An SMEs guide to Digital Disruption

The key digital disruptors you need to understand, examples of how organisations & sectors have embraced disruptors, plus 10 tips for embracing digital disruption from SA Law’s team of commercial experts.
Fri 5th Jul 2019

Digital disruption starts by identifying areas where a digital solution could deliver a positive step-change in the way something is done. The bigger the step-change, the more disruptive the idea.

Jo Caudron and Dado Van Peteghem provide an excellent framework for thinking disruptively in their book “Digital Transformation: A Model to Master Digital Disruption.”

They outline seven metaphors that help organisations to see disruptive opportunities, with many of the world’s most successful disruptive ideas spanning two or more of the metaphors. In brief, the metaphors are as follows, but you are recommend to read more about them for a fuller understanding:

The glass house

Can technology bring you closer to your customers by making you more transparent, authentic or responsive? For example, the music industry has become much more transparent and responsive over the last 10 years. Not only has it moved from a unit-sale focus to subscription services such as Spotify, but also channels such as YouTube now give performers the opportunity to make it big before even having a record contract.

The package

Can technology help you repackage a product or service? For example, eBay unbundled the traditional newspaper ‘classified ads’ section to create the world’s leading auction platform.

The frog

Can technology help you bypass elements of the supply chain, or virtualize traditional products? Airbnb is a great example of this, having disrupted the travel industry by giving customers a wider choice of accommodation that bypassed travel agents and hotels.

The gatekeeper

Can technology help you upend the traditional guardians of your customers? Many disrupters incorporate user reviews into their business model because customers are more willing to trust peer recommendations. A few great reviews has the potential to trump the advertising spend of a much larger and established competitor.

The traveller

Can technology change the location of where something is done? We are well into the era of ecommerce and its disruptive effect on high street retail, yet organisations are still finding new ways to take traditional shop-based business models online. Amazon is one of the most broad-ranging examples of this, but many smaller businesses have acted as targeted disrupters of specific product groups. For example, Abel & Cole has given consumers greater access to the farm shop.

The participant

Can you use technology to build a social movement that benefits you? This has been the key driver in social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. However, many non-social businesses now include some form of social functionality to build communities around their offering.

The cyborg

This is digital disruption itself, and a key component in the other six metaphors. How can existing and emerging technology deliver the step change that benefits your customers and your business?

How do I think disruptively?

In addition to the seven metaphors, the following ten tips will help you think disruptively:

  1. Start with your core competencies: Focusing on areas you are already strong in delivers a greater chance of success. It can help from a cost perspective as well because you’re more likely to already possess the knowledge and skills to deliver the idea well.
  2. Think digitally, act nimbly and keep it simple: The best disruptive solutions seem elegantly simple to the customer. They solve a need, and do it well. The technology behind the solution might be nightmarishly complex, such as the algorithms driving Google searches, but the user experience is unfeasibly easy. And the ideal customer response to your idea should be ‘how has this not been done before?’
  3. Embrace innovation rather than invention: Stick with the fundamental business principle of solving a customer’s existing need rather than trying to generate a new one. Start by looking for opportunities to make step-change improvements in what you already deliver, and expand outwards from there.
  4. Be clear about why you are innovating: Complexity often arises from trying to do too much too early. Today’s Facebook is a complex tool, but it gained traction based on a simple disruptive idea – harnessing the internet to keep people in contact with each other. The simpler the idea, the easier the sell.
  5. Focus on the question, not the solution: It often helps to phrase your thinking in terms of a clear question to keep the solution simple. For example, “how can we minimise the number of steps in our customer journey,” or “how will our customers expect us to deliver our offering in five years’ time?”
  6. Look outside in, not inside out: Put yourself in the mind of the customer because they can’t see what goes on inside your organisation, no matter how amazing it is. Their primary interest is your product and how it benefits their life quickly and easily.
  7. Look for barriers to entrance: Think of risks in the development of the idea, but also when you get to market. One of the key risks is how to stop competitors instantly following your lead and smothering your competitive advantage. For example, can you use your customers to shield you? The viral nature of ideas such as Airbnb, Facebook and Uber quickly built large customer bases that made it hard for new entrants to steal market share.
  8. Resource innovation well: Make sure you have enough resources to achieve your objective, and don’t let a skills gap ruin an interesting idea. If you find yourself out of your comfort zone, try exploring a partnership or collaboration with an expert in the field. This is a perfect approach for non-technical organisations.
  9. Get the basic processes and data right: Think about the best ways to execute the idea, but don’t get too focused on defining the full solution. Get a prototype working, and refine it as you test. Developing a disruptive idea is an iterative process, so be prepared for some failure. However, try to get the failure out of the way quickly.
  10. Ask yourself “How might we?”: This is the question you should continually ask yourself, including during the development phase. Try reapplying the disruption metaphors at regular intervals to see if there are ways to make the original idea simpler, better or more engaging.

Overall, it’s best to build a ‘disruption culture’ within your organisation so that innovation itself becomes a core competency. For example, one of the biggest inhibitors can be a low digital IQ among senior leadership. If this sounds like your organisation, can you appoint a ‘digital lead’ to help shape the future of your organisation, perhaps even an official Chief Digital Officer role?

So now you know what digital disruption is, how do you think disruptively for greater business success? Read our article here.

For legal advice and support on your projects, contact SA Law in St Albans on 01727 798000, or in London on 020 7183 5683.

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Digital Disruption: How to think disruptively for greater business success

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