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What We Want, When We Want It

Mass customization. It sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s actually an increasingly popular business practice. Mass customization takes many forms: industrial soap company ChemStation analyzes the needs of its different customers and creates a unique soap formulation for each one; Pandora creates custom radio stations based on listeners’ music preferences. But this is just the beginning, says Professor of Operations & Technology Management Janelle Heineke (’92).

“We see this now in products like cars and copy machines, but we’re nearing the point when customers will be able to get the same kinds of customization for shoes, clothes, perfumes, chocolates, books, toys—almost anything,” she says. “Customers will be able to choose from a menu of options and, with flexible production processes, companies will be able to produce just what an individual customer wants. Services such as insurance can be customized the same way.”