Saturday, May 03, 2008

Is J2EE Disruptive

The answer to this question depends on the context, i.e. the market with respect to which we are asking it.

In his 1997 national best seller, The Innovator's Dilemma, the Harvard Business School professor Clayton M. Christensen coined the terms disruptive and sustaining technologies.

According to Christensen, most new technologies improve product performance. He calls such technologies sustaining technologies. In contrast, he identifies disruptive technologies to be those innovations that lead to worse product performance, at least in the near-term. He goes on to say that such initially less-performant technologies end up precipitating the leading firms' failure.

Christensen also notes that there are three reasons established companies do not invest in disruptive technologies. First, because disruptive technologies are simpler and cheaper, their use only provides low margins to begin with. Second, disruptive technologies are usually first commercialized in markets which the established firms consider to be insignificant. Third, established firms' most profitable customers cannot initially use such technologies. According to Christensen, a practiced discipline of "listening to customers and identifying new products that promise greater profitability and growth are rarely able to build a case for investing in disruptive technologies until it is too late."

Frankly, I am not sure I agree with this last point Christensen is making. I think listening to customers does not just mean listening to what it is they want. Often customers don't really know or think they know but are not sure if what they want jives with what's "there." The most important thing companies should listen for are "requirements" in a deep sense of that word, i.e. not what a customer wants from us but what their goals are, how they go about achieving it now and how they can go about achieving it in the future. This approach is quite different from just seeing what they want.

So, is J2EE an example of a disruptive technology in the Christensen sense of the word?

Well, in the enterprise market, J2EE has been proven to be the de facto platform because one can easily develop, deploy and maintain scalable applications in production environments. So, one may argue that in the enterprise market, J2EE may not be as disruptive as it once was. This may not be completely true. While some real innovations (such as JAX-RPC and Connectors) have emerged that are not just about "performance" in speed, some may still argue that these new innovations are simply about "performance" in integration. They may have a point.

However, that is not what I wanted to talk about. What I want to say is that Christensen's notions of disruptive and sustaining technologies really need to be applied and scoped with respect to particular markets.

So, let's ask the question again and scope it to the telecommunications market.

Is J2EE a disruptive technology in the telecommunications market?

Applying the Christensen analysis, we have no choice but to say that it is.

There are three classes of telecommunications applications where J2EE has a good fit as the emerging and disruptive middleware platform: OSS/BSS applications, service applications, service control function applications.

Who will take advantage of this opportunity will be offering the next-generation platform for convergence applications.

Once again for Lessig ! ! !

Institutional economists, such as Douglas North (Structure and Change in Economic History) have long argued that the protection of intellectual property was a necessary ingredient for the technology-driven economic growth of the post-industrial world.

North and others have been focusing on the importance of protecting private and intellectual property. Less attention has been given to the regulatory limits of such protection.

Over the years, copyright laws have expanded to include derivative work. It is not clear whether such expansion (to derivative work) is actually good for economic growth.

Once again, Stanford University Law professor Lawrence Lessig has written a wonderful book, this time on how new technologies affect our economic environment and our culture.

In this new book, Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity, Lessig examines the changes made to the copyright law and how those changes can stifle creativity and an open culture.

His writing is meant to be accessible to all, including those who do not have any training in law and its methods. He takes care to bring out some of the legal subtleties involved in a very lucid and accessible prose.

Lessig is one of the few legal scholars who have really thought hard about how new communications technologies are changing our world. Reading his works would be useful for all who play a role in the creation of such technologies.

A Bank is a Bank

Tehran, Iran (Nov. 2006)
Originally uploaded by M.Mortazavi
A bank is a bank no matter where it lives.

It does roughly the same thing everywhere.