Rant Addendum: Radical Deperimeterization

This is part 5 of an occasional series. The initial post is here.

At the end of my marketing rant a few weeks ago, I suggested that corporations might need to reimagine their places in the universe in order to be effective in the new marketing world order—not as central sources of information, but as minor nodes in a much larger network.

I know, I know. That’s kind of a big blow to the corporate ego. But let’s be honest, with few exceptions, potential and even actual users of your products just aren’t that into you. They may like your products just fine because they serve a useful purpose somehow. That’s a different thing than being into a “brand” in itself. But so what? Everybody talks about customer-centricity and solution selling, right? So what really needs to change?

Well, almost everything about how a typical corporation runs, really.


Source: Wikimedia Commons

If you were in networking a decade ago, you might remember the Jericho Project. The project was conceived as a response to the first wave of deperimeterization, which was driven by three things:

  • Internet commerce (both B2B and B2C) was punching holes in corporate firewalls as fast as they were implemented in order to allow corporate users to do business with the outside world.
  • In the US, corporations started employing contract workers in large numbers, even for highly skilled labor that would require access to material corporate documents and assets.
  • The cost of mobile devices dropped rapidly. First laptops, then later cell phones, made it easier for workers to work anywhere, which in turn drove demand for public internet connections, which in turn made security people’s hair turn white prematurely.

The whole reason any of this was even an issue is that the corporation we inherited from the 20th century was founded on a motte-and-bailey architecture: it assumed everyone inside was an official employee, and that everyone did their work physically inside the corporate offices or factory floor under the watchful eye of a supervisor. There was a clear demarcation between insider and outsider. At the same time, the corporation/castle expected to be the control point for its immediate environs.

Because those who don’t learn history are doomed to repeat it, we’ve since re-evolved through the corporate equivalents of concentric castles and walled towns that allowed quasi-trusted entities—suppliers, OEM partners, app developers for software companies—access to certain info in highly quarantined environments (remember EDI?).

Slowly, over decades, our medieval corporate structures have been catching up with our social mores. Command-and-control has gone out of fashion in Western management circles. Worker productivity is assumed to be predicated on the pursuit of happiness. Everyone needs to be entrepreneurial because lifetime employment (serfdom!) is a thing of the past. Co-opetition is the new normal. Everyone has to be trusted a little bit, but no one too much.

And yet still, we persist in clinging to the time-honored illusion of corporate control: controlling “the message”, whom else our channel partners—even suppliers–do business with, whom employees talk to, what they talk about, the route of the “customer journey” through the buying cycle.

But seriously, in a global, networked economy, where there’s almost always another source of either materials or information—or one can be stood up in short order? Where everyone has their own agenda and loyalties are of short duration due to the ready availability of alternatives? What will happen to companies whose commercial tactics and processes continue to be predicated on that illusion of control despite all evidence to the contrary?


3 comments on “Rant Addendum: Radical Deperimeterization

  1. These are some excellent questions that you leave us with, Lisa, but I think you stopped just when you should have dove straight in. What do you think the answers are?

  2. I outlined some of the more purely marketing ones at the end of the earlier rant, which is why I didn’t replicate them here (though maybe I should have). Mostly it has to do with a mindset shift. For ex: “solutions marketing”–I think, esp for tech companies, this is something that has to grow while classical product marketing shrinks–but also the understanding of “solution” needs to change. A solution isn’t a larger grouping of widgets out of my catalog that I sell you in a bundle, or even a grouping of my widgets with a widget or two from my partner. That’s the seed of a solution. The whole consumption model needs to be acknowledged and planned around. That’s especially true for early-stage tech (see http://bit.ly/1iS5tnb), but mature tech isn’t used in a vacuum either. The Cisco “Whole Offer” concept is a half-step closer to what probably needs to happen, but I think open source is what will really drive the shift–getting down in the trenches with your users and working together to get something they can really use, vs a “good enough” purchase.

    Ironically, consumer companies are far more sophisticated about this, as they’ve spent decades studying in minute detail how they fit into their customers lives. The other advantage is that non-tech consumer goods change a lot less quickly, so there’s time to study and iterate the placement and packaging of “lifestyle” brands and products.

    At the same time, finding new suppliers and partners to snap together a new offer in short order is something that’s really easy to do…until you hit the back-end corporate processes (purchasing, Legal, etc). It’s a good thing to make sure you’ll get paid and not sued, but somehow the bigger the company, the more formidable the challenges to getting your new friends inside the walls. And once again, the web is making it really easy for users, in their consumer lives, to find and snap together solutions for themselves, often from an assortment of often small suppliers who are easy to do business with via credit cards. People carry those same expectations about frictionless, on-the-fly transactions over into their professional lives more and more (see AMZN), yet the average corporation has only just finished recreating the “fill out 15 forms in triplicate” mid-20th century back-end model in online form, rather than rethinking how to be both protected and agile.

    Dadnabbit. Here I was thinking this was my final post on this subject…

  3. Pingback: Look within the walls for the enemy - Network Inferno

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