Hitotsubashi UniversityInstitute of Innovation Research
Institute of Innovation Research
The Wheel of Business Model Reinvention:
How to Reshape Your Business Model and
Organizational Fitness to Leapfrog Competitors
Sven C. Voelpel
Eden B. Tekie
IIR Working Paper WP#03-10
The Wheel of Business Model Reinvention:
How to Reshape Your Business Model and
Organizational Fitness to Leapfrog Competitors
Sven C. Voelpel
Eden B. Tekie
The Wheel of Business Model Reinvention:
How to Reshape Your Business Model and Organizational Fitness
to Leapfrog Competitors
Sven C. Voelpel
Harvard Business School
Boston, MA 02163, USA
University of Stellenbosch
Private Bag X1
7601 Matieland, South Africa
Eden B. Tekie
University of Stellenbosch
Private Bag X1
7601 Matieland, South Africa
May 19, 2003
The Wheel of Business Model Reinvention: How to
Reshape Your Business Model and Organizational
Fitness to Leapfrog Competitors
In today’s rapidly changing business landscapes, new sources of sustainable competitive
advantage can often only be attained from business model reinvention, based on
disruptive innovation and not incremental change or continuous improvement. Extant
literature indicates that business models and their reinvention have recently been the
focus of scholarly investigations in the field of strategic management, especially focusing
on the search for new bases of building strategic competitive advantage, not only to
outperform competitors but to especially leapfrog them into new areas of competitive
advantage. While the available results indicate that progress is being made on clarifying
the nature and key dimensions of business models, relatively little guidance of how to
reshape business models and its organizational fitness dimensions have emerged. This
article presents a systemic framework for business model reinvention, illustrates its key
dimensions, and proposes a systemic operationalization process. Moreover, it provides a
tool that helps organizations to evaluate both existing and proposed new business models.
Introduction: relevance of business model thinking and change
The extant literature in strategic management illustrate the increasing need of enterprises
to achieve sustainable competitive advantage in the increasingly turbulent and
unpredictable business landscapes of the 21st century. In addition, there are many
analyses and discussions of how technology and the “new economy” have changed
traditional business models in many industries, ranging from hi-tech to commodity
industries. However, there is little consensus of what new business models really mean,
and especially how they are created, evaluated and sustained. It is evidently important to
develop frameworks and guidelines in this regard, to assist organizations in utilizing
resources effectively for survival and new bases for future wealth creation.
Every organization has a business model, simply described as its “way of doing business”
or its “business concept” so that it can sustain itself.1 The rapid-changing business
environment of today has brought about numerous new business models in addition to
reinvention of existing ones. This creation and reinvention of new business models, and
not just continuous improvement, are now being regarded as providing the disruptive
competitive advantages necessary to survive and thrive in an environment where the
‘rules of the game’ change quickly in almost all companies and industries. The challenge
for companies, therefore, is to develop frameworks of how new business models and new
industries emerge, and tools to enable managers to develop new business models and
their accompanying organizational fitness requirements.
This paper, first, reviews the driving forces in the environment that provides pressures for
new business models; second, indicates the relevance of reinvented business models for
competitive advantage; third, outlines the particular challenges for industry incumbents in
developing new business models; fourth, compares the various views of the concept of
new business models and identifies its generic components; next, provides a systemic
framework for new business model reinvention; and finally, proposes a tool for
operationalizing and evaluating a new business model.
The driving forces for new business model development
Where the industrial era’s environment was relatively stable and simple, today’s
companies are operating in a landscape of continuous and complex change. Hamel2 has
termed it the “age of revolution” – where change is no longer additive, but
“discontinuous, abrupt, seditious”. Prahalad and Oosterveld3 use the term “competitive
discontinuity” and define discontinuity as an abrupt change.
These abrupt changes, mainly driven by advanced technology, knowledge-networking
and globalization, has created a competitive landscape with substantial uncertainty and
unpredictability. The resulting new socio-techno-economic environment is one that
challenges the essence of relatively stable business models that firms use to achieve their
The major driving forces behind the rapid and unpredictable change in the business
environment include the following:
Deregulation and Privatization: where local monopolies are removed it allows
companies and industries to exploit global opportunities by collaborating with
companies outside their home country to gain access to capital, technology, skills,
innovative capabilities, and other resources in industries that have been mostly local.4
Technological Change: significant improvements in the areas of communication and
information technology have resulted in increased connectivity, facilitated
transmission of large amounts of information, and low cost in processing information.
This technological advancement prompts a wide array of options for businesses in
terms of how, where and when to find and seize opportunities. As a result,
technological innovations create new market opportunities.5
Globalization: viewing the world as a single market has created substantial
uncertainty in the competitive landscape by bringing about fundamental changes in
the traditional boundaries of nations, industries, and companies. And such changes
continue to challenge the traditional rules of competition.6
These driving forces, together with changing competitive relationships, have removed the
certainty and stability in the economic environment from almost every industry.
Consequently, the competitive landscape has undergone a fundamental change. The
newly emerging environment has three major distinguishing features:7 it is vastly
globalized; it favours intangible things (ideas, information, relationships, knowledge);
and it is intensely interlinked within ubiquitous networks. These three attributes produce
a new type of marketplace and society often termed the “new economy”, “knowledge
economy”, or “networked economy”.8
The ‘new economy’ and impacts
There are overlapping discontinuities that differentiate the “new” economy from the
“old”, and understanding their characteristics is essential for transforming businesses to
be successful. These discontinuities include:
• Digitization, Virtualization and Networking: Networks and digitized information
make it possible for copious amounts of information to be compressed, stored,
retrieved and transmitted instantly from around the world. This results in the
availability, and easy accessibility, of information across the world and gives
everyone instant access to each other.9
As information shifts from analog to digital, physical things can become
“virtual”.10 Although “place” is still important (real-time face-to-face meetings
retain their value), organizations increasingly operate in a “space” (i.e. an
electronically created environment), where more and more economic transactions
are taking place.11
With networking, the new organization is a web of relationships in which the
boundaries inside and outside are permeable and fluid. Such networks break down
the traditional boundaries that existed among companies and their suppliers,
customers, competitors and other stakeholders. This enables companies to
collaborate and gain the advantages of independence, speed, and flexibility in
relation to changing market needs.12
• Industry Convergence: Many traditional industry boundaries are disappearing or
substantially changing, with the pressures to ‘converge’ reshaping most industries.
Consequently, convergence has resulted in industry structures that are
fundamentally different from traditional ones. The convergence in industries such
as in computing, telecommunications, and consumer electronics and also in
investment, insurance, and banking industries are changing the way companies do
their business. These changes suggest that the business models developed to
compete within a traditional industry structure become irrelevant in the new,
• Deconstruction: Evans and Wurster define deconstruction as the “dismantling and
reformulation of traditional business structures” resulting from two forces: “the
separation of the economics of information from the economics of things, and the
blow up (within the economics of information) of the trade-off between richness
and reach”.14 When these two forces take place, there is no longer a need for the
components of traditional business structures of organizations and value chains to
be integrated. These deconstructed pieces fragment into several businesses that
have separated sources of competitive advantage, or recombine to form new
business structures. Therefore, this process of deconstruction challenges the
competitive advantages that depended on traditional business structures.
• Knowledge and Innovation: In the global economy “knowledge knows no
boundaries” as knowledge permeates through people, products, and
organizations.15 It is an economy which shows a shift from the industrial-based to
a knowledge- and information-based economy. Accordingly, organizations are
relying more on intellectual (intangible) assets and less on the physical (tangible)
assets that were important to the industrial age.16
This economy is also characterized as an innovation-based economy with human
imagination and ingenuity a main source of value. Given the increased pace of
change and complexity in the business environment, there is a need to constantly
innovate to keep ahead of imitating competitors.17 Additionally, each innovation
is a platform from which other innovations can be created. It is this expanding and
limitless characteristic of innovations that prompts wealth creation in the new
competitive business environment.18
• Mobility and Value Creation: In the knowledge-networked economy, mobility has
a significant positive impact on accelerating and increasing knowledge,
innovation and value creation. Therefore, especially pioneering companies in
knowledge intensive industries, such as consulting, e.g. McKinsey, and
investment banking, e.g. Goldman Sachs, are benefiting from increasing their
employees mobility within their companies. Their employees are travelling
extensively for intense face-to-face meetings and are utilizing advanced
information and communication technology, such as videoconferencing, for
increasing both dimensions, physical and virtual mobility. Next industries
currently undergoing that transformation are companies within the high tech
industry, such as biotechnology, e.g. Monsanto, and telecommunication, e.g.
Siemens. Initiatives such as People ShareNet are established within companies
like Siemens to accelerating the companies’ mobility for increasing value
• Prosumerism: In many industries consumers are getting actively involved in the
production process, blurring the gap that existed between consumers and
producers.20 This is known as “prosumption”.21 In such situations, the company
and its customers “co-create” products and services. An important aspect of
prosuming is that since customers are involved in the creation of the
product/service they are more likely to be satisfied with the final result. And the
firm, in turn, has customers who are in a much stronger relationship with them
than before.22 Therefore, in this process, both organizations and customers rely on
the relationship they develop and maintain in creating products and/or services.23
• Zero Cycles: Discontinuity has created an era where the life cycles of products
and services have become considerably shorter. The pace of business has also
increased with rising customer expectations and new products entering the market
at a much faster rate. Therefore, immediacy has become a key driver and variable
in business success. This immediacy imposes new demands on organizations to
continuously and instantly adjust to changing business conditions.24 Succeeding to
operate at this rapid pace becomes a source of competitive advantage.
• Disintermediation and Reintermediation: Traditional value chains were filled with
intermediaries (wholesalers, dealers, and distributors) who distributed a
completed product/service. However, the economy undergoes disintermediation
with the deconstruction of traditional organizational boundaries (assisted by
advancements in network technology and communication), and companies are
increasingly able to deal directly with end users. This helps organizations to gain
sophisticated knowledge about consumers and learn more about how to better
serve them. Intermediaries often become unnecessary when buyers and sellers can
deal with each other directly. This process of disintermediation threatens to
challenge a number of established distributors and agents.25
However, the “reintermediation” opportunities are much greater than the
disintermediation threats,26 since network technologies, in actuality, generate new
intermediaries. Kelly27 explains that “[t]he more connections there are between
members in a net, the more intermediary nodes there can be. [Therefore],
everything in a network is intermediating something else”. Hence,
disintermediation can create opportunities for new and different middlemen.
Such major shifts in the business environment as described above have changed many
traditional industry structures and sources of competitive advantage. These changes
suggest that organizations have to change their business models in order to sustain
themselves in the new business landscape. From the above analysis of new environmental
driving forces is evident that an organization, as part of a “business ecosystem” that
operates across a variety of industries,28 should have a “systemic” perspective that is not
restricted by traditional boundaries. This understanding implies that organizations need to
shift from traditional (existing industry focused, mechanistic thinking) approaches of
strategic management to ones that are systemic (holistic, new value configuration
focused) in nature. Such systemic thinking assists organizations in developing sense
making capabilities and systemic frameworks for reinventing business models.
Relevance of business model reinvention for organizations
In the rapidly-changing environment discussed above, a company should be oriented and
capable of reinventing its strategy not when it is in the midst of a crisis, but
continuously.29 After all, no matter how successful and superior a company’s current
business model seems to be, it will be “imitated, diluted and commoditized” by others
and challenged by new business models.30 Therefore, organizations should constantly
attempt to create new business models if they hope to survive and grow in a turbulent and
It is also becoming increasingly difficult for companies to have their existing business
models generate sustainable profit indefinitely. The key reasons include major and
unpredictable changes in the business environment and the increasing importance placed
on innovation and knowledge as value-creating attributes, that must be found more
frequently than ever before. Therefore, the accelerating pace of the business environment
and the need for constant innovation create a challenge in sustaining the efficacy of
existing business models. 31
The significance of changing the “rules of the game” in today’s business landscape
include being persistently innovative and imaginative in differentiating own and industry
strategy (or business model); reinventing existing business models or creating new ones
instead of simply improving or optimizing current business models; realizing the
competitive advantage found in proactively restructuring the industry’s environment
through a first-mover mindset; and “experimenting” with a portfolio of strategies. These
are discussed below.
Dealing with different types of innovation
Hamel32 points out that the challenge today is to become the “architect of industry
revolution”, i.e. to be the creator of the kinds of fundamental change in business models
that transform companies and industries through “non-linear innovation”. Such
innovation requires companies to come up with entirely new solutions to customer needs.
This, in turn, will help to break out of the hyper-competition experienced in many
There are two kinds of innovation.33 The first is innovation regarding the firm’s historic
strategy (change own strategy). The second is innovation with respect to the firm’s
industry and its competitors (proactively reinvent the industry). Succeeding at both kinds
of innovation is not easy and few companies are skilful enough to do both. This also
applies to many organizations that are capable of creating radical business models but do
not exist long enough to discover another strategy.34
From an additional viewpoint, according to Moore,35 every business ecosystem develops
in four distinct stages: birth, expansion, leadership, and self-renewal (otherwise, death).
The self-renewal stage in the business ecosystem occurs when established business
communities are threatened by rising new ecosystems and innovations. Therefore,
companies have to work innovatively to bring new ideas to the existing ecosystem. They
can do this by integrating new innovations into their own ecosystems, or they can
fundamentally restructure themselves to cope with the new competitive landscape. If they
cannot accomplish this, companies will be easily supplanted by others who manage to do
Efficiency (continuous improvement) versus radical innovation
A distinction between reengineering and reinvention is essential. While restructuring and
reengineering have the aim of “wringing out” the inefficiencies and maximizing
profitability, reinvention, on the other hand, requires new skills, new business models,
new behaviours, new ways of selling products and services, marketing, doing business,
and using new technology.36
The business environment is increasingly divided into two kinds of organizations:37 those
that seemingly cannot move beyond continuous improvement/innovation, and those who
have made a jump to radical innovation.
Prahalad and Oosterveld discuss what they call “old remedies and new problems”. 38 At
the first signs of competitive difficulty, such as loss of market share, profit declines, and
new competitors (new problems), managers assume cost cutting and other forms of
improving efficiency (old remedies) will revitalize them. By means of restructuring
activities, managers are able to reduce inefficiencies that have accumulated over the years,
but that does not solve competitiveness problems since managers keep applying old
solutions to new problems. Thus, their first reaction to discontinuities is to “work harder”
when what they need to do is “work differently”. This is a characteristic situation of the
“Red Queen effect”39 - where the Queen comments to Alice, in Through the Looking
Glass, that it takes all the running to keep in the same place. For companies historically
locked in a Red Queen race, future sustainable competitive advantage will come only to
those who are able to radically change their business models to stay ahead.
It is becoming evident that companies have to move beyond improving efficiencies to
fundamentally changing their current business models. Therefore, the challenge is not
whether the company can reengineer its processes, but whether it can reinvent its own
and the entire industry’s model.40
“First mover” advantage
In addition to exogenous changes taking place in the business environment, such as
technology and the global landscape, firms often have the ability to proactively reshape
the boundaries, structure, and dynamics of their industry’s environment.41
First movers are the first to introduce new goods or services. In doing so, they earn
“monopoly profits” until competitors imitate their innovations.42 Therefore, being early
and fast movers in responding to environmental change, or being a pioneer in actively
initiating change in one’s environment, can give a firm a major competitive advantage.43
Additionally, since the network economy favours the “nimble and quick”,44 those
companies and technologies that grow gradually and slowly will not be able to compete
with early starters. And because of the ‘law of increasing returns’, not only will they find
it difficult to catch up with first movers but may find it difficult to compete at all.
However, some authors, such as Bartlett and Ghoshal45, mention there are instances
where being a late mover (or secondary mover) is a source of competitive advantage
rather than a disadvantage. By benchmarking and adapting competitors’ business models,
late movers can learn from the demands, opportunities and challenges faced by their
competitors and benefit by discovering niches overlooked by competitors or adopting
different business models from that of competitors. Thus, although some distinct
advantages accrue to prime movers in some instances, they often bear the “pioneering
costs” while the longer term advantages could go to those who learn from the prome
movers’ early mistakes, or become adept emulators.46
Complex adaptive systems
Since the business environment is complex and unpredictable, it is not possible for
organizations to generate strategy on a premeditated and deliberate basis of the company
and its environment. Mintzberg47 identifies the three fallacies in generating strategies:
that prediction is possible, that strategists can be detached from the day-to-day business
operations, and, above all, that the strategy-making process can be formalized.
However, with insight into complex adaptive systems and complexity theory, it is
possible that amid the seeming chaos and diversity in the turbulent environment, there are
underlying rules that assist organizations in self-organization and emergent behaviour.
Complex systems are difficult and often impossible to predict because they exhibit major
disruptions. As the environment and the strategies of competitors change, the fitness
attributable to any given potential strategy will also change. Therefore, organizations
should rely less on their ability to make accurate predictions and more on the “power of
fitness evolution” so as to better understand business strategy. Consequently, companies
should not have singular focused strategies, but a set of multiple “robust adaptive”
strategies that will provide flexibility in the uncertain and unpredictable environment. 48
The implication of the above is that before current competitive advantages from existing
business models and strategies are fully depleted, companies should already be exploring
new opportunities in the changing external environment and industry dynamics by
creating a range of diverse strategies and new capabilities through innovation and
experimentation. For example, Microsoft developed a range of strategy options to choose
from when it launched its Windows program (see Microsoft box).
In the late 1980s, with DOS coming to the end of its useful life, Bill Gates focused on
moving the industry to another Microsoft product, Windows. Appreciating the
uncertainty of this restructuring point, however, he hedged his bet by also investing in
Windows’ competitors: Unix, OS/2, and the Apple Macintosh system. In addition, his
company developed generic skills in object-oriented programming and graphical
interface design - skills that would be useful no matter which system won, even if it were
a complete unknown. Gates’s approach of pursuing several paths simultaneously is
intrinsically difficult to manage. He was accused in the press of not having a strategy and
confusing customers, and it is easy to imagine that there were internal tensions within
Microsoft as well.
Robust strategy differs from traditional scenario analysis in that it does not presuppose an
ability to identify the most or least likely outcomes. Being robust calls for the ability to
pursue a package of potentially conflicting strategies at the same time. Such a package
might include big shaping bets (such as Windows), hedges (support of OS/2), and no-
regrets moves that are valid regardless of outcome (building object-oriented
programming skills). A robust package of strategies covers a broad array of possibilities
and evolve over time, and the greater the uncertainty, the greater their value.
Source: Beinhocker, 199749
It is evident that the increasingly complex business landscape requires reinvention of
business models for new organizational fitness: the new business model or strategy
should be one that is dynamic and robust, and which results in the reinvention of
organizations and/or industries with appropriate organizational fitness capabilities.
Challenges for industry incumbents
Developing new business models requires the discarding of conventional beliefs and
established ways of doing business. However, the challenge for top management in
industry incumbents (established companies in the industry, especially large ones) is to
‘let go’ of industry orthodoxy and lead their companies in continuously developing
appropriate new business models. It is useful to recognize and understand the dilemmas
and challenges faced by established companies when competing within the rapidly
changing business environment.
In general, large organizations resist disruptive change partly because the kind of change
being required is radical and challenging. That is, what is needed is no longer a matter of
incremental change, but realizing a discontinuous transformation in both organization and
industry.50 The following describe some of the difficulties incumbents face in the new
• Limited Perspectives of Top Management: Most leading businesses started off
with an innovative competitive model that sets them apart from their competitors.
This, in turn, encourages top management to focus its energies and resources on
refining and extending the existing business model. Consequently, the creative
thinking that brought about the company’s initial success is often replaced by a
commitment to the existing business model. However, when changes occur in the
business environment, this rigidity brings failure to the company.51 Sull termed
this phenomenon “active inertia”- the inability to take appropriate action. Thus,
the more successful a firm gets, the more entrenched its managerial routines tend
Moreover, senior executives are usually promoted from within and have strong
social ties. As a result, they may not have the necessary experience for a different
approach of managing. However, managers should be able to identify
discontinuities, determine their impact on the market, and develop new business
models.52 This is because ultimately the business landscape has considerably
changed to assume that industry boundaries and business models remain the same.
• Unlearning the Past: This feature follows from the above-mentioned point, in that
corporate managers have “excess of rationality”53 that causes them to disregard
important new technologies and markets. But these rational instincts are effective
only when it is a matter of incrementally improving existing offerings and not in
becoming drivers of industries. Christensen54 also cites that many of what are now
‘widely established principles of good management’ are often only situationally
Changes in organizations often do not occur unless it is on the verge of collapsing,
or facing major disruptions. However, today the competitive landscape is
changing so fast that such experiences alone have become irrelevant, and the
organization has to learn how to compete in this new environment.55 In order to
accomplish this, organizations should significantly unlearn their traditional
strategy mindset, way of thinking and doing, and business models in order to
survive in the rapidly changing business environment.
• Difficulty in Cannibalizing Existing Business: Incumbents can easily become
inept because of their reluctance to deconstruct their established business model
(e.g. sales and distribution systems, and long-term relationships with suppliers
and customers), and this hesitation becomes the greatest competitive advantage
for new competitors. For this reason, companies have to pre-emptively
cannibalize their own businesses to remain competitive.56
Although this point may be easy to grasp intellectually, it is profoundly difficult
in practice for established companies. This is paradoxical because for companies
to survive and remain competitive in the knowledge and information economy,
they have to cannibalize their existing business models and at the same time
develop new and innovative business models while still benefiting from the
existing ones. Even so, incumbents should allow Schumpeter’s “creative
destruction”57 to operate, i.e. the paradox of perfecting (improving, making
efficient) products and services only to destroy (cannibalizing, reinventing) them
is a challenge for managers.58 Nevertheless, it is important to realize that if
incumbents are to defend themselves against competitors, they should play the
roles of creator, cannibal and destroyer of their own business models.
The need for innovation and creativity has become stronger in a competitive landscape
where business models have shorter life cycles. Yet there is reluctance and hesitation in
established organizations to let go of traditional ways of doing their business. Incumbents
tend to follow established patterns of thinking and working despite dramatic
environmental changes. However, it is critical for companies to acknowledge that the
way to survive and thrive in this different business landscape is through unorthodox and
An example of how discontinuity in the environment can lead a company rooted in
traditional business model thinking to its downfall is suitably portrayed by Encyclopaedia
Britannica (see box).
Since 1768, Encyclopaedia Britannica has evolved through fifteen editions and to this
day it is regarded as the world’s most comprehensive and authoritative encyclopaedia. In
the 1970s, Britannica grew into a serious commercial enterprise. The content was revised
every four or five years, and the company built one of the most aggressive and successful
direct sales forces in the world. By 1990, sales of Britannica’s multivolume sets had
reached an all-time high of about $650 million. Since 1990, however, sales of Britannica
have collapsed by over 80 percent. Britannica was under serious threat from a new
competitor: the CD-ROM.
The CD-ROM came from ‘nowhere’ and destroyed the printed encyclopaedia business.
Whereas Britannica sells for $1,500 to $2,000 per set, CD-ROM encyclopaedias sell for
$50 to $70 with the vast majority of copies given away for free to promote the sale of
computers. While the marginal manufacturing cost of Britannica is about $250 for
production plus about $500 to $600 for salesperson’s commission, the CD-ROM’s
marginal cost is $1.50 per copy.
Britannica’s executives initially seemed to have viewed the CD-ROM encyclopaedia as
an irrelevance, but as revenues plunged, it became obvious regardless of the quality, CD-
ROM encyclopaedias were serious competition. As sales continued to plummet, the
company eventually put together their own version of the encyclopaedia.
The CD-ROM version engendered yet another crisis: the CD-ROM version of Britannica
could not possibly produce the $500 to $600 sales commission its traditional counterpart
produced. To avoid a revolt by the sales force, Britannica executives decided to bundle
the printed product with its digital counterpart. The CD-ROM was given free to buyers of
the multivolume set. Anyone who wanted to buy just the CD-ROM would have to pay
$1,000. The decision appeased the sales force briefly, but did nothing to stem the
continuing collapse of sales. In 1995, the company was put up for sale, and after eighteen
months it was sold for less than half of the book value. In less than five years, one of the
greatest brand names in the English-speaking world, with a heritage of more than 200
years, was nearly destroyed by an inexpensive, plastic disk.
Source: Adapted from Evans and Wurster59
Generic definition of a business model and its key dimensions
To understand the concept of new business models, it is important to comprehend exactly
what a business model means and what its key features are. There are several
knowledgeable case examples and analyses on how traditional business models have
changed, or need to be changed, due to changes in technology and globalization.
However, despite a widespread intuitive understanding, an analysis by Schmid et al.60
reveals a confusing and incomplete picture of the dimensions, perspectives, and core
issues of business models. The results disclose that there are hardly any explicit
references to business models; that an understanding of business models often remains
unspecific and implicit; and that consensus on the key elements of business models is
It is evident that should a company have a comprehensive and cohesive understanding of
a business model and its identified key elements at its disposal, it can be a source of
competitive advantage and assist management in reinventing the company and/or their
industry. As a starting point, Timmers61 provides a useful definition of a business model
• an architecture for the product, service and information flows, including a
description of the various business actors and their roles;
• a description of the potential benefits for the various business actors; and
• a description of the sources of revenues.
On the basis of a general understanding of what business models seem to be, it is
essential to comprehend the various key components, dimensions, and frameworks of
Review and comparison of approaches to the concept of a business model
An extant literature review by the authors identified a variety of established business
model definitions. These definitions are henceforth selectively analysed and compared to
arrive at the generic elements of business models.
• Schmid et al.62 distinguish six generic elements of a business model: mission,
structure, processes, revenues, legal issues, and technology. When designing a
business model and applying the framework, Schmid et al. emphasize that all six
generic elements and the dynamics of the respective elements have to be
• According to Viscio and Paternack,63 a firm’s business model comprises five
elements: global core (with five key missions: identity, strategic leadership,
capabilities, control mission, and capital mission), business units, services,
governance, and linkages. This model defines the elements individually as well as
collectively, indicating that the model must generate a “system” value in addition
to the value from the individual parts. This system value establishes what should
be inside and what should be outside the organization. It additionally assists in
setting the standards for performance expectations from each of the elements.
• Hamel64 states that the elements of a business concept and a business model are
the same; a business model is simply a business concept that has been put into
practice. A business concept comprises four major components: core strategy,
strategic resources, customer interface, and value network. Intermediating
between the components are three elements (customer benefits, configuration of
competencies, and company boundaries) that link and relate the major
As is evident from the above descriptions, there are overlapping and common elements
among the components and dimensions of business models suggested by the various
authors. The next section extracts the central theme from these definitions and proposes
an integrated framework of business models.
Towards an integration of (generic) elements and definition of a business model
Firstly, business models consist of many dimensions and there does not seem to be a
single set of dimensions of a business model that applies to all companies and to all
industries.65 However, as indicated above, it seems to be generally accepted that the
model should enable the creation of value for the various participants in its value chain.
Moreover, it must generate a total “system” value that is higher than the sum total value
from its individual parts.
From the above analysis of various generic elements of a business model, the term
“business model” can be defined as (see Figure 1):
The particular business concept (or way of doing business) as reflected by the
business’s core value proposition(s) for customers; its configurated value
network(s) to provide that value, consisting of own strategic capabilities as well as
other (e.g. outsourced/allianced) value networks and capablities; and its leadership
and governance enabling capabilities to continually sustain and reinvent itself to
satisfy the multiple objectives of its various stakeholders (including shareholders).
From this definition the generic elements in business models are now clear:
• new customer value proposition (which could also involve new customer base);
• a new value network configuration for that value creation; and
• leadership capabilities that ensure the satisfaction of all relevant stakeholders.
The key elements of the business model are important sources of competitive advantage
in the business landscape. The components of the business model are useful bases for
developing evaluation dimensions and tools for new business models, and these are
illustrated as a systemic model (or framework) in the next section.
Internal and External
- Legal Issues
Customer Value Propositions
Dynamic Knowledge and IC Capabilities
Figure 1: Key Elements of a Business Model
A systemic framework for developing a new business model
As indicated previously, traditional strategic management approaches involve a
competitive orientation with companies mainly attempting to get better (or “fitter”) to
achieve unique positions in the existing industry. This is rooted in mechanistic, industry
boundary-oriented thinking, with companies striving to continuously improve themselves
(“running harder and harder”). In today’s more chaotic environment, organizations
should rather strive to systemically reinvent themselves (“run differently”).
It is possible for organizations to reinvent themselves with systemic strategy approaches,
i.e. value propositions for customers enabled by systemic new industry configurations,
while still maintaining their existing business models if these are still valid and resulting
in profits for the company.66 The latter is indeed very important, as the old business
model has to provide the necessary funding for the new business model experimentation
and incubation, while it still has relevance to some (‘old’) customers and value chains. In
this section a review of selected approaches to developing a new business model is first
provided, and then a systemic integrated framework is proposed.
Review of selected approaches in developing new business models
Taking into consideration the challenges faced by incumbents in cannibalizing their
existing business models and operating in unconventional ways, a number of authors
have suggested ways to enable both new entrants and established companies to create
new business models, or reinvent existing ones, in their organization and industry. Two
prominent approaches are highlighted here:
• Extended Value Chain Management: According to Govindarajan and Gupta67 the
business model involves the areas of customer definition, customer value
identification, and value chain process design. Accordingly, they have identified
three highly interconnected arenas in which the rules of the game can be changed.
These include the dramatic redesign of the end-to-end value chain architecture
that has reduced costs and/or greatly enhanced value; transformation of the value
customers receive by providing comprehensive new customer solution(s); and
redefinition of the customer base by discovering and serving previously hidden
• Drivers of Customer Value Creation: Amit and Zott68 propose four sources of
value creation that demand equal consideration and enhance the value-creation
potential of a business. These are: efficiency (e.g. increased information flows and
reduced information asymmetries between buyers and sellers); complementaries
of products/services as an integrated bundle of products/services; lock-in
incentives to create high switching costs for customers and strategic partners; and
novelty of the product/service as unique and recognized to be pioneering, thus
creating previously unrecognized value.
Both approaches place emphasis on creating value for customers, as a starting point, in
developing new business models. This is the basis they use from which viable and
successful business models can be created. Accomplishing this will enable new customer
value propositions, and this in turn intensifies the firm’s ability to reinvent itself and its
value chain, and thereby to change the rules of the game in its industry.
It is important to note, however, that it is essential to establish a suitable organizational
environment, including appropriate managerial approaches and thinking, to enable new
business models to arise. Firstly, organizations should be able to make coherent creativity
and innovation an outcome of a company-wide capability that combines a diverse and
purposeful set of ideas and viewpoints from people throughout the organization, as well
as among stakeholders (e.g. customers, suppliers, distributors) linked to the
organization.69 And secondly, they should also be able to create an environment in which
the organization can coherently self-organize and remain competitive by establishing a
shared vision/identity and values, creating acceptable degrees of ‘disorder’ that stimulate
creativity, encourage self-learning and promote risk-taking.70
Systemic strategy thinking as a prerequisite in networked value creation
The frameworks for development of new business models suggested in the literature -
including that of Govindarajan and Gupta, and Amit and Zott reviewed above - consider
business models from an individual organization perspective. However, there is a shift to
a new strategic management paradigm that views strategic management in broader
systemic context, termed ‘systemic strategy management’ – i.e. the co-shaping of
organizational value propositions through systemic organizational capabilities.71
Successful businesses are those that co-evolve rapidly and effectively by bringing
together resources, partners, suppliers, customers, and other agents to create cooperative
networks. This implies that in a “business ecosystem”, companies work cooperatively
and competitively to generate new products/services, satisfy customer needs, and
incorporate future innovations.72 From an ecosystem perspective, therefore, the strategy
focus of an individual firm is to co-shape and co-perform with the other players in the
business community and to build co-opted capabilities in the ecosystem.
The critical dimension of an ecosystem is that it is not restricted to an organization’s
traditional industry, customer base and supply chain, but typically could also span a
variety of industries, stakeholders, organizations, and markets and customers. Systemic
strategy thinking, then, is the basis of business ecosystems mindset with an understanding
of particular phenomena and value-creation possibilities within the context of a larger
whole.73 Figure 2 provides a systemic framework for understanding this co-shaping of the
development of new business models.
and Dynamic Capabilities
Reinvent the concept
of customer value
and value chains
Reconfigure core business
strategy and systemic
Systemic Knowledge Management
Figure 2: A systemic perspective of developing new business models
The figure indicates that a new business model arises not only from reconfiguring an
organization’s core business strategy and dynamic capabilities, but also from making
sense of socio-cultural dynamics and opportunity gaps, reinventing of customer value
proposition(s), and reconfiguring the business network and its value chains.
Due to increased networking, deconstruction, prosumption, and other disruptive changes
that are taking place in the business environment, it has been possible to co-shape
customer value creation that result in new business models and industries. For example,
the web of relationships that networks span sets in motion the flow of knowledge and
innovations among co-evolving organizations and individuals (customers, suppliers,
producers, competitors, and other stakeholders). These networks transcend the traditional
organizational value chains and boundaries, and bring about the creation and sharing of
knowledge, innovation, capabilities and skills through both competition and collaboration.
This improves and sharpens managerial sense-making of socio-cultural business system
dynamics, for managers to guide, cultivate and shape self-organizing creative activities
in the organization for the creation and building of new business models .
For example, consider the systemic creation of new customer value: In today’s
knowledge economy, customers are more informed, knowledgeable, competent and
directly reachable. Customers can now become active participants with companies in the
“co-creation” of customer value propositions, customer expectations and market
acceptance for products and services.
A systemic strategic knowledge management, then, provides the basis for continuous
radical innovation and adaptation to the changing environment through co-shaped
customer value propositions. This applies similarly to all stakeholders in value chains, e.g.
suppliers and distributors, not only inside traditional value chains but in the strategic
business ecosystem. Therefore, its generation and utilization should be strategically
managed, in a systemic way, to enhance the dynamic capabilities of the individual
The wheel of business model reinvention: how to operationalize and
measure the development of new business models
Traditionally, the success or effectiveness of a business strategy could be evaluated in
terms of well it: fits the general external environment (political/legal, sociocultural,
technological, economic, demographic, and global aspects of the outside world); fits the
industry in question (Porter’s five forces); consider environmental trends, identify
success factors and deal with the ramifications; and takes advantage of the firm’s current
core competencies, or call for acquiring core competencies, necessary for the strategy to
This “fitting” concept of an organization was mostly used for existing business models
and applied in an analytical context, and should not be confused with the concept of
organizational fitness, i.e. dynamic capabilities for systemic adaptive and reinventive
activities. The challenge that arises is how to operationalize the dimensions of new
model creation, as depicted in Figure 2, and how to evaluate proposed new business
models within the uncertainty, unpredictability, and rapid change in the business
Figure 3 depicts the four-dimensional tool of business reinvention by making sense of
environmental changes and the relevance of a possible new business model.
The wheel of business model reinvention consists of four dimensions:75
• Customer sensing (including new customer value propositions): refers to the
relative ease of acceptance of a new value proposition.
Figure 3: Wheel of business model reinvention
benefits & success
Ease of transition
Sensing potential for change in
Customer/User Behaviour and
New Customer Value Propositions
Business System Infrastructure
Sensing the potential for value system
New business network roles
Improved business network
Guiding and leading the network
profitability of the
and impact of
• Technology sensing: indicates the relative strength, direction and impact of
technology on new customer value and the business network.
• Business infrastructure sensing (organizational and business network
infrastructure): refers to the relative responsiveness of the traditional business
network to reconfiguration, or relative ease of a new business network
• Economics/profitability sensing: indicates the relative economic feasibility and
profitability of the proposed model.
The closer the results are to the outer limits of the figure, the more likely it is for business
model reinvention. Whenever, for instance, new technologies emerge, new businesses are
likely to be created, and competitive advantages could accrue to effective first (prime)
movers and/or early movers and close followers. The framework takes into account the
dynamic nature of business models and, moreover, considers critical dimensions, such as
customer value creation, economic feasibility and the impact of technology and business
The wheel illustrates the interactive (systemic) flow from all four dimensions in business
model reinvention. Organizations seek ways of creating customer value propositions with
products/services that are innovative and that satisfy generic underlying needs. Suitable
technology should be in place that can easily leverage efficiency and the new customer
value. The business system infrastructure, in turn, should be configured in such a way
that would enhance the customer value that has been created and being offered. Finally,
all the endeavours that have hitherto been undertaken should be economically feasible to
benefit all those involved in the reinvention process, as well as in newly configured value
chains. Organizations should continuously attempt to reinvent themselves, hence, the
wheel starts all over again with sensing customer needs and the potential for creating new
customer value propositions and resumes with the rest of the framework’s dimensions.
Application of the wheel
There are numerous examples of organizations that have both reinvented themselves and
their industry. Companies such as IKEA76 and Wal-Mart77 have succeeded in “changing
the rules of the game” and becoming drivers of their industries by discarding
conventional beliefs and established ways of doing business. For the purpose of this study
the companies BRL Hardy and Dell are used as demonstrating examples.
BRL Hardy’s New Business Model in the Global Wine Industry
Among many companies in the global wine industry, one that took advantage of others’
inflexibilities was BRL Hardy, an Australian wine company that defied many of the well-
entrenched traditions of international wine production, trading, and distribution – despite
the fact that its home country produces only 2% of the world’s wine.
From a 1991 base of $31 million in export sales – much of it bulk for private labels and
the rest a potpourri of bottled products sold through distributors – Hardy built its foreign
sales to $178 million in 1998, almost all of it directly marketed as branded products. The
insight that triggered this turnaround was the realization that for a lot of historical
reasons, the wine business – unlike the soft-drinks or packaged-foods industries – had
very few true multinational companies and therefore very few true global brands. This
was a great opportunity waiting to be seized.
The inflexibility of the European practice could be attributed to labelling wines by region,
subregion, and even village. A vineyard could be further categorized according to its
historical quality classification. The resulting complexity not only confuses consumers
but also fragments producers, whose small scale prevents them from building brand
strength or distribution capability. This created an opportunity for major retailers to
overcome consumers’ confusion, and capture more value themselves, by buying in bulk
and selling under the store’s own label.
For decades, BRL Hardy’s international business was caught in this trap. It distributed its
Hardy label wines to retailers through local agents and sold bulk wine directly for private
labels. But the company’s insight, and its willingness to change the rules of the game on
both the demand and supply sides, gave it a way out. First, new staff was appointed and
new resources allocated to upgrade overseas sales offices. Instead of simply supporting
the sales activities of distributing agents, they took direct control of the full sales,
distribution, and marketing. Their primary objective was to establish Hardy as a viable
global brand. The company’s supply-side decision was even more significant. In order to
exploit the growing marketing expertise of these overseas units, Hardy encouraged them
to supplement their Australian product line by sourcing wine from around the world. Not
only did Hardy offset the vintage uncertainties and currency risks of sourcing from a
single country, it also gained clout in its dealings with retailers. By breaking the tradition
of selling only its own wine, Hardy was able to build the scale necessary for creating
strong brands and negotiating with retail stores.
The advantages have been clear and powerful. The company’s range of wines – from
Australia as well as France, Italy, and Chile – responds to supermarkets’ needs to deal
with a few broad line suppliers. At the same time, the scale of operation has supported the
brand development so vital to pulling products out of the commodity range. Results have
been outstanding. In Europe, the volume of Hardy’s brands has increased 12-fold in
seven years, making it the leading Australian wine brand in the huge UK market, and
number two overall to Gallo in the United Kingdom. And branded products from other
countries have grown to represent about a quarter of its European volume. Hardy has
evolved from an Australian wine exporter to a truly global wine company.
Source: Adapted from Bartlett and Ghoshal78
BRL Hardy’s radical strategy of introducing a new competitive business model
challenged the industry’s established rules of competition by taking advantage of others’
inflexibilities and deep-rooted traditions in international wine production, trading, and
distribution. With systemic sense making, and application of the wheel of business model
reinvention, Hardy discovered new customer value by providing novel solutions for
consumers, new value for small scale wine producers, as well as for distributors and other
partners. Its business system infrastructure was reconfigured to appoint new staff and
allocate new resources. In addition, the value system was reconstructed to enable the
company build a strong brand image with the necessary marketing and distribution
capabilities that supported it. Finally, Hardy’s profitability from such an undertaking is
obvious – it became one of the leading wine brands worldwide.
How Dell Redesigned The Traditional Industry Value Chain
The traditional value chain in the personal computer industry could be characterized as
“build-to-stock”. PC manufacturers designed and built their products with preconfigured
options based on market forecasts. The products were first stored in company warehouses
and later dispatched to resellers, retailers, and other intermediaries, who typically added a
20 to 30 percent markup before selling to their customers. Manufacturers controlled the
upstream part of the value chain, leaving the downstream part for middlemen. Retailers
justified their margins by providing several benefits to customers: easily accessed
locations; selection across multiple brands; the opportunity to see and test products before
purchasing; and knowledgeable salespeople who could educate customers regarding their
Two trends in the 1980s allowed Dell to radically reengineer the value chain. First,
corporate customers were becoming more sophisticated and experienced technology
users and no longer required intense personal selling by salespeople. Second, the different
components of a PC (monitor, keyboard, software, and so on) became standard modules,
permitting mass customization in system configuration.
When Dell developed its “direct” model, it dramatically transformed the value chain
architecture by departing from the industry’s historical rules on several fronts:
• It outsourced all components, but performed assembly.
• It eliminated retailers and shipped directly from its factories to end customers.
• It took customized orders for hardware and software over the phone or via the
• It designed an integrated supply chain linking its suppliers closely to its assembly
factories and the order-intake system.
Dell created a “virtuous” cycle by rewriting the rules of the PC industry, custom-
configuring PCs through direct dealings with end users. Customer intimacy gave Dell
superior forecasting ability, which allowed it to pursue JIT manufacturing with very low
levels of finished goods and components inventory and little risk of stock-outs. Radical
reductions in inventory lowered costs and also enabled Dell to be first to market with the
latest products. The net result was that Dell had the dominant share of the PC market,
which in turn led to more customer contacts - thereby starting the cycle all over again.
The new value chain architecture also enabled Dell to globalize faster and more
profitably than its competitors for two reasons. First, Dell’s direct model yielded the
same benefits in non-U.S. markets as it did at home. Second, because of its direct
channel, Dell did not require access to local distribution channels and so faced lower
entry barriers into foreign markets.
Competitors such as IBM and Compaq probably found it difficult to imitate and
neutralize Dell’s direct model for fear of alienating their dealers. The bulk of these
companies’ sales came through third-party dealers. If they set up direct channels, their
distributors, retailers, and resellers would be upset at the loss of market share, and the
companies could not run the risk of angering their critical constituency.
Source: Adapted from Govindarajan and Gupta79
Two major disruptions in the computer business led Dell to reconfigure its value chain
dramatically: customers’ increased knowledge and experience in technology, and the
capacity for mass customization of PC system configurations. Accordingly, the company
redesigned its value creating activities so that it became efficient and effective in
targeting its customers and enhancing customer value. Dell’s radical value chain enabled
the company, together with its competitors’ organizational ineptness to do the same, to
become a worldwide leading PC firm. Dell had to apply superior sensing skills, and
abilities to develop new customer value and effective value chain configurations.
Recent changes in the business landscape have brought about the deconstruction of
traditional boundaries and relationships (organizational, industrial, national and global);
creation of new industries and new business models; and has made knowledge,
innovation and self-renewal sources of sustainable competitive advantage. And yet, many
established companies find it hard to escape organizational inertia caused by existing
industry orthodoxy and mindsets.
The driving forces behind the changes and unpredictability of the business landscape
challenge the traditional approaches to strategic management. In the present-day
turbulent environment, new problems cannot be tackled by “old remedies” such as
continuous improvement. On the contrary, they require new, radically different solutions
that test and challenge the fundamental make-up of conventional strategic management
thinking and practices. The real challenge for most organizations, therefore, is not
whether the rules of the game will change (because they will); rather, will they make the
necessary radical transformation required of them to take the initiative.
The paradoxical situation of creating new business models while both benefiting and
cannibalizing existing models may seem like destroying an organization that companies
spend their resources on in perfecting. However, systemic strategic management does not
mean a complete and/or instantaneous discarding of the existing organizational business
model. It rather means to initiate, experiment with, and develop new business models
alongside the management of traditional business models – a paradoxical and systemic
mindset, with application of appropriate frameworks and tools.
Disrupting and even discarding traditional means of doing business seems risky for
established companies. However, provided that organizations innovatively reinvent
organizational and industry configurations that result in new customer value propositions,
as well as sensible value for all value chain stakeholders, companies can achieve new
bases of sustainable competitive advantage in today’s fast changing business environment
– until the next wave of business model reinvention. The latter indicates that the era of
organizational ‘comfort zone’ is finally over – at the peak of success is the greatest
danger for any organization. The implication is that the search for business model
reinvention in today’s world is a continuous process.
This article provides executives and managers with a systemic perspective of developing
new business models in addition to a powerful tool - the wheel of business model
reinvention. With a systemic view of the environment (from a business ecosystem
perspective), they can co-shape new customer value creation and develop new business
models with other key players in the business community. The wheel of business model
reinvention furthermore provides a valuable means of making sense of the environment
and of proposed business models. These include critical dimensions of new customer
value propositions, enabling technology, reconfiguration of the value system, and the
economic feasibility of a new business model.
It is also crucial to recognize that executives and mangers should be able to create a
suitable environment or thinking that enables new business models to arise. Constructing
such an environment/thinking comprise of ways that facilitate and enhance company-
wide but cohesive creativity, innovativeness and imaginativeness that result in novel and
unique customer value proposition(s).
With such initiatives, executives and mangers can easily and readily discover ways for
changing the basis of their organization’s competitiveness, and for cultivating, sustaining
and increasing their organization’s fitness.
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39 Download full-text
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