My Thoughts on Instacart’s move to open source their data and the advantages that can bring to a firm…
1) It keeps a company on their toes and running fast. If you give away stuff you value, you constantly have to innovate systemically to stay relevant. The more companies force these modifiers through operational design, the more competitive they will be.
2) Having an external community help in developing novel approaches to analysis and scaling that the organization did not think of itself. Kaggle, recently acquired by Google, has demonstrated this with great success, as has the algorithm development community (e.g. Torch, Tensorflow, h2o.ai, SciKit).
3) Related to the previous point, cheaper and more efficient R&D and insights. Most business intelligence isn’t acted on, despite an estimated 20 billion dollars being spent on it per year. If you open source data analysis and insights gathering, it’s possible to only pay for what you find valuable. While these operations will never reach 100% utility, it would probably be better than it is now, and ultimately lead to lower prices for consumers.
4) More efficiency, information sharing, and transparency make a company a more attractive business partner, requiring less “guesswork” on how your offerings align with each other. It’s possible this opens a company up to unorthodox partnerships that generate new revenue streams or solutions.
In closing, I’d like to invite you to a thought experiment. And I understand this is a contentious point, which is open for debate. But unless you were operating a hedge fund, what advantage would there be in knowing a competitors sale e.g. Amazon and Target’s sales numbers and products they sold – beyond it being interesting? How would knowing this information help the company you work for take market share or counter their initiatives from doing the same? It’s not obvious. Companies such as Walmart, Amazon, and Target all have different reputations, regional and cultural affinities, as well as combinations of technologies, supply chains, management styles and distribution mechanisms. Most organizations are far from 100% optimal within their internal processes and decision making. At what point does focusing on another company out run the advantage of focusing intensely on making you companies asset allocation more efficient? What is the optimal XY graph here? Due to the complexity of each organization, it’s likely neither large firms such as Walmart, Target or Amazon has any mechanism to operationalize each other information – even if they each had all of it. The only thing you can be 100% confident about is by focusing on the competition is that it’s taking time away from making your own company better. Comments welcome.