They taught us in economies that companies have to specialize and build core competencies. They need to do things really well and be the best possible in the domains. But today, we think that does not make a lot of sense. For technology companies, everyone is doing everything, even at top-level. Alphabet, Google parent company, is a car company, a search company, a medical company, an advertising juggernaut, etc. Amazon.com is an e-commerce firm, a publisher, a movie producer, a drone maker, and soon a car maker.
Today, what do you think IBM does? Practically everything when you know that Watson has more than 100 flavors focusing on health, finance, real estate, etc. So as frenemies hits up, the entrenched mantra of core competency is falling apart. Read this piece from Fortune newsletter to get the idea.
Raise your hand if your company isn’t somehow involved with developing technology for autonomous vehicles. Okay, if your hand is up, quick question: What’s wrong with you?! Don’t you know you’re nothing right now if you’re not working on a self-driving car?
(You can put your hand down now. I’m kidding.)
To review, robotic vehicles not so long ago were the preserve of the Jetsons, locomotives and some other mass-transit trains, and various competitions funded by DARPA, the federal agency whose predecessor, ARPA, developed the Internet.
Then Google, seemingly inexplicably, started fooling around with cars without steering wheels, a “moonshot” unit now known as Waymo. Into the fray jumped Tesla and its Autopilot technology; General Motors, which bought 15-minute-old Cruise Automation and partnered with Lyft; Uber, which raided Carnegie Mellon’s roboticists, bought an autonomous trucking company called Otto, and got sued by the aforementioned Waymo; and Apple, which has said nary a peep about its self-driving aspirations, though it obviously has them.
This is merely the tip of the iceberg. The Wall Street Journal has a fascinating report that now Amazon is investigating autonomous technology too with a top-secret team devoted to the topic. The Journal said “the team serves as an in-house think tank to figure out how to leverage autonomous vehicles,” presumably for the purpose of delivery of packages. The account also said Amazon recently hosted a “radical transportation salon” on the future of transportation.
At the dawn of the Industrial Revolution companies specialized. They focused on electricity generation or steel manufacturing and the like. Today, the “frenemies” of the digital age must be end to end, or intelligent conglomerates. It isn’t sufficient to make software or Web-enabled platforms, for example. The megacaps of tech build their own data centers. Uber, a ride-hailing app, feels compelled to develop its own robotic-car technology. Amazon, already a massive UPS and United States Postal Service customer, is snapping up its own planes.
It probably won’t want people to fly them either.
In case you didn’t notice, Google is now worth more than $600 billion. What’s even more mind-boggling is that the next three largest public companies (Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook) and the one that’s bigger (Apple) are all in tech. Little ‘ole Berkshire Hathaway, at $409 billion, is the biggest non-tech player.