two ways: by implementing modular partitions within their own boundaries; or by building relational contracts that support technical interdependency across their boundaries. Finally, in contrast to industry and firm studies, studies of open collaborative projects, most of which focused on software, were not supportive of the hypothesis. We argue that these contradictory results arise because digital technologies make possible new modes of coordination that enable groups to deviate from classical mirroring as seen within firms. This working paper includes Appendix A, which describes our detailed findings by category. Appendix B, a tabular summary of the 142 studies in our sample, is available on request from the authors.

    Keywords: modularity; innovation; product and process development; organization design; design structure; organizational structure; organizational ties; mirroring hypothesis; industry architecture; product architecture; complex technical systems; Technology; Organizational Design; Organizational Structure; Relationships; Innovation and Invention; Product Development;


    Colfer, Lyra J., and Carliss Y. Baldwin. "The Mirroring Hypothesis: Theory, Evidence and Exceptions." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 16-124, April 2016. (Revised May 2016.) View Details
  2. Reinventing Best Buy

    John R. Wells and Gabriel Ellsworth

    On February 25, 2016, Best Buy announced a second year of comparable-store sales increases and a 13.5% increase in online sales. These results were in marked contrast to four years of declining comparable-store sales from 2010 to 2013. CEO Hubert Joly, appointed in August 2012, was now in his fourth year of reinventing Best Buy with his "Renew Blue" strategy. When he took over, Best Buy was losing share to, which was encouraging consumers to view products at Best Buy and other physical stores and then buy them for a lower price online, a practice known as "showrooming." Undaunted, Joly had encouraged the practice, convinced that it presented an opportunity to sell to customers as long as Best Buy's prices were competitive. Joly had committed the company to a multi-channel strategy in North America and exited struggling international operations. Operating margins had increased as a result, but growth was still proving elusive. Had Joly done enough to reinvent Best Buy?

    Keywords: Best Buy; Hubert Joly; Renew Blue; showrooming; webrooming; e-commerce; E-Commerce strategy; online retail; multichannel retailing; omnichannel; marketplaces; turnaround; consumer electronics; consumer electronics accessories; appliances; stores-within-stores; store experience; store size; store pickup; store management; Business Subsidiaries; Business Units; Business Growth and Maturation; Business Model; For-Profit Firms; Customer Focus and Relationships; Customer Satisfaction; Entertainment; Film Entertainment; Games, Gaming, and Gambling; Music Entertainment; Television Entertainment; Theater Entertainment; Price; Profit; Revenue; Geographic Scope; Multinational Firms and Management; Business History; Cost; Selection and Staffing; Reports; Technological Innovation; Job Cuts and Outsourcing; Human Capital; Leading Change; Business or Company Management; Goals and Objectives; Growth and Development; Growth and Development Strategy; Management Teams; Brands and Branding; Product Marketing; Consumer Behavior; Demand and Consumers; Media; Distribution; Order Taking and Fulfillment; Distribution Channels; Infrastructure; Product; Service Delivery; Service Operations; Organizational Change and Adaptation; Public Ownership; Problems and Challenges; Programs; Groups and Teams; Sales; Salesforce Management; Strategy; Adaptation; Business Strategy; Competition; Competitive Advantage; Competitive Strategy; Corporate Strategy; Expansion; Technology; Hardware; Information Technology; Internet; Mobile Technology; Online Technology; Search Technology; Software; Web; Web Sites; Wireless Technology; Resource Allocation; Computer Industry; Electronics Industry; Entertainment and Recreation Industry; Information Technology Industry; Retail Industry; Service Industry; Technology Industry; Telecommunications Industry; Video Game Industry; United States; Minnesota; Minneapolis; Saint Paul; St. Paul;


    Wells, John R., and Gabriel Ellsworth. "Reinventing Best Buy." Harvard Business School Case 716-455, March 2016. (Revised May 2016.) View Details
  3. Bridging Science and Technology Through Academic-Industry Partnerships

    Sen Chai and Willy C. Shih

    Partnerships that foster the translation of scientific advances emerging from academic research organizations into commercialized products at private firms are a policy tool that has attracted increased interest. This paper examines empirical data from the Danish National Advanced Technology Foundation, an agency that funds partnerships between universities and private companies. We assess the effect on participating firms' innovative performance, comparing patent count, publication count, and proportion of cross-institutional publications between funded and unfunded firms. Specifically, we measure the impact on each of these variables based on three dimensions—small- and medium-sized enterprises (SME), younger firms, and size of the collaboration firms participated in—to establish boundary conditions. Our results suggest that receiving funding affects firms' innovative behavior differently depending on the type of firm, where (1) peer-reviewed publications increased significantly more for SMEs and larger projects, (2) granted patents increased significantly up to four years after funding for young firms and those in larger projects, and (3) proportion of cross-institutional publications increased significantly more three years after funding for all three sample specifications.

    Keywords: economic development; technological change; Research and Development; government policy; Technological Innovation; Research and Development; Technology; Policy; Technology Industry; Denmark;


    Chai, Sen, and Willy C. Shih. "Bridging Science and Technology Through Academic-Industry Partnerships." Research Policy 45, no. 1 (February 2016): 148–158. View Details
  4. Aspiring Minds

    Karim R. Lakhani, Marco Iansiti and Christine Snively

    By 2015, India-based employment assessment and certification provider Aspiring Minds had helped facilitate over 300,000 job matches through its assessment tools. Aspiring Minds' flagship product, the Aspiring Minds Computer Adaptive Test (AMCAT), used machine learning algorithms to evaluate the abilities of job seekers and provide feedback by measuring not only skills and knowledge, but also personality and behavior traits. Since its founding in 2007, the company developed several new assessment products, including SVAR, a spoken-English evaluation, Automata, a programming skills evaluator, a customer service test, and TESLA, a suite of products that assessed and provided certification for vocational skills. The company had recently expanded into parts of Africa, the Middle East, the Philippines, the U.S., and most recently, China. Aspiring Minds had seen success as a business-to-business (B2B) entity, creating and selling technology products geared towards industry verticals. By 2015 the business-to-consumer (B2C) side of the business in India had been quite successful as well, generating revenues equal to that of the B2B side. As Aspiring Minds worked to establish a presence in China, co-founders Himanshu and Varun Aggarwal considered whether a B2B or B2C approach would best help the company achieve scale.

    Keywords: Technology; Strategy; Higher Education; Technological Innovation; Employment; Technology Industry; India; China;


    Lakhani, Karim R., Marco Iansiti, and Christine Snively. "Aspiring Minds." Harvard Business School Case 616-013, November 2015. (Revised May 2016.) View Details
  5. BandPage (A)

    Karim R. Lakhani, Colin Maclay and Greta Friar

    BandPage CEO James "J" Sider is about to receive results from BandPage's targeted advertising campaign on music streaming service Rhapsody and learn whether BandPage's strategy to improve ad click through rates and generate revenue has succeeded. BandPage, which began as a Facebook app to help musicians build professional-looking pages and convert fan "likes" into revenue, has become a major hub in the online music network. BandPage has deals with upstream and downstream music partners, from streaming services to ticket sellers to merchandise companies, and has built relationships with artists by providing a one stop shop to update current band information across most major music sites simultaneously. BandPage's most recent project has been to differentiate fans by their behavior on streaming sites in order to target super fans with high priced, exclusive and/or personalized offers from artists. At a time when tensions are high between streaming services and artists who believe that they are not being fairly compensated for the use of their music, Sider is convinced that BandPage can help streaming services drive revenue growth for artists through ticket, merchandise and exclusive offer sales. If the Rhapsody data proves that BandPage's strategy is working, the potential revenue growth for BandPage and all of its partners is massive.

    Keywords: Music industry; Digital Innovation; digital music; digital marketing; mobile marketing; Technological Innovation; Marketing Communications; Music Entertainment; Mobile Technology; Music Industry;


    Lakhani, Karim R., Colin Maclay, and Greta Friar. "BandPage (A)." Harvard Business School Case 616-015, October 2015. View Details
  6. How Smart, Connected Products Are Transforming Companies

    Michael E. Porter and James E. Heppelmann

    The evolution of products into intelligent, connected devices is revolutionizing business. In a November 2014 article, "How Smart, Connected Products Are Transforming Competition," Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter and PTC president and CEO James Heppelmann looked at how this shift is changing the structure of industries and forcing firms to rethink their strategies. In this companion article, the authors look at the effects inside firms, examining the impact that smart, connected products have on operations and organizational structure. The new capabilities and vast quantities of data that smart, connected products offer are redefining the activities of the core functions of companies—sometimes radically. As software and cloud-based operating systems become integral to products, new product-development principles emerge, manufacturing components and processes change, and IT security becomes the job of every function. Companies need different skills and expertise, which creates new imperatives for HR. In the marketing function, the ability to track a product's condition and use shifts the focus to maximizing the product's value to the customer over time. Customer relationships become continuous and open-ended, service becomes more efficient and proactive, and new business models are enabled. The rich data on location and environment that products provide take logistics to a whole new level. Smart, connected products also alter interactions between functions, in ways that hold major implications for organizational structure. Intense, ongoing coordination becomes necessary across multiple functions, including design, operations, sales, service, and IT. Functional roles overlap and blur. Entirely new functions—unified data organizations, dev-ops, and customer success management—begin to emerge. What is under way is the most substantial change in the manufacturing firm since the Second Industrial Revolution, and the effects are spreading to other industries, like services, as well.

    Keywords: Organizational Change and Adaptation; Technological Innovation; Information Technology; Organizational Structure; Operations; Business Strategy;


    Porter, Michael E., and James E. Heppelmann. "How Smart, Connected Products Are Transforming Companies." Harvard Business Review 93, no. 10 (October 2015): 97–114. View Details
  7. Yabbly and the Anthology MVP (A)

    Shikhar Ghosh and Christopher Payton

    In July 2014, after 18 months and eight unsuccessful product launches, the CEO of Yabbly has agreed to sell his company to a larger, well-funded startup, providing a return of capital for his investors and a home for his team. Two weeks prior to the scheduled closing, the team launches a final experiment based on the results of a customer interview. After creating a quick landing page and announcing the product launch through social media channels, the company finds significant customer interest. With only two weeks of promising data, the CEO must decide whether or not to abandon the planned sale to pursue the new product, and if so, what terms he should offer new and existing investors to finance the next phase of product development.

    Keywords: Mergers & Acquisitions; Business Startups; business model; entrepreneurship; Business Model; Business Plan; Business Startups; Entrepreneurship; Innovation Strategy; Mobile Technology; Online Technology; Mergers and Acquisitions; Business Exit or Shutdown; Fairness; Valuation; Technology Industry; Consumer Products Industry; North America; United States; Seattle;


    Ghosh, Shikhar, and Christopher Payton. "Yabbly and the Anthology MVP (A)." Harvard Business School Case 816-032, August 2015. View Details
  8. Yabbly (A)

    Shikhar Ghosh and Christopher Payton

    In November 2013, with less than 10 months of cash on hand, Tom Leung, the founder and CEO of Yabbly, must decide where to focus his resources. His startup, a question-and-answer application for shopping decisions, had benefited from a strong showing at the SXSW Accelerator competition and had a dedicated and engaged user base. However, Leung knew that the current growth trajectory would not lead them to the milestones needed to receive an additional round of financing. Leung must decide whether to continue pursuing user acquisition experiments, explore other product ideas, or begin searching for a potential acquirer to achieve a "soft landing" for his team and his investors.

    Keywords: Business Plan; Startup; mobile; online product reviews; consumer products; Business Model; Business Plan; Business Startups; Entrepreneurship; Innovation Strategy; Mobile Technology; Online Technology; North America; United States; Washington (state, US); Seattle;


    Ghosh, Shikhar, and Christopher Payton. "Yabbly (A)." Harvard Business School Case 816-030, August 2015. View Details
  9. Philips Healthcare: Marketing the HealthSuite Digital Platform

    John A. Quelch and Margaret L. Rodriguez

    In June 2014, leading healthcare and consumer technology company, Royal Philips ("Philips"), announced its HealthSuite Digital Platform to house healthcare data and enable applications used by physicians and patients. Philips had strong equity in the healthcare technology space, due to its extensive portfolio of medical devices and related software sold primarily to hospitals. Philips designed the first two apps for the platform (eCareCoordinator and eCareCompanion) in-house, but it planned to open it up to third-party developers who would create an array of health-focused apps. Healthcare had long lagged behind other industries in adoption of technology as well as patient-relationship management. However, many health players had recently increased investment in new infrastructure and data analytics. Would the new Philips HealthSuite Digital Platform find success in the rapidly evolving industry?

    Keywords: health; healthcare; digital; platform; ecosystem; Health Care and Treatment; Technological Innovation; Technology; Product Development; Health Industry; Medical Devices and Supplies Industry; Netherlands; United States;


    Quelch, John A., and Margaret L. Rodriguez. "Philips Healthcare: Marketing the HealthSuite Digital Platform." Harvard Business School Case 515-052, May 2015. (Revised September 2015.) View Details
  10. American Well: The DTC Decision

    Elie Ofek and Natalie Kindred

    In late 2013, telehealth company American Well, which developed a digital platform that allowed patients to conduct online medical consultations with physicians, is considering pursuing a direct-to-consumer (DTC) strategy. Founded in 2006, American Well had, to date, primarily sold its solution to health plans, which then provided online care services to their members using their own brand name. But while American Well attracted some of the largest U.S. health insurers as clients, a surprisingly small number of individual members had actually used the online care service. American Well management believed low consumer awareness—the result of insufficient marketing by health plans, among other factors—was hampering uptake of what should be a highly valuable offering for all stakeholders involved. They wondered if a DTC approach, in which American Well would become a consumer brand and market a telehealth service directly to the public, for example through a mobile app, could drive utilization and catapult the business to the next level. If a DTC offering were given the green light, the company had to come up with a coherent marketing plan to launch it and figure out how to manage potential conflicts with existing clients, who might view the move as competing with their own telehealth efforts. Moreover, the move had to be considered in light of other initiatives the company had recently embarked on, such as marketing its platform to pharmacy chains, targeting large employers, and selling kiosks that provided a physical space to conduct online consultations. The case forces students to grapple with the challenges and barriers involved in disrupting an established industry, examine alternative go-to-market strategies and the timing of implementing them, and consider different business models to manage supply and generate revenues. The case also offers a rich analysis of digital marketing issues.

    Keywords: health care; telehealth; telemedicine; American Well; Schoenberg; Boston; Israel; technology; online care; direct-to-consumer; DTC; health insurance; Affordable care act; health care reform; accountable care organizations; strategy; technology adoption; technology change; innovation & entrepreneurship; marketing; digital marketing; Strategy; Competition; Technology; Marketing; Technological Innovation; Technology Adoption; Entrepreneurship; Marketing Strategy; Health Industry; Technology Industry; Boston; Massachusetts; United States; Israel;


    Ofek, Elie, and Natalie Kindred. "American Well: The DTC Decision." Harvard Business School Case 515-032, March 2015. (Revised November 2015.) View Details
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