Avianization vs Dinosaurization in Image Sensor Industry

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Wiley Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal publishes a paper "When dinosaurs fly: The role of firm capabilities in the ‘avianization’ of incumbents during disruptive technological change" by Raja Roy, Curba Morris Lampert, and Irina Stoyneva.

"Research Summary: We investigate the image sensor industry in which the emergence of CMOS sensors challenged the manufacturers of CCD sensors. Although this disruptive technological change led to the demise of CCD technology, it also led to avianization — or strategic renewal — for some incumbents, similar to how some dinosaurs survived the mass Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction by evolving into birds. We find that CCD manufacturers that did avianize were preadapted to the disruptive CMOS technology in that they possessed relevant complementary technologies and access to in-house users that allowed them to strategically renew themselves.

Managerial Summary: We investigate the transition from CCD to CMOS image sensors in the digital image sensor industry. Although the emergence of CMOS sensors was disruptive to CCD sensors, we find that CCD sensor manufacturers such as Sony and Sharp successfully transitioned to manufacturing CMOS sensors. Contrary to popular press and prior academic research characterizing disruptive change as being a source of failure for large firms, our research reveals that firms that possess relevant complementary technologies and have access to in-house users are able to strategically renew themselves in the face of a disruptive threat."

While the main paper is behind a paywall, the supplementary material is openly available.

The complementary technologies (CT) are said to enable the CCD companies to win a place on CMOS sensor market:
  • Global or electronic shuttering
  • Microlenses
  • CDS
  • Lightpipe or light shield
  • Hole Accumulation Diode (HAD)

Another key condition for successful transition to CMOS technology is an access to in-house users. It is used to explain Kodak demise:

"The lack of access to in-house users at Kodak was consistent with its corporate strategy. According to George Fisher, ex-CEO, Eastman Kodak was a ‘horizontal firm because in a digital world, it is much more important to pick out horizontal layers where you have distinctive capabilities. In the computer world, one company specializes in microprocessors, one in monitors, and another in disk drives’ (Galaza and Fisher, 1999: 46). Chinon was eventually acquired by Kodak in 2004 (Eastman Kodak Company, 2004a) and continued to design and manufacture the point-and-shoot cameras."

Reticon/EG&G, Tektronix, and Ford Aeronutronic used to have access to in-house users but lacked relevant CTs. "We find that Reticon/EG&G, Tektronix, and Aeronutronic Ford failed to avianize themselves during the disruptive change to CMOS sensors from CCD sensors."

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