Digital Disruption – The whole is greater than the parts

Imagine if you will, a world where technology is changing at breakneck speeds. Where new technology hype seems to know no bounds. You see words floating in front of you.  Cloud. Mobile. Big Data.  Internet of Things. Machine Learning. Blockchain. The words fly towards you, circling. They seem to be saying something. ‘Use me’… “No, use me.’. Confusion seems to abound. At the sign post up ahead, your next stop, the Disruption Zone!

Okay, I will admit, maybe it’s a little hokey, but tell me, sometimes doesn’t it feel like you have entered another dimension? We have entered a time where digital disruption is the norm. A recent survey of Chief Strategy Officers found that 93% felt disruptive innovation was inevitable, yet only 23% of those surveyed felt they were ready to address it.

Two years ago, we were talking about the SMAC (Social, Mobile, Analytics, Cloud) disruption, what Gartner referred to as the Nexus of Forces, a convergence of technologies driving new business scenarios. Each is disruptive on its own, but even more so when converged together. Today, we are adding more new technologies to that convergence. Now we have: the Internet of Things, with its billions of expected devices; blockchain, the distributed ledger technology that underpins bitcoin, but is so much more; or machine learning, where the promises of AI from decades ago seem to be materializing. They are all disruptive and each could have fundamental impacts on the business. What happens when they converge, integrate, interact with each other?

In the not too distant future

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Picture this. You are driving in your car through the city on the way to a meeting with a client. While going through an intersection, a truck runs a red light, crashing into your vehicle. The air bag deploys. You are fine, but unconscious due to the impact. Based on the impact, the software in your car determines there has been an accident. It immediately accesses the Fitbit device on your wrist to read your vital signs. It has validated it is yours based on a blockchain device registration system. The machine learning software determines you are alive, but unconscious. It then calls 911 to alert the police and fire department of the accident, identifies you, and your condition to them. Accessing your mobile phone, it then notifies the client you have been delayed due to an accident, then, finding your emergency contact notifies them as well. The truck driver’s vehicle system is performing similar activities.

Meanwhile, traffic sensors at the intersection have also registered the accident. Machine learning software changes the traffic light patterns to redirect traffic away from the affected intersection, and clear the way for emergency vehicles. Information about the accident is sent into the cloud, made available to GPS programs on various mobile devices, which also starts re-directing individuals away from the accident. Traffic camera images of the intersection are analyzed to determine level of damage, and potential injuries. This information is forwarded to the emergency vehicles. By the time emergency personal arrive, they know the names of those involved, their vital signs, as well as key medical information that is stored in their Electronic Health Record (EHR) on another blockchain.

The whole is greater than the parts

While the scenario I just described is not happening today, much of what described is within reach or in development.

What is interesting in the scenario is the interaction of the technologies, and the added value of them working in conjunction with each other. Each individual technology provides value, but when combined, the benefits could increase even more.

Innovation doesn’t just happen, it requires effort

Achieving the innovation and benefits the various disruptive technologies can provide does not happen by magic. Some steps that can be taken include:

  • Create cross-functional innovation teams – Innovation is not just about technology, its innovating the business with the help of technology. The best ideas come from groups that are multi-disciplinary, technical and non-technical, brainstorm ideas
  • Support innovation – Developing innovative ideas takes time and resources. Ensure you are supporting the innovation teams so they are not penalized for time spent developing new ideas
  • Accept not ideas will work – If every idea coming out of an innovation team works, question if you are truly innovating. Innovating is going outside the box, pushing the limits, not all ideas succeed. Fail quickly, learn, and move forward
  • Look outside your own industry – Don’t just look at what the competition is doing, look at what other industries are doing. Are there patterns there that could be applied to your industry? Are there synergies (like the example above, which crossed many different industries).

No technology negates the need for good design and planning

The digital disruption is here. There is not putting the genie back in the bottle. Even with that, no technology negates the need for good design and planning. This includes all the digital disruptors. As technologists, it’s our responsibility to understand the impacts and benefits associated with all these technologies. They are tools in our toolbox. We need to understand the potential benefits of the combinations, what the tradeoffs involved may be. We must then combine that understanding with what the challenges and needs facing the business. Then we are ready to help the business achieve their goals and address their challenges, leveraging the benefits of combining the digital disruptors to create the larger sum gain.

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