MCPC 2009: My Personal Conclusions and Learning from this Year’s Conference

MCPC 2009 Conference Graphics - Picture by Kate Herd at flickr (updated on Oct. 17) After almost one week of discussions, lectures, keynotes and many personal interactions — and four long postings about the conference –, what were my key insights from the MCPC 2009 (2009 Conference on Mass Customization & Personalization)?

(1) Don't mention the crisis:
While still talking about the economic crises dominates the conversations of many business people, it was no topic at all during the conference. So is mass customization crisis resistant? Well, many of our participants told me that they saw it as unaffected or even an answer.

Take consumer goods. The more conventional retailers are coming under cost pressure, the more they are streamlining their assortments. The less likely it is that customers find exactly what they want — the larger the appeal of customized offerings. This was a pattern reported frequently from participants from the apparel and clothing sectors. At the same time, mass customization is "affordable" luxury. When I am not sure about the future, I am postponing the purchase of my new car. But I still reward myself by paying a tad more for a pair of customized ski boots. This was a good sign – and a positive mood (To be honest, however, there also may have been a self selection effect: Branches of industry interested in mass customization but affected by the crisis did not show up – and so there was no one to complain).

(2) Configuration Technology: A new generation of customization logic is coming up: While Joe Pine, Lars Hvam, and myself still preach that modularization and product family structures are the key to efficient customization, Dr. Yusel from Certusoft Inc. and Konstantin Krahtov from the Open Experience GmbH both provided presentations that turned the common argumentation upside down:

I normally tell my students that for manufacturing companies mass customization means to move from ETO to MTO or ATO (engineer- => make- or assemble-to-order). But in these presentations, the idea was presented that instead of combining pre-defined modules, the configuration toolkit will engineer the components on the fly in real time. As Dr. Yusel said: "Conventional configurators replace what engineers do. Our system replaces how engineers think." He has implemented his configuration system within large US truck makers with amazing results — and really opened my eyes to a new way of thinking of configuration. Similar Open Experience from Karlsruhe in Germany. Their vision is that in the end you just doodle what you like, and the system turns this into a component.

Perhaps the future of configuration is indeed beyond arranging pre-defined modules to a product, but developing components and production patterns in real time (you need, however, a very flexible manufacturing system for this).

(3) Customization & Personalization are becoming "the new imperative of business". In our MCPC community, we have to make the connection to industries like financial services, health, computer gaming, media, etc … All these industries are very much driven by personalization but have not really been part of the mass customization debate (and community) yet.  This is one of my goals for the next 2011 conference: Broaden the conversation of mass customization from the domains where we are today into these new fields of applications.


(4) Customization is the true luxury – no matter the price
. There is a long debate about the future of luxury goods. But a repeating theme during the conference was the notion that for many consumers, being able to customize a product is the true luxury, whether it is a chocolate bar for $4 or a custom trunk by Louis Vuitton for $25K.

Positioning mass customization in the "mass market" and regarding it as a "democratization" of manufacturing perhaps has misplaced the concept – and also has communicated it wrongly towards consumers. Even if mass customized goods still should be affordable and should not lift the offering into different market segments, its appeal for consumers still is the luxury and personal service connected with it (see the report about the MCPC 2009 Fashion Lab for more).

Mass customization means to "take away the need of products which are full of stuff and replace it with products full of meaning", as one of the participants of the discussion during the business seminar said. We have plenty of research on this meaning for consumers in mass customization offerings, but still have to find better ways to communicate and transport it to consumers.

Concluding, the MCPC 2009 again was a great experience. It really became a gathering of friends and colleagues, many of them joining the conferences since 2001 and becoming a great community of practice. Our community has started several companies, made important business connections, created many PhDs and master students, and really advanced the thinking in an important field!

What is next?

The next MCPC World Conference will be in October 2011, probably at a convenient East Coast location in the U.S. We will extend the name MCPC to "Mass Customization, Personalization & Co-Creation" to acknowledge the larger scope of the conference.

In 2010, a number of focused, smaller events will take place:

  • We are planning again a German language MC event. My idea is to focus on the new wave of entrepreneurs that we find in Germany in the moment.
  • I envision a similar event for the US, perhaps in connection with the next MIT Smart Customization Seminar, planned for late Spring 2010.
  • Stefan from "Milk & Sugar" is planning a MC event in the Netherlands.
  • Finland will continue to host an important MC meeting with the FIMCP 2010 in Tampere.

Context Information: More reports about the MCPC 2009 conference:

==> Twitter reports about the MCPC.

==> Great reports by Mass Sinclair in his blog no-retro.

==> Personal impressions of our keynote speaker Bruce Kasanoff.

==> Ran Machtinger, CEO of Optitex, about his presentation on Virtual Fashion.

==> Raul Lansik has a great new blog on customer co-creation in general, and a nice posting about the MCPC.

==> Teemu Arina, a speaker at the business seminar about real-time business, shares the ideas of his presentation.
==> Uche, Author of Luxury Online and panelist in the business seminar, will report about the conference at her new blog.
==> Mikkel Thomassen wrote a blog (in Danish) about the MCPC. And Robert Freund in German. And Chris Chatzopoulos has a report for everyone understanding Greek. Satu Miettinen wrote a nice report about the conference and service customization, in case you can read Finish.
==> Kate Herd has some pictures on Flickr.

(please let me know if you also have a blog post about the conference)

My previous reports about the MCPC 2009:

– Part 1: Day 1 of the Research Conference
– Part 2: Day 2 of the Research Conference
– Part 3: Business Seminar
– Part 4: MC Fashion Lab

By | 2018-06-14T11:08:30+00:00 Oktober 14th, 2009|Customization Trends, Events, General, MCPC 2009, Personalization|

About the Author:

Frank T. Piller is a Co-Director of the MIT Smart Customization Group at the MIT Media Lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA, and a chair professor of management at the Technology & Innovation Management Group of RWTH Aachen University, Germany, one of Europe’s leading institutes of technology. Before entering his recent position in Aachen, he worked at the MIT Sloan School of Management (2004-2007) and has been an associate professor of management at TUM Business School, Technische Universitaet Muenchen. Frequently quoted in The New York Times, The Economist, and Business Week, amongst others, Frank is regarded as one of the leading experts on strategies for customer-centric value creation, like mass customization, personalization, and innovation co-creation. His recent analysis of the crowdsourcing business model “Threadless” (co-authored with Susumu Ogawa), an innovative crowdsourcing business model in the fashion industry, has been elected as one of the Top-20 articles in MIT Sloan Management Review.