In a post-product world, the digital twin becomes the instance of truth, not the physical product itself. (Source: Solidworks)
“We’re not producing products any longer, we’re producing experience.” That quote came from Bernard Charles, CEO of Dassault Systemes, as he opened up Solidworks World 2019 this week. The comment seemed to jump out in sparks, much like the first time I heard Dr. T. introduce the concept of Industry 4.0 at National Instruments Week back in 2013. The jolt of the comment with instant recognition. Of course! He’s right.
There are so many ways this comment can be taken. In a world of digital twins, the product is always just an instance of the concept. Data from manufacturing and customer use will continually feed back to design –suggesting or forcing changes to the product. Another way to look at the concept is through the lens of shared products. Do you really need to own the product, or is the produce simply a device to solve a need or problem?
Who Needs the Product?
Decades ago, Harvard Business School Professor Theodore Levitt wrote: “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!” They want the result of the product (the experience), not the product. These days, there are many ways to obtain a quarter-inch hole without the drill. With 3D printing, you can design the hole into the object you’re creating. No need for the drill at all.
After the opening session, I asked Charles to expand on his comment. “The manufacturing plant of the future will produce not products but experience. If you take new the robots for mobility – self-driving cars – they’re connected machines,” Charles told Design News. “Where does the value come from – the chassis and four wheels – or does it come from the connected services? Those connected services are what we call the experience.”
He noted that the customer seeks the service, not the product – just like the story of the quarter-inch hole. “The value to the customer is coming from the experience of using the car, not from the car itself,” said Charles. “Those who succeed in the 21st Century will be those who provide change by offering a new type of experience. This is what makes the 21st Century different from the 20th Century.”
Millennials Are Ready for a Post-Product World
To some extent, the post-product world is a generational issue. Millennials get the notion that products are essentially experience. For Gen Xers and Boomers, the concept takes some getting used to. Many Millennials used shared rides during their college years. They understand the positive economics of not owning a car.
The diminishing sales of CDs is another example of experience over products. My Millennial kids are perfectly content not owning any of the music they listen to, and they’ve taught their Boomer old man that CDs are a clunky way to consume music. I now have countless albums in my Amazon Prime collection. I pay a monthly fee for access, it’s far less than I used spend buying CDs.
Learning to Let Go of Products
I drive a 2010 Toyota Corolla. It’s the most dependable vehicle I’ve owned. Perhaps that’s not saying much, since I’ve also owned a Corvair and a Pinto. I’m now considering buying a 2020 Corolla – not because there is anything wrong with my 2010 version. It still has relatively low mileage. Yet I want the experience I’ll get from the newer model, particularly its infotainment system, which is much friendlier to my Amazon Prime music. The product is fine, but I want to improve my experience.
The disruption of markets has become the accepted byproduct of innovation. Perhaps we’re now seeing the disruption of the very notion of a product. The product has always been a means to an experience. What if the experience can be delivered without the need for the product itself? What if that product is evolving so quickly it is essentially unfixed? The shift from product to experience could be the greatest disruptor of all.
Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 19 years, 17 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years, he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.
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