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Twice before over the past 50 years, information technology radically reshaped competition and strategy; we now stand at the brink of a third transformation. Before the advent of modern information technology, products were mechanical and activities in the value chain were performed using manual, paper processes and verbal communication. The first wave of IT, during the 1960s and 1970s, automated individual activities in the value chain, from order processing and bill paying to computer-aided design and manufacturing resource planning.
The rise of the internet, with its inexpensive and ubiquitous connectivity, unleashed the second wave of IT-driven transformation, in the 1980s and 1990s. This enabled coordination and integration across individual activities; with outside suppliers, channels, and customers; and across geography.
Now, in the third wave, IT is becoming an integral part of the product itself. Embedded sensors, processors, software, and connectivity in products (in effect, computers are being put inside products), coupled with a product cloud in which product data is stored and analyzed and some applications are run, are driving dramatic improvements in product functionality and performance.
The third wave of IT-driven transformation thus has the potential to be the biggest yet, triggering even more innovation, productivity gains, and economic growth than the previous two.
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