Mapping the 90’s PMCS into Moore’s “Managing Innovation in Growth Markets”

I’m banging away at Geoffrey Moore’s Dealing with Darwin. I’ve got thru the definitions section – Part 1: Foundational Models. One thing I really like about Moore’s books is that his models provide consistent language that can be used to discuss complex issues.

His discussion of “Innovation” is consistent with his previous “life cycle” philosophies. This book introduces four Innovation zones; Product Leadership, Customer Intimacy, Operational Excellence, and Category Renewal; each with four sub-classes, that span the life cycle of a market.

This book also introduces two “yin & yang” business architectures, Complex Systems and Volume Operations. I’m going to leave this alone in this post.

In the beginning phase (ie “Growth Markets” ) its all about Product Leadership. The following table illustrates the 4 strategies he introduces in this first Innovation Zone.

New Product Existing Product
New Market Disruptive Innovation Application Innovation
Existing Market Product Innovation Platform Innovation

Example: Applying the model to PMCS-Sierra (PMCS) from ’99 to ’00

Having lived through the 90’s growth markets with PMC-Sierra (PMCS) I find that this classification model provides an excellent means to describe the innovation strategies used in that success story. Note that PMCS fits into the “Complex Systems” Business Architecture.

1. Disruptive Innovation

PMCS never really started in the New Product / New Market position. It was an ASIC/ASSP design center focussed on telecom applications. This was very a rough time because the telecom box/system vendors all had captive ASIC design centers. This was like selling snow to Eskimo’s 😦

If there was an innovation here it was the development of the “Fabless Comm-Semi” business model. To focus on developing products instead of selling design services.

2. Application Innovation to the Rescue.

Then along came “private data networks” (Frame Relay & ATM Switches) and the “Internet” (Routers w/ loads of interfaces for telco WAN and LAN). The box vendors in this space were not the incumbents and they all needed telecom interfaces for their products to connect to the telco transport networks. These interfaces needed to inter-operate and were not a significant differentiator of the switch, or router. Using Moore’s definitions PMCS applied “Application Innovation” to this market. PMCS took its telecom expertise and applied it to interface chips for FR/ATM Switches and Routers. PMCS also did a spectacular thing in developing a user group around this topic (the Saturn Group). This enabled astounding customer intimacy and forced PMCS to develop open inter-chip interface standards. The first chip interface standards would become the basis for theATM Forum UTOPIA specification.

3. Gain Market Share with Product Innovation

In the next phase PMCS micro-segmented the market to provide a large suite of telecom interface chips specifically for WAN switches and Routers. To execute on this PMCS expanded its suite of open interface standards which became ATM Forum UTOPIA specs Level 2, 3, and 4 and OIF SPI 3 and SPI 4 specifications. A by-product of these standards is that they allowed PMCS to acquire companies (like IgT) to complete it’s product line.

PMCS did maintain some proprietary interface specifications. These are controversial and it is not clear if this was a good or bad strategy. I vote for bad.

At this time PMCS also began winning designs in the pure telecom market. It finally had enough experience to provide a few truly “world class” telecom products. But the majority of the success was in helping new world data equipment leverage the telco transport backbones.

4. Rake in the Cash with Platform Innovation.

PMCS’s deep customer relationships, and its successful track record in developing open inter-chip interface specifications, allowed it to enter adjacent chip markets. PMCS developed full “reference” sub-systems around these open chip interface standards. Specifically, PMC developed ATM cell processors, PPP/FR processors, DSL Access Muxes, SONET/SDH processors, Switch Fabrics, Embedded MIPS CPUs, and more, that could be connected to its vast suite of Physical Layer Interface chips. The scope of the platform developments in the late ’90’s was enormous. The revenues and profits were awesome ❗

Note that there was also tremendous investment in new non-telco oriented technologies in the late ’90’s. For example, VoIP (Malleable), Ethernet chips (organic), and IP processors (organic & Switch-On). Most were very expensive developments deploying platform innovation strategies, the lengthy downturn made it difficult for these projects to survive 😦

Wrapping Up

Interesting how Moore’s classifications provide a clear means of describing PMCS’s trajectory from ’88 to 2000. I previously said that “we became successful by taking our hard earned telecom expertise and applying it to the “switch and router” market”. This model allows for a more detailed description of the different innovation strategies PMCS used to remain an industry leader for almost a decade. Cool 😎


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