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The Evolved Enterprise: Skills for survival

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In a new SmartPlanet column, analyst Vinnie Mirchandani outlines four key attributes companies need to compete when technology touches all industries.

Editor’s Note: We'd like to welcome you to a new guest column: "The Evolved Enterprise," by Vinnie Mirchandani. Over the next few weeks, Vinnie will discuss how corporations can use today's technology for tomorrow's competitive edge. (Read last week's column here.)

In my first column, I described the difficulty I had during the research period for my new book The New Technology Elite in finding any industry that was not embedding technology into their products and services. (The book catalogs more than 75 industries, from "smarter" shoes and shirts to hotel rooms and cars.)

What I found to be of great interest is that these companies needed to develop new skillsets and attitudes to go with their smart products and services. In the book, I outline 12 attributes I thought applied most to these phenomenon, with a chapter (and several examples, including a case study) devoted to each.

Among them:

Design Elegance. Tech-savvy customers are becoming increasingly familiar with gorgeous product design, from the work of Jonathan Ive at Apple to Google's Doodle team and Robert Brunner, who designed the Barnes & Nobile Nook e-reader, among other devices. As such, demand is increasing for design school graduates and those with with product experience at boutique firms. In my book, I use new airline carrier Virgin America as a case study: from the ordering process of refreshments to lighting to wireless Internet and entertainment options, the company has designed a unified in-cabin experience around technology.

Physical Presence. Brick-and-mortar retailers are supposed to be dead, at least for technology. Then Apple showed the industry how technology can be sold in person without eroding the value of the online shop. Customers like to test drive devices and expect good service to go along with their purchase. As more companies deliver their own "smart" devices, retailers like Home Depot and Walgreens have become technology stores, carrying it on their shelves but also in their hands, as employees use item location devices and customers use prescription refilling technology. In my book, Taubman Centers serves as a case study, a regional shopping mall chain that continues to thrive by embracing upscale, high-tech retailers such as Bose -- and investing its own money in digital infrastructure.

Paranoia. Technology vendors are used to product teardowns, jailbreaks and hacks. But companies who aren't traditionally tech retailers yet now use it in their "smart" products must anticipate -- indeed, be paranoid about -- similar treatment of their medical devices, automobiles or home systems. In my book, I detail the Wireless Aerial Surveillance Platform, a drone retrofitted with network penetration and mobile phone conversation interception capabilities. The lesson: sophisticated surveillance and hacking is possible with a limited budget.

Sustainability. Nearly every industry seems to be focused on reducing carbon emissions, but the sustainability of technology products takes a slightly different approach, depending on the company. Electronics manufacturers concern themselves with "conflict minerals," such as tantalum, which is a product of the strife in The Democratic Republic of Congo. Others seek solutions through creativity in the design of packaging materials. In my book, the case study is Google, whose data-focused business finds savings and sustainability in hyper-efficient data centers and a wide range of investments in wind, solar, geothermal and other cleaner sources of energy.

My book highlights another eight attributes. As a group, they may sound somewhat obvious and routine -- but it's the companies who practice them that are staking their ground as the new technology elite. They are the new benchmarks; they are the fiercest industry competition.

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Vinnie Mirchandani

Vinnie Mirchandani is the founder of Deal Architect, a site about technology trends and economics. He's a former Gartner technology industry analyst, PwC outsourcing executive and entrepreneur.