Iron Mountain exists because organizations need the paper documents and records to be archived and stored without taking up too much effort or expensive space. Iron Mountain deploys staff in a fleet of trucks to collect documents from office locations, and systematically store them at offsite locations from where they can be brought back as needed. Apart from reducing office clutter and freeing up valuable space, Iron Mountain also helps its customers comply with rules and regulations on the retention of official records. That includes the safe shredding of documents and records, onsite or offsite, to maintain privacy and confidentiality.

Iron Mountain got into this business after its founder Herman Knaust, who first made his fortune growing mushrooms before the market shifted, decided to focus on instead on protecting vital information from wars or other disasters. He opened up storage vaults in the iron ore mine he had previously acquired for farming land, and convinced the East River Savings Bank, to let him bring microfilm copies of deposit records and duplicate signature cards in armored cars, and store it store it for them in the new mountain facility. Soon it grew to be a market leader in the protection of vital records.

Their systematic expansion into other markets spaces ever since continues till this day. They now cover the lifecycle of vital content, applying design thinking to workflows to eliminate unnecessary documents and records. They have four data centers for storing and serving documents and records, they have HIPAA-compliant facilities to handle protected health information (PHI), and healthcare is one of their largest markets. Now they compete with cloud-based storage providers. Hollywood studios such as Universal Studios and Paramount Pictures depend on them for archiving valuable assets.

What are all the market spaces in which Iron Mountain operates? In how many of these do iCloud, Box or Dropbox operate? What does Iron Mountain do that those three simply cannot? What can they do next? If Amazon can open delivery lockers and then book stores on the ground, what is stopping Dropbox from competing more directly with Iron Mountain by opening up offsite storage facilities and vaults?

Service providers expand their business by entering adjacent market spaces. The core value proposition of Iron Mountain of protecting vital records was a good starting basis for offering solutions for healthcare and legal markets where there are additional costs and risks involved in staging and handling customer assets. Right from the start, Iron Mountain has been in the business of security and assurance. Some service providers specialize in storing things securely, while others in securing things by storing them safe. Where you start heavily influences where you go next.

You can start by assuring the safety and security of documents, then the processes that produce or make use of those documents, then the facilities and infrastructure. Another path of expansion is going from physical to digital and then going further into artifacts, knowledge, information, data and insight. To fulfill promises of storage, an enterprise may develop capabilities and resources for monitoring, protecting, and providing assurance. That in turn may lead to abilities in analyzing risks and threats. Long before, “Uber for X”, there has been “Iron Mountain for X”. The business strategies of Google, Amazon, and Uber may seem daring and bold, but not any bolder than companies like GE, Boeing, and IBM.

One step at a time. To understand how these companies, and indeed in some cases, governments and nonprofit organizations, make deliberate choices and systematic moves across markets spaces, and why others fail attempting the same, we have to understand how they generate their options in the first place. Then it’s easy to understand a simple heuristic for generating options for the next best step.

Posted by:Majid Iqbal

TL;DR I bring clarity to the concept of a service.