Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Digital Disruption: Surviving and Thriving in the 21st Century Economy

Rich Wood, Vice President, Microsoft Alliances
Innovation / Technology

Digital disruption is coming for you. More to the point, it’s coming for your industry—if it hasn’t hit already. What is digital disruption, you ask? It’s what happens when new technology threatens, and ultimately transforms an existing business model. 

If that sounds familiar, it should. We talk about digital transformations in much the same way. New technology comes along and turns things on their heads—true in either case. The difference is that when we talk about disruptions, we’re accepting that some transformations have collateral damage.

Examples of digital disruption are all around us: 

  • Streaming media has more or less destroyed CD sales and changed the distribution model of the music and home video industries. (It’s on its way to changing television forever, too.) 
  • Self-driving cars won’t just change personal transportation. Imagine what they’re going to do to Property & Casualty (i.e., automotive) insurance companies.
  • Just about everything Amazon does qualifies as disruptive. 
  • Every World Series champion club since 2004 has been assembled through data science and analytics.
  • Finally, smartphones are the reigning king of digital disruption—the mobile form factor powered by cloud infrastructure and data that’s been at the heart of every major consumer-oriented disruption of the past decade.

That’s right. “Digital Disruption” is just the meaner, nastier, more rough-and-tumble big brother of “Digital Transformation”. If digital transformation is the cute little puppy everybody wants to love and get a cuddle with, digital disruption is the territorial Rottweiler growling at you from behind the fence as you stroll on down the block.

Most transformations get their start from a disruption. When we talk about disruption, we’re acknowledging the potentially negative impacts of changes that not everyone can keep pace with or plan for. And that’s really the key—planning.

Why? Because unfortunately, disruption isn’t something you can afford to treat reactively. If you’re responding to disruptive forces right now, it’s probably already too late. Identifying key disruptive forces before they’ve had a chance to wreak havoc is just one side of the coin, though. The chances are pretty good that someone has already figured out what sort of disruption is happening to—or coming for—your industry. You may even be in touch with it, ahead of the game.

That’s the easy question. 

A better question might be this one: What are you doing to disrupt your industry? 

Becoming a Disruptor

It’s easy to sit back and say we don’t need to be a disruptor, we’re-doing-just-fine-on-our-own-thank-you… but look at how that’s worked for previously leading brands and businesses. It’s not just limited to old school, brick-and-mortar business models either. 

Anyone can point to Sears and say disruption has come calling for the former catalog kings, but take a look at how Yahoo stock has performed since it peaked at the turn of the century. “New economy” businesses are just as likely to struggle if they don’t change with the times. New or old, it’s the companies who are reinventing themselves that are surviving, and in some cases thriving, but none of them got there overnight. 

Being a disruptor isn’t easy, but it’s the only alternative to the status quo, and these days the status quo is just a long road downhill to irrelevance. How do you join the ranks of the disruptors, then? How do you not just survive in today’s economy, but thrive?

  • It takes an emphasis on innovation, not for its own sake (although sometimes it can seem that way) but for the benefits and improvements it ultimately drives. 
  • It takes courage and a willingness to buck accepted wisdom (when the data backs you up—and sometimes when it doesn’t).
  • It takes self-awareness of your own strengths, to understand what you have to build on—and your weaknesses, to accept and either redress or pivot away from them.

More than anything, it takes the ability not just to accept, but to embrace change. If you can do that, you have a chance to adapt and survive, digitally or otherwise. That’s the first step. But change for change’s sake alone is only ever good on an accidental basis. What will the change be? What does it need to be? You might have the answers—just look at your data.

These days, it’s all about the data, and for good reason. You probably have plenty of data, but are you using it wisely? Where are your emerging markets? What are they interested in? Do you have something—now, or in the pipeline—that will meet their needs? How can you serve them better? What can you offer that nobody else can? Maybe it’s a product, maybe it’s a service, and maybe it’s not a product or a service at all, but a novel and exciting way of delivering that product or service that sets you apart.

Finally, how can technology help you get there? In the world of development, we like to say there’s nothing that can’t be done with enough time and budget—and in today’s world that tends to be true. Balancing the investment with the return can sometimes be the trickiest part, but often that’s where new ways to scale and deliver experiences come in handy. 

If you have a vision for innovation, and you’re willing to change now to create a better future, you’re well positioned to become a disruptor. The technology is there. And we’ll help you with that—but we don’t stop there. That’s what sets us apart. We’re not just technologists—we’re creative to the core. Need an idea? Drop us a line, let’s talk. We have a whole team of strategists who love to help our clients find new ways to be disruptive.

Rich Wood is the Senior Director of Cloud & Enterprise Apps at Rightpoint. Follow Rich on Twitter and LinkedIn