Monday, July 09, 2012

Vertical Integration at Lenovo vs. Outsourcing at Rivals

The Wall Street Journal has an article today about Lenovo's vertical integration strategy.  That strategy stands in stark contrast to many of the firm's rivals in the computer business (including Apple), which have outsourced many aspects of the manufacturing process.   Lenovo CEO says, "Selling PCs is like selling fresh fruit.  The speed of innovation is very fast, so you must know how to keep up with the pace, control inventory, to match supply with demand and handle very fast turnover."  Lenovo's SVP of supply chain says, "Three years ago the whole industry was saying everyone should outsource, that's the future.  [We] came to the conclusion that even though all our other competitors are going in the other direction…we can move faster if we're more vertically integrated." 

I'm surprised by the comments, and frankly, by the strategy.   Most people would agree that Apple is one of the most innovative and highly differentiated companies in the computer industry.  If Apple can achieve that type of rapid innovation without being completely vertically integrated, then why can't Lenovo?  Apple pursues vertical integration on selected components, most importantly on its operating system.  However, Apple does not keep all manufacturing in-house.   Lenovo chooses to use outsiders for its operating system (Microsoft Windows for its PCs and Google's Android for its new tablets).    Yet, Lenovo is manufacturing many hardware components in-house.   Time will tell if the strategy will pay off.   One wonders if the path to successful innovation, though, has more to do with company culture, leadership, and new product development processes, rather than with the extent of vertical integration. 

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