Principles that Matter: Sustaining Software Innovation from the Client to the Web

by Marco Iansiti

Overview — Despite the current strength and promise of the Internet software market, the future pace of growth and innovation is not assured. The principles of choice, opportunity, and interoperability were important in the growth of PC software and in the overall health of the information technology ecosystem, and these same principles will shape competition in Internet software, according to HBS professor Marco Iansiti. Given the unprecedented speed at which this industry is developing, consumers and the industry should watch carefully as different companies compete. Choice, opportunity, and interoperability should serve as an important lens, particularly when focused on companies with especially large footprints in the new markets. Key concepts include:

  • Successful technology companies should not forget that innovation and growth in the technology sector is dependent on promoting a thriving ecosystem of complementary and interdependent products.
  • The competitive principles of choice, opportunity, and interoperability are important in Internet software, because of the increased variety of possible software and hardware combinations and the increased interdependency in the applications and services they deliver.

Author Abstract

Economic analysis often reviews the role of principles—such as respect for intellectual property rights—in driving innovation. Given the interdependent nature of innovation in information technology, three core principles have emerged that work together to ensure that complementary, interconnected products coexist and compete. These core principles are particularly important when applied to platforms, which have played a central role in enabling the development and distribution of the variety of applications and services that drive the popularity of software. The first principle focuses on enabling choice: firms should allow consumers and partners to have a real choice between complementary products and services from otherwise competing firms (e.g., a browser should enable a consumer to choose a home page provided by a competitor). The second principle focuses on opportunity: specifically, opportunity that is facilitated by giving developers platform access and the ability to innovate and build on platform technologies to create new products and services. The third principle focuses on interoperability: vendors should enable products to work together so customers can realize the full benefit of complementary products offered by competing vendors. Following this principle enables products to connect to each other in appropriately defined ways, and ensures that users can port their data between products securely and reliably. This paper reviews the rationale for these principles and examines their impact on competition in the cloud computing ("internet software") environment. 24 pages.

Paper Information