Disruptors: How Businesses are Using Technology to Radically Change

Disruption has been used to describe how a business has massively altered its market or industry. However, over time, the term has lost some of its power. In their report, wazoku – a company that helps businesses innovate via SaaS applications conclude:

“Disruptive innovation doesn’t equal technology or gimmicks; it doesn’t mean simply digitising an existing customer experience. Disruption is going back to basics and to the drawing board, to rise to unmet customer needs, solve pain points and connect with people on a deeper level. Disruptors are bursting with creativity, passion, fresh expression and a love for their customers.”

Disrupting Technology has always played a critical role when businesses have influenced their marketplaces. Another buzzword that companies often use alongside disruption is innovation. Often innovation and disruption are symbiotic. COVID-19 have also added another component to the disruptor equation: customer experience. Companies must now pay closer attention to this aspect of their innovations. Often, these will be driven and shaped by their customers more so than in the past.

And lastly, connecting with other businesses, is critical for innovative disruption. Wazoku discovered that “58% of organisations have piloted co-creation projects to help them innovate and foster closer connections between consumers and the products they end up using. they have helped improve the organisations’ social impact, too.”

Technologies such as AI, robotics and IoT, all have the potential to make massive impacts across a wide range of industries. Indeed, KMPG thinks IoT alone will drive business transformation for 20% of UK companies.

More than just disruptive technology, KMPG also point to disruptive business models. The upheaval the pandemic has bought to commerce in general, the retail landscape, and the vast expansion online are evolving rapidly how businesses are organised and how they will innovate into the future. X commerce is seeing enterprises transform at speed. And a re-evaluation of what business means in a social setting is also driving what disruption means today.

“Disruptive technology can, and should, be harnessed in service of customers,” states KMPG “Today, a growing number of tech sector leaders link investments in disruptive technology to customer outcomes: 54% say they track their success with these investments by tracking customer satisfaction or experience metrics.”

However, Ash Finnegan, digital transformation officer at Conga – that helps businesses simplify and automate their approach to the essential quotes, contracts, and documents that drive commerce says, having an ambition to be a disruptive company needs to be approached with care.

“Many companies aspire to be disrupters; they want to learn how to digitally transform and how to do it fast. However, in most cases, these initiatives are simply rushed and rarely result in success. According to Conga research, while 9%7 of companies surveyed worldwide already have a digital transformation strategy in place, only half of these initiatives are considered most successful. In Europe, the success rate is even lower, with only 43% of companies experiencing some success with their transformation programs.”

Finnegan continued: “The problem lies with how businesses approach digital transformation in the first place. Many strategies are driven by the desire to use and incorporate the latest disruptive technology as opposed to identifying clear business goals or reconsidering their current operational model. COVID-19 has only accelerated this issue. Whilst digital transformation offers many competitive advantages, that does not necessarily mean it is easy to define, plan or execute. Too many business leaders prioritise technology over strategy and do not have a clear understanding of the outcomes that digital transformation can and should drive.”

A new digital shake-up

Research from Coeus Consulting reveals over half (53%) of the businesses surveyed had shifted their entire business operations to digital during the pandemic. Also, almost two-thirds received additional funding to accelerate initiatives. Nearly 80% of respondents implemented ‘quick fix’ solutions and 82% stated that business and IT leadership played a crucial role in improving ways of working across the business.

Speaking to Silicon UK, Anthony Tattersall, vice president of EMEA, Coursera explained how these findings will influence how technology will be used as a critical tool for disruption: “The areas of innovation that businesses may have been prioritising before the pandemic have now shifted out of pure necessity. Companies now need to focus their energy on establishing new ways of communicating and collaborating, new roles and processes, clear goal-setting and relevant measures – treating innovation as a discipline that must be taken seriously and given the attention it deserves.”

How disruptive technology is now defined has changed to encompass more digital services and platforms. From cloud and data analysis to DARQ (Distributed Ledger Technologies (DLT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Extended Reality (XR) and Quantum Computing expand) the mix of technologies that are driving innovative disruption can be challenging to track and implement on a practical level.

Integrating several technologies is a clear trend with the resulting products and services disrupting their marketplaces. From health tech to finance, every sector innovates at speed driven by the need to be ready for the post-COVID-19 era.

Businesses are now serving what Accenture called ‘post-digital people “People’s love for technology has let businesses weave it—and themselves— into our lives, transforming the way we work, live and interact with the world. But that unconditional love is starting to fray, and it’s increasingly clear that the approaches companies took to reach this point won’t take them any further.”

Gartner in their overview of strategic technology trends in 2021 offer three broad categories: This year’s trends fall along with three themes:

  • People eccentricity
    Despite the pandemic changing how many people work and interact with organisations, people are still at the centre of all business — and they need digitalised processes to function in today’s environment.
  • Location independence
    COVID-19 has shifted where employees, customers, suppliers and organisational ecosystems physically exist. Location independence requires a technology shift to support this new version of the business.
  • Resilient delivery
    Whether a pandemic or a recession, volatility exists in the world.

“Organisations that are prepared to pivot and adapt will weather all types of disruptions,” Gartner explains. “As always, these strategic technology trends do not operate independently of each other, but rather they build on and reinforce each other. Together they enable organisational plasticity that will help guide organisations in the next five years.”

Michael Chalmers, MD EMEA at transformation consultancy Contino also advises business leaders should pay attention to the culture across their enterprises: When you think of disruption, technology is usually what comes to mind. However, to be truly disruptive, organisations must place equal emphasis on their people and processes. If the culture isn’t disruptive, no amount of technology will make a difference. Many businesses struggling through the pandemic have realised that cloud, data analytics, and remote collaboration solutions do not restore lost revenue on their own. You must also create a culture of innovation – one that’s flexible and collaborative.”

Future innovation

How businesses are now using technology has had to change. The pandemic sent shockwaves across every industry and market. Enterprises who had been continuing with their digital transformations had to stop and, in some cases, radically alter how they organised their businesses and staff. Innovation and disruption now have a different face: The new digital transformation roadmaps that have been created consider how the business and consumer relationship has changed.

McKinsey also made a valid statement that all business leaders should pay attention to: “While digital reinvention is more than just a technology overhaul, technology is crucial to it. Leaders need to ensure that each IT investment responds to clear and robust business needs and does not devolve into “tech for tech’s sake.” They also need to identify how best to work within an ecosystem of partners and vendors, and assess which legacy systems to keep, which to mothball, and—critically—determine how to help legacy technology work in a digital world.”

Accenture concludes: “Every business assumption and entrenched approach is up for review and reinvention toward people-centric models. Companies must reengineer the experiences that bring people and technology together; they must raise questions about the democratisation of data and technology, and they must re-evaluate the application and value of intelligence—what technology is providing for people, and the ways it’s changing people in the process.”

“This reimagination of the enterprise offers a tremendous opportunity to those that take the lead. In every industry, companies’ current successes are happening in spite of their foundations, not because of them. When leaders successfully rebuild their technology models to deliver the human focus they’ve lost, they will be poised to do far more than meet expectations. They’ll set the new standard that every competitor—in every industry—will be forced to try to meet.”

With Conga’s Ash Finnegan concluding: “Most businesses confuse disruption with innovation. Naturally, altering an entire business model is complicated and requires some degree of experimentation. Companies should always establish clear objectives and a strategy; the immediate focus should not be on technology.

“Companies must first evaluate their operational model, assess their suitability, and identify any pain points along the entire business cycle. The key is to arrive at a clear understanding of how and where change needs to occur in order to progress and improve the organisation’s overall operability – building technical solutions and applying technology around the most important business processes is proven to add value and bolster company growth.”

As we enter the post-COVID-19 era, disruption is today, defined quite differently as businesses have had to radically alter how they use technologies across all aspects of their enterprises.

Silicon in Focus

Gordon Wilson, CEO, Advanced.

Gordon Wilson, CEO, Advanced.

Gordon is the Chief Executive Officer of Advanced. Having joined the company in 2015, he brings extensive experience in the software industry to drive Advanced’s impressive growth trajectory. Gordon is leading Advanced’s ambitious transformation process, including a four-pillar process of reorganisation, rebranding, relocation and restructuring.

How are we now defining technological disruption today?

For me, the definition of technological disruption has changed since the pandemic to become more about technology ‘acceleration.’  A true ‘disruption’ of technology creates a new market and ecosystem of partners and suppliers. Still, the post-COVID-19 business landscape has brought a move to digital operations forward by months. What might have been in the 24-month plan is now in the < 6-month program and that in itself is disruptive, but not in the business sense of the word.

Is disruption more than a new form of digital transformation?

Classic technology disruption is more than a new form of digital transformation because the technology involved creates an entirely new market, requiring an entirely new ecosystem of partners and suppliers.  However, technology disruption in the post-COVID-19 world is also more than just a new form of digital transformation because of the necessary speed involved. 

If COVID has one legacy for anyone in business, it will accelerate the shift to a digital-first mindset.  According to McKinsey, buyer preference for digital engagement, as opposed to traditional engagement, is 2x what it was pre- COVID. So the race to pivot fastest to a digital-first approach in all you do is, therefore, the goal for UK Plc.  If the UK is to emerge and then grow, from the challenge of COVID -19, then it has to make this goal achievable and sustainable.  And quickly.  So that is why this disruption is more than just a new form of digital transformation.

Is the pandemic accelerating technical disruption?

Yes.  The pandemic has not just accelerated technical disruption. It has created a seismic shift in every aspect of every business. We will never go back to the way things were pre-COVID.  Ever. On top of the pandemic, we had Brexit to consider, which will open up the emerging markets and, with that, accelerate flows of trade, data, capital and people, all underpinned by technology, to those regions, so it’s little wonder that disruption to technology has accelerated!

According to McKinsey, buyer preference for digital engagement, as opposed to traditional engagement, is twice what it was pre-COVID. There are specific sectors that scored higher than 2x: retail, banking, and grocery will undoubtedly step up their digital operations moving forwards.

How critical is the human capital business have when innovating with disruptive products or services?

The human capital business is crucial when innovating with disruptive products and services.

Leaders will need to empower tomorrow’s workforce as, how we now operate, to be set in a new context accepting new realities. The impact of COVID has demonstrated the need for organisations to enable flexibility, build resilience, and promote endurance amongst their workforce.  There is a need to create more agile ways of working, trusting, and empowering employees to manage their competing priorities wisely while ensuring they deliver on their goals. 

Organisations will do this by adopting a change of culture/approach to set themselves up for success: hiring the right people by removing bias from recruitment, ensuring a diverse workforce, catering for Generation Z coming into the workforce and finally a culture of compassionate leadership with deep consideration for workforce wellbeing/mental health.

Technology is an enabler for organisations wishing to embrace flexibility in the post-COVID world.  This flexibility will include opening up new talent pools through a clearer understanding of data and insight guiding diversity and inclusion initiatives within the business.  An individual’s vulnerability regarding COVID, and thus their needs for flexible working, is one such example.

COVID could be the ‘great enabling’ of the workforce.  Human Capital Managers need to be brave in adopting the right technology to facilitate this massive change and then push their initiatives to the fore – upwards, sideways and down into their org.

We are now seeing no ordinary disruption but the new facts of business life—facts that require executives and leaders at all levels to reset their operating assumptions and management intuition.

Do businesses confuse disruption with innovation?

Yes.  The term disruption is used far too loosely.  Uber is an excellent example of the application of real disruption.  Innovation creates more efficient ways of working in reaction to a market environment.

Can you give examples of how businesses are using technology to disrupt their markets?

The NHS is an excellent example of disruption – in more ways than one!  How the NHS has adopted technology to transform care delivery during COVID will provide for much longer-term improvements in care delivery.  For example, the ‘Talk before you Walk’ campaign has changed how patients access A&E.  First, the patient phones 111; 111 will book a scheduled visit to A&E if required or despatch an ambulance.  If not needed, it will refer the patient to self-care or book a regular GP appointment significantly alleviating the pressure on A&E which existed when people just arrived with no pre-triage of their condition determining if it really was ‘an emergency’.

Do disruptive businesses all use technologies in similar ways? Or is a critical component of a disruption using existing technology in new ways?

Both.  There are a standard set of technologies that businesses may turn to, such as AI, Machine Learning or Robotic Process Automation. Each company’s use case may differ greatly as they are each solving different challenges and pains of their customers.

The acceleration of technology adoption seen as a result of COVID and the need for businesses of all shapes and sizes to be more agile can take the form of massive disruption, but equally, it can be fundamental and a case of ‘catching up’.  Many organisations still rely on legacy mission-critical applications to run their business which once upon a time met their needs and solved the challenges they were facing. 

Today, however, they are inefficient and do not drive productivity or agility.  We see this manifest itself in businesses moving from on-premise systems to the cloud – sounds very basic but in terms of the accessibility, automation and efficiency, they can provide really enable a more productive workforce.  So, I guess, not all ‘disruption’ is of a major scale.


Photo by Alexas Fotos from Pexels

David Howell

Dave Howell is a freelance journalist and writer. His work has appeared across the national press and in industry-leading magazines and websites. He specialises in technology and business. Read more about Dave on his website: Nexus Publishing. https://www.nexuspublishing.co.uk.

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