How to avoid the bad kind of digital disruption


You often hear digital transformation described as a disruptive force — on markets, on business models, on processes, and more. In this context, disruption is viewed as a positive thing that creates new opportunities, and even new industries. For example, here’s a business-specific definition of disrupt from Cambridge Dictionary:

to change the traditional way that an industry operates, especially in a new and effective way

By its very nature, however, disruption also implies interruption — and even destruction. Here’s the broader definition of disrupt offered by Cambridge Dictionary:

to prevent something, especially a system, process, or event, from continuing as usual or as expected

Hmm. In that depiction of disruption, there’s a lot of room for bad outcomes — for specific people, organizations, and industries. Workers lose jobs, companies go out of business, entire industries disappear. And guess what’s the number one cause of disruption for enterprises? Digital transformation!

So if you don’t get digital transformation right, your enterprise will be not a disruptor, but the disrupted.

Over at Forbes, contributor Jonathan Sasse identifies seven core elements of a successful digital transformation strategy that can help an organization be on the right side of disruption:

  • Hire fresh eyes
  • Understand available and emerging technologies
  • Understand your customer
  • Know your competition
  • Understand friction
  • Develop a plan
  • Execute on your plan

Most of this is Digital Business 101, but two of the items on Sasse’s list — hire fresh eyes and understand friction — are worth exploring.

Sasse recommends hiring “visionary” types who understand emerging technologies and “get” digital disruption. “Most employees are busy performing their regular tasks, so they may not have the bandwidth or perhaps the perspective to address the challenge of true digital transformation,” he writes.

True. Not only that, it might be difficult to get employees to buy in to digital transformation because change can be threatening. And don’t confuse tinkering with transformation, Sasse warns. “If you attempt digital transformation using your existing knowledge, chances are you’re not transforming, but rather optimizing existing procedures,” he says.

A fresh perspective also can help enterprises identify previously overlooked points of friction that create inefficiency and customer dissatisfaction.

“Often what internally is viewed as a differentiator, such as hands-on customer service or ‘real live’ tech support, is a source of friction for the end customer,” Sasse writes. “Take a look at all business stages and processes, and ask if any could be replaced, streamlined or reinvented through technology.”

Bottom line: The right emerging technologies, a solid business strategy, and effective implementation all can contribute to successful digital transformation. But without the right vision and an ability to see things from a fresh perspective, an enterprise’s efforts to benefit from disruption could fall short. And, in the digital economy, falling short can be fatal.

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