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Is Speed to Market No Longer an Advantage?

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Mike Cohn has posted an interesting question over on the Agile DZone blog on the topic of speed and competitive advantage. So are we nearing the end of an era where time is a competitive advantage? According to Mike, it's quite possible.

Mike's idea is that if you look at the past few decades, sources of competitive advantage for businesses use to be based on features like price and quality; today, these are not a sustainable competitive edge, rather, they are not assumed by the marketplace. For example, cars, computers, and other manufactured goods can have the lowest prices or the highest quality. However, these appealing features only go so far and aren't primary reasons for purchase anymore.

Mike continues on the topic of speed,

"But I do wonder whether time is running out on time as a competitive advantage. If agile and other innovations lead us to a world where all companies can deliver new products and services equally quickly, companies will need to find newer ways to differentiate themselves."

It is an interesting thought to consider. What happens when all businesses have the ability to rapidly deploy new products and services? If there isn't something special about the product, how long will it be before a competitor has an identical offering?

I think that Mike is pointed in the right direction. Speed, just like quality and price, will not be enough for companies to differentiate themselves in the long run. What will most likely matter is what they do with the ability to move fast.

Will they use it to develop new offerings? Respond to competitors? Will they fail bigger, cheaper? The real question is how businesses will take respond to this new found agility to gain an advantage.

In the near term, especially when it comes to supporting these new products and services with agile IT, there is still lots of work to be done before time to market is ubiquitous. With virtualization, cloud computing, automated provisioning, and other new technologies, IT is making strides but the stakes are high. Perhaps the era of time is coming to an end, but when one era ends, another begins.

What do you think? Will speed and agility become the norm, forcing companies that can't keep up out of business? If competitive advantages don't lie within the tangible aspects of the product anymore, will competitive advantages derive from prominence, positioning,execution or something else?

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