An open letter to CEOs of technology companies in the subsea robotics industry.
Our collaborators and customers are designing huge new systems based on your products and technologies. These systems provide capabilities far beyond what any one component can provide and vastly exceed the vision of any one vendor or manufacturer. The future of the marine industry is based on concepts of highly integrated robotic systems, sensors, and networks.
What is different about the industry in the future is that human operators will not be the “glue” sticking everything together. We will not be using human operators to fuse disparate pieces and parts into a complete solution. No, all the disparate pieces and parts will have to work together and fit together to form a complete solution. That’s where the system bit comes in.
To make this work, we need products and robots to work together. They need to talk to each other. They need to integrate. They need to talk to the technologies like ours that are providing autonomy and integration in lieu of having a human operator present.
So, you need to stop this shit about protecting your interfaces. It is really pissing everyone off.
You build a nice robot. You build nice sensors and devices. In fact, they are so nice, our collaborators want to use them to make their vision of working on the ocean a reality. But, without an operator present, your bits need to interface with other people’s bits. And to do that, you are going to need to open up and get over yourself.
I understand that you need to protect your Intellectual Property. Your IP creates value for your organization and value for your shareholders. But, what you need to understand is that in the future of the ocean industry, your IP will be worthless if it doesn’t integrate with other systems. So be careful about how broad you consider your IP to be. You may just protect yourself out of value and relevance, no matter how good your product is.
Let’s use a basic example. (We obviously need to keep this simple if you are still not getting the importance of open architecture.) Pretend you have created something the world vitally needs. Let’s say it is a vaccine, for the sake of today’s needs. What would the value of that vaccine be? Immense! Unfathomably valuable! And it should be. Your company and shareholders have invested significantly to create something novel that the world needs. You should also be allowed to protect that IP to the fullest extent to protect your investment.
Now, let’s pretend your cleverness really goes to your head and you invent your own language to describe how to administer and use the vaccine. You publish papers and instructions on your vaccine in a language only you understand. You prohibit all of your employees from discussing it and you restrict all information. What is the value of your vaccine now? Not much. It is likely worthless because the world cannot use it.
Maybe that much is obvious to you but you still think some sort of monetary benefit exists by controlling the adoption and implementation of your vaccine, so you charge separately for the translation of your proprietary language that describes the vaccine. Maybe you go as far as to require an NDA be signed before someone receives the vaccine. What is the value of your vaccine now? More than when you restricted everything but still not as great as it could be if the information was open and freely available. (And now, everyone thinks you are dick and they don’t want to do business with you anyway.)
See how it works? The value of your product is not in what it can do. The value of your product is what it does for me and my application. If I can use it, it has great value. If I can’t use it or if it doesn’t do what I need it to do, it has no value. The more barriers there are between my vision and your product, the more your product loses value. Your robot, your sensor, your technology may be great. But if my customers can’t use it for what we are building, it just doesn’t have any value. See, the value of your product is not diminished by providing open access to it. The value of your product is dimensioned by how hard you make it to use.
The future of ocean business is about collaboration, building networked systems, and technology integration. If your product can’t collaborate, it will have no value. If your business can’t collaborate, it will have no value either. You may want to reconsider where your IP starts and stops and think about what is really important to your company. If you want to stay relevant and build value for your shareholders in the future, you are going to need to collaborate, open up your interfaces, and stop being such a pain in the ass to work with.