Is Your Company Leaving Money on the Table?
What is “Repurposing”?
A simple Google search on the word “repurposing” shows that the term is most frequently applied to the reuse of print and electronic media or documents.
Underscoring this association with media, The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition defines the verb as: “Repurpose: To use or convert for use in another format or product: repurposed the book as a compact disk.”
Having long ago understood the economic value of repurposing content, media and publishing companies have made repurposing an integral part of their business strategies. Outside of media and publishing, however, repurposing is generally not viewed as a growth strategy and, if undertaken at all, is done largely opportunistically.
After having worked with more than 220 companies over 27 years, I propose the following definition:
Repurposing: The process of using an existing technology, product or service to solve new problems, most often for users or buyers from different markets or industry verticals.
I would encourage most companies, and especially those that develop high-tech technologies and products, to make the investigation of repurposing opportunities a regular part of their business planning and product management activities. I believe that virtually all high-tech offerings – hardware, software or technology-based services – have the potential to solve more than one kind of problem for more than one type of customer.
Consider all the uses we make today of the computer chip, for example. Or better, think about the sophisticated technologies that have been developed for healthcare that have been shown to have applicability in other arenas like manufacturing or security such as the x-ray, ultrasound and MRI, to name just a few. And then there are all the wireless technologies that have emerged over the last 20 years – mobile, Wi-Fi, RFID, Bluetooth, Zigbee, WiMAX, and on and on. It’s virtually impossible to think of one single technology that actually has only one practical application.
It is also true that most developers are too close to their technologies to see the full potential of what they have created. And besides, it is almost always impossible to identify up front all the uses a given technology may have over time. And even if people could recognize all the possibilities, companies could not afford to “boil the ocean” and try to do everything all at once.
So firms must limit their application choices – especially during the early stages of development or in periods of rapid growth – so that they can actually get products and services to market in a timely fashion.
High Tech Firms Should Consider ‘Repurposing’ Existing Technologies, Products or Services as a Strategy for Maximizing Revenues and Returns
But because firms have to make these kinds of choices, it is logical to deduce that, from the time a technology is first proven to have useful and practical application until the time it is perceived to be obsolete, there will always exist some level of untapped market potential that a firm should periodically examine if it wants to maximize the revenues and ROI from that technology.
Unlocking Market Potential: Purposing versus Repurposing
A technology has been “purposed” once someone can demonstrate that it will economically solve problems that someone somewhere in the world would be willing to pay a reasonable amount of money to own and use. Technologies that cannot do this are best left on the shelves of the R&D departments that produced them. Interestingly, as author Henry Chesbrough has shown, it is not unusual for commercially viable technologies to end up on the shelf as well.
In his book on Open Innovation, Henry Chesbrough reveals how a technology with tremendous market potential can end up languishing on the shelf of the R&D department if it does not meet that firm’s criteria for commercialization. But in the hands of another firm, one with a different perspective or set of business expectations, this same technology can take on new life, often when used for a different purpose than its designers had originally anticipated. Chesbrough’s books provide numerous examples to help the reader understand how new perspective can unlock the potential of underdeveloped technologies.
‘Repurposing’ is similar to ‘purposing’, but takes a different perspective to get to the logical next level. Companies should view repurposing with a different set of expectations in mind. Purposing should be viewed as a way for firms to unlock the revenue potential of a technology, while repurposing should be viewed as one of several strategies a company can consider in order to maximize revenues, return on assets, and profits over the life of that technology.
Using Repurposing as Part of a Market Penetration Strategy
Industries adopt new technologies at different rates and for different purposes, so where repurposing opportunities may lie depends on how a given firm and its clients are positioned along the technology adoption curve. Firms that establish themselves early on in an emerging market are likely to be well positioned to pursue mid-cycle and late adopters either directly or through partners. Similarly, firms that create technologies that have applicability across are wide range of markets are well positioned to use repurposing as a way to reach other verticals.
Companies should begin looking for repurposing opportunities as soon as they have technologies that are proven and stable, and as long as their technologies are perceived to be sufficiently “advanced” to the members of at least one market segment. Once a technology is viewed as outmoded across applicable markets, the opportunity for repurposing has past.