Product Marty Cagan

The Next Big Thing

You can read about technology breakthroughs in the green tech space nearly every day now, but my favorite has been watching the guys at Xerox PARC turn their expertise in electronics, materials science, printed circuit board technology and systems software towards the green technology market. We all owe a much greater debt to these guys than most people realize (especially if you’re reading this on a Mac or even using a mouse), but they’ve come up with some very innovative approaches to solar energy that could redefine how we generate power (check out concentrator photovoltaics). Another example is in solid-state lighting; did you realize that 22 percent of electricity produced in the US is used for lighting purposes, and that solid state lighting technology can cut this in half or more?

But most of you, like me, are in the software world, and you might be thinking that this is all great, but what does it have to do with me? My point is that much like the Internet came to touch nearly every type of business, I think green technology will do likewise. Both in how and where you conduct business, and in many cases, in the products you produce.

Virtually all of the innovations on the horizon in the green tech space have very significant amounts of system software, firmware, applications and web services. For example, new energy efficient heating and cooling systems rely on very sophisticated control software (the operating systems for these networks and devices). But even current software will be impacted, such as exchanges (probably more eBay categories) for trading manufacturing waste (one company’s waste is often another company’s raw materials), new and better access to local services, much better telecommuting and communications software and services, and new web services for resource sharing, just to mention a few.

I also fully expect that many of you will be recruited away to join these new companies that are getting venture investment now. While there is an obvious need for great engineers and scientists in the natural and physical sciences, what’s less obvious to some is the need for product management. But as with any industry, a great product is about more than just great technology. And I am anticipating that there will be an unprecedented demand for product leaders to get the inventions to market in the form of usable, affordable, compelling products.

In addition to best practices in product management, I think this wave is going to need all of the resources and capability of our “flat world” (as in, “The World is Flat” by Thomas Friedman) – the best research, engineering, manufacturing and distribution. In fact, I’m betting this product wave will be the first one to truly leverage the flat world that in large part the internet has enabled. And the market for these products will be virtually everyone everywhere on the planet.

While I don’t expect technology to solve all of the problems of the world, I do believe technology and great product leadership can solve our energy and environmental problems, and that we’re on the threshold of a wave of products that will literally redefine the landscape, in a very good way.