What does it mean to be ubiquitous?

Something is said to be ubiquitous when it can be found everywhere or when it is widely adopted. In a business, things that can be ubiquitous include technologies, business practices, or even a brand.

There are different ways for something to become ubiquitous. Companies can purposely develop a strategy and or structure that makes their product ubiquitous. One example is Microsoft and the Windows operating system; organizations running Windows need to widely adopt the operating system across the all computers for software to be compatible for all users. In other cases, ubiquity can grow organically from people adopting new behaviours out of convenience. A great example of this is how online purchases and payment are now ubiquitous for most consumers. The adoption of payment processing technology has allowed for online retail to become ubiquitous for everyone from clothing retailers to mass retailers.

Importance of ubiquitous technologies and concepts in an organization

Ubiquitous technologies and business concepts play an important role in business by setting an agreeable standard between parties. Organizations that adopt things that are ubiquitous reduce the amount of friction for business tasks by taking the expected route for getting things done. E.g. email is a ubiquitous technology. Clients and employees expected to communicate with email. Because things that are ubiquitous are, by definition, widely adopted, they cannot be the source of competitive advantage for a company.

Businesses that do not adopt ubiquitous technologies or business concepts can inadvertently increase the friction for doing business. While this can be small in one transaction, it can cumulatively add up to a very large inefficiency.

For example, ecommerce stores are ubiquitous for retailers. If a retailer does not have an ecommerce store, they are creating friction for their customers by requiring them to go in store for purchase. Customers may slowly turn away from the retailer as they are able to purchase the same or similar goods in a more convenient manner through another online store. For the retailer, by not adopting the ubiquitous technology of ecommerce, they have placed themselves at a disadvantage to their competitors who do have online stores.

As a result, organizations that do not adopt ubiquitous technologies and or business practices run the risk of lower performance. Business that do adopt ubiquitous technologies and business practices will achieve normal performance, while businesses that can identify a competitive advantage can achieve above normal performance.

What is a competitive advantage?

A competitive advantage is when a company possess valuable resources and capabilities which enable them to perform activities better or more cheaply than their rivals. When something is ubiquitous, it cannot be a competitive advantage because all competitors have it or can easily adopt it.
In order to gain a competitive advantage, companies must be able to verify that their resources are in fact valuable and that they are executing the right business unit strategy. When evaluating and managing a company’s competitive advantage, the following should be considered:

Competitive landscape – what is the competitive set that the company in? What are the competitors’ competitive advantages and how do they sustain this? Answering these questions will allow for leadership to understand where best for the company to compete.

Industry and Market – markets and customers may shift thus it is important to pay attention to these signals to ensure that the company’s offering is still relevant. There is no point in having a competitive advantage and operating an industry or market that is declining or becoming obsolete. At this point leaders need to recognize to extract the competitive advantage to seek new markets to apply it to. Additionally, there may be an existing gap in the market that the company can address.

Differentiation either by product or by customer service – companies can pursue differentiation either by offering a unique and innovative product or by providing superior customer service than their competitors. Being differentiated can allow for companies to deliver a different value proposition to customers than their competitors, which may lead to higher performance.

Examples of ubiquitous technology, business concepts, and brands

Some ubiquitous technologies that can be found in the workplace include:

  • Company websites
  • Email
  • Microsoft Windows
  • Microsoft Office Suite of products (Excel, PowerPoint, Word)
  • Corporate laptops and cellphones
  • Accounting software (ERP systems or simpler general ledger software)

Examples of ubiquitous business concepts include:

  • Corporate values statement
  • Performance Reviews
  • SWOT Analysis
  • Performance-tied compensation incentives
  • Balanced score card

Finally, brands that have become ubiquitous as generic brands:

  • Google
  • Coke
  • Kleenex

Synonyms for ubiquitous

  • Omnipresent
  • Widespread
  • Very prevalent
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