Managing technological change in the digital age: the role of architectural frames
Journal article, 2014
Inspired by Herbert Simon's notion of nearly decomposable systems, researchers have examined modularity as a powerful approach to manage technological change in product innovation. We articulate this approach as the hierarchy-of-parts architecture and explain how it emphasizes decomposition of a design into loosely coupled parts and subsequent aggregation of these into an industrial product. To realize the scale benefits of modularity, firms successively freeze design specifications before production and therefore only allow limited windows of functionality design and redesign. This makes it difficult to take advantage of the increased speed by which digitized products can be developed and modified. To address this problem, we draw on Christopher Alexander's notion of design patterns to introduce a complementary approach to manage technological change that is resilient to digital technology. We articulate this approach as the network-of-patterns architecture and explain how it emphasizes generalization of ideas into patterns and subsequent specialization of patterns for different design purposes. In response to the increased digitization of industrial products, we demonstrate the value of complementing hierarchy-of-parts thinking with network-of-patterns thinking through a case study of infotainment architecture at an automaker. As a result, we contribute to the literature on managing products in the digital age: we highlight the properties of digital technology that increase the speed by which digitized products can be redesigned; we offer the notion of architectural frames and propose hierarchy-of-parts and network-of-patterns as frames to support innovation of digitized products; and, we outline an agenda for future research that reconsiders the work of Simon and Alexander as well as their followers to address key challenges in innovating digitized products.