Know when it’s time to hit the reset button

Nothing lasts forever.  Not even cash cows.

In the fast moving technology world, standing still with old technology is a sure recipe for failure. Or as an old boss used to say, you can put lipstick on the pig, but it’s still a pig.

Unfortunately, there are way too many examples of companies that once were on top but failed to realize, until it was too late, that technology had marched on and their once groundbreaking, industry leading technology had become obsolete.  The tech industry is littered with examples of computing giants that bit the dust by resting on their laurels.

One that impacted me was Digital Equipment Corp.  While the movement toward open operating systems and PCs was in full swing, DEC chairman Ken Olsen called Unix “snake oil” and derided PCs as little more than toys.  That was until PC maker Compaq swallowed him up and shut down the DEC brand.

And it’s not just tech. Retailer Abercrombie & Fitch is falling on bad times because it failed to realize that cash-strapped teens were no longer interested in spending top dollars for last year’s overpriced brand name.  This opened the door for the likes of Forever 21 to make massive market share gains. Didn’t the brain trust at Abercrombie & Fitch see this coming?

The reason I bring all this up is the news that Microsoft has dumped its antiquated Windows Mobile OS in favor of one based on Zune.  From the early reports, Windows Phone 7 Series looks like a nifty effort with some potentially exciting innovations in the UI.  It’s a clean slate effort designed to give an enjoyable user experience coupled with a brilliant touch screen and lots of Web apps.

Windows Phone 7 SeriesFinally.

Come on Microsoft. While this was the right thing to do, what took you so long?  Blackberry, Apple and Google are eating your lunch. Over the last year, while the smartphone market exploded with over 35 percent growth, your sales were lower than the previous year.  Did you not hear about something called the iPhone? Did the introduction of Android somehow get past the product planners?  What about when Motorola kicked you to the curb? How could you hang on to a substandard offering for so long with no response?

There is a still lot of growth ahead in smartphones, so Microsoft may yet have the opportunity to reassert itself in this space.  But I can’t help but think that it’s only happening now out of desperation.  It would have been great to see this 12-18 months ago and to have Microsoft as a relevant option now, not in several more months or a year from now.

If your company or product line is facing a similar set of circumstances, I can’t urge you enough to get started now on making your current products obsolete.  If you don’t, someone else will and you will not like the consequences.  As independent consultants, those of us in PR often have the ability to see clearly and early when the next big thing is coming because we’re looking forward, not backward and because we’re looking externally, not inwardly.  For sure we can put lipstick on the pig if that what our clients want, but we’d much rather be creating buzz.  Let’s talk.

Brian Edwards

Author: Brian Edwards

Brian Edwards is a talented business and technology communications expert with more than 25 years of experience in high-tech public relations and marketing.