The supply chain of development

This week I attended two conferences, the first on the 50th anniversary of the laser, and the second on a completely different field, a Microsoft conference on the latest crop of its web technologies.

In both cases, a funny curious similarity- the complexity of what we take for granted.

This short article (less than 500 words) is just to share some considerations.

My key chain has a laser pointer, and I assume that, except when the batteries fail, I can use it.

Internet Explorer works- except when there is a connection issue.

But while you can transfer the knowledge to assemble a new laser pointer or a new Internet browser from existing components, what is the “supply chain” that needs to be in place to mount something more than a simple “maquilladora”?

Somebody wrote that hi-tech beyond a certain level looks like magic- and the two examples I referred to before certainly would look as magic or science-fiction to somebody waking up today from a sleep lasting 30 years.

Our push to create “sustainable” development is based more on sharing the results (e.g. technologies) than the basic elements required to create further innovation.

Years ago, when I supported startups, I had many fruitless meetings: fruitless, as often the proponents of each meeting were more focused on sharing “war stories” than discussing how to create something.

An interesting “war story” was discussed in Northern Italy, as a company reported that a partner/competitor producing jewels had decided to create some mass-market lines and, to reduce the production costs, had externalized not just the assembly, but also the production to Asia.

Eventually, once enough quality controls had been introduced, the Asian company did not see the point of paying a middleman- and went directly on the market..

Instead of transferring the final assembly, the Italian company had transferred the full process on something whose supply chain it was unable to control (Italy is a processing market for gold and silver, but with no significant local production).

In hi-tech, the supply chain is something more than silver and a process: it starts with brains, and creating the social and economic conditions to create more opportunities to have employees who are used to work and live according to a defined set of processes.

You do not just train individual skilled employees- you create a “system” that makes available the background knowledge needed to create and sustain the development of the cultural infrastructure.

Anyway- did you know that, until 1939, the US standing military was, in size, the 19th in the World- smaller even that the one in Poland?

But this is nothing new: the first time I studied project management techniques in the 1980s, I saw that most methods were the results of the WWII and post-WWII development (e.g. PERT/CPM)- without a need and cultural infrastructure, they would have been impossible to develop and deploy.

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