Investing in Disruptive Technology to Compete for the Future

By Brian Solis , written on February 9, 2012

From The News Desk

Disruptive technology is the bearer of tremendous opportunity and equally a harbinger of obsolescence. Technology's impact on society and business is substantial, if not underestimated. As technology continues to become part of everyday life, it becomes disruptive in how people communicate, work, and connect. The evolution of society and technology happens with or without adaptation or understanding. And, it's contributing to a very real phenomenon of Digital Darwinism, a situation where organizations are faced with a need to adapt to markets and customer behavior or risk a loss in favor, competitive advantage or worse, irrelevance.

To keep up is a perpetual investment as innovation is constant and it's only increasing. We are becoming a culture rife with ingenuity. Entrepreneurialism is contagious. The startup way, or the "hacker life" is introducing new mindsets and models and it inspiring all who taste it to code, design, build, invest, and take risks. Even President Obama is calling for attention and support for startups to revive America's fragile economy. And this is just the beginning. Innovation is a global movement and it's gaining momentum.

This is a time to take a step back, recognize where we are and where we need to be, examine our strategies and current initiatives, review our investments and opportunities, and consider new areas for change or new pursuits.

The truth is that innovation works for and against us and investing in it with purpose and design is our responsibility. Whether you're an entrepreneur leading the latest or the next hot startup, a business executive seeking solutions or a competitive edge, a decision maker or a champion for change in any industry, this is the time to see through the chaos of features, trends, IPOs, investments, ballooning valuations, et al. to clear a path for meaningful progress.

Part of the challenge is knowing when to recognize opportunities. While it's easy to get caught up in the hype, there is a gap that exists between current needs, evolving pains, and the myriad of solutions hitting desktops, smartphones, tablets and digital appliances every day. The problem is that many organizations aren't designed to be adaptive. They're designed to optimize efficiencies and processes. But, times have changed and disruptive technology isn't as easy to recognize and capitalize on without a greater mission and purpose, or an infrastructure to identify trends, experiment, learn, and scale.

For example, businesses around the world are jumping on Facebook and Twitter as each have demonstrated an ability to disrupt the standard fare in how connected consumers communicate, discover, and share. Yet, studying how they attempt to engage with customers reveals that they're missing an opportunity to improve experiences and overall business opportunities. And, if we look at how organizations experiment with emerging platforms such as Instagram, Foursquare, Google+, Klout, and Pinterest, we're left to wonder whether a divide and conquer strategy really isn't just another guise where businesses become a jack of all trades but a master of none.

Disruptive technology requires much more than visibility and activity. To master these platforms requires presence and a commitment to steer thoughtful activity within value networks to the benefit of your organization as well as the experiences of those who define it.

For the purpose of this article, let's define disruptive technology as the innovations that emerge without expectation to introduce a new market and value network at the expense of an existing market and value network. The reason this is an important discussion right now is that many organizations are investing in emerging technology for customer engagement, metrics, marketing and advertising, internal collaboration and education, HR, product develop, etc., without the clearest picture into overall direction, long term strategy, or even a deep understanding of the expectations and obstacles that exist among customers and employees.

Competing for the future requires a full assessment of how some of the biggest trends in technology impact your business or markets today and how they will influence behavior in the future. While this list may alter, expand or contract based on your industry, the image below should provide a glimpse of just how expansive the landscape is, and while not every technology is affecting the bottom line today, elements are beginning to change the way decisions are made and how people work with one another. At the very least, the golden triangle of cloud, mobile, and social provides a hub to begin the evaluation of both technology and human behavior.

To chart a new course toward relevance, here are five initial steps to consider...

1. Assume that there is a surplus of confusion among users and decision makers within organizations and customers on which technology is trending versus technology that is showing signs of becoming or already is disruptive. Discovering the difference and prioritizing what's important is critical.

2. Understand that the role of CMO and CIO is becoming closer than ever before. With marketing departments investing a significant percentage of the overall technology budget now and over time, the "I" in CIO may need to represent innovation to help lead more informed decisions from the inside.

3. Task an existing organization, external partner or develop a new task force to evaluate technology to improve the infrastructure of how your business works, cultivates relationships with customers, employees, and stakeholders, designs better products and services, and demonstrates competitive advantages.

4. Deploy this team to measure technology against a myriad of factors that are important to your business and assess which technologies are worthy of implementation, financial investment, acquisition or experimentation.

5. Re-align the team against a renewed vision, mission and purpose and train employees to use these technologies to achieve desired objectives at the enterprise, LoB, and functional meet customer and employee expectations and steer delightful experiences.

These are the times when getting caught up in technology, valuations, and shiny objects is often mistaken for innovation that inflates the dreaded bubble. What we don't need is to invest in the wrong technologies simply because posts are constantly written with the "top 10" ways to grow our business with said platform. While we can watch them grow, the real focus should be on the development of a formal system that measures impact and prioritizes resources around it accordingly.