At some point Ford said that if you would have asked people how they want to get around, they would have asked for a faster horse, without even dreaming of a car, because it was beyond the imagination of the time. Disruptive technology is just that: making a qualitative leap to solve an existing problem, by starting almost from scratch and rendering existing technology obsolete. Most of the technologies we now take for granted were once disruptive. Yet, it is our duty to continue with this trend and never be satisfied with the current state of affairs. “Business as usual” is the recipe for failure on the long run. Disruptive technology also has the advantage of cutting costs drastically, sometimes to almost eliminating them.
A typical office 1981 vs. 2015
To give a few examples, just think about the cost and space taken by all your e-mails if they were sent by regular mail, give yourself a minute to add up all the tunes in an iPod and imagine if those were stored on vinyl disks or what would your phone bill look like if you would have called via a landline instead of internet. How could you use these ideas for your business to save money and get to the top? Let’s take at look at the typical departments in a company and some disruptive technologies they could benefit from.
Production- 3D printing
How would it be to Ctrl+P anything you imagine? 3D printing is being considered one of the most disruptive production technologies of this decade. With one of these machines and some industrial design skills or just templates downloaded from the Internet the possibilities are endless. As a small company you can use a 3D printer to create one of a kind or tiny batches of items for a niche market and cut down costs required by mass production. This idea will make you money using the reasoning of the long tail capitalizing on a large number of niche products. Giving your clients the opportunity to customize the items they desire and then delivering these to their door is the real added value here.
R&D- Big data and Wearable Technology
Would you rule the world if you could control every potential client? (Hint: just use their smartphones.) Traditionally, research and development required a dedicated team, time and money to get data and expensive tools to perform analysis. Nowadays, thanks to the access to technology there are much simpler ways to get data (loads of it) and even access to very personal data provided by wearable technology. You can learn about people’s preferences, life style patterns are draw conclusions for your business, ranging from when to send a newsletter to more complex things, like designing nano-material clothing or remembering their preferences. You can cut down on marketing costs by aligning your ads with their lifestyle patterns and using wearables to push notifications about your products, tailored to their needs.
Purchasing- Internet of Things and AI
What if your entire purchasing department could be replaced by automated systems? Imagine a world where a sensor detects low stocks, triggers an alert of the need, an algorithm compares best suppliers and then contacts the chosen one by automatically placing an order for the necessary quantity. Even the negotiation part could be handled by neural networks previously trained how to make offerings and compute short term and long term viability of the received offer. Add autonomous vehicles or drones to the mix and you have almost eliminated the need of employees in this department. Although the whole ensemble sounds Sci-Fi, the components are readily available.
Marketing- Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR)
Millennials have increased the importance of experiences and immersion in the marketing mix. People only buy if they can try and see if the product really satisfies their needs. As some products are too expensive or even impossible to experiment in a showroom or store, AR and VR are viable options. Want to show clients the hotel they will be staying or a sneak preview of a private party? Pictures and videos are not enough to trigger emotions, but a VR experience could help. Want to eliminate stocks, but still show a customer how that garment would fit them? Use the AR fitting room to make them fall in love with the new season’s trends. Or, use a smart app to help them do that in the comfort of their bedroom and give up completely the necessity of a brick and mortar store.
Human resources- Automation and Robots
It is expected that by 2030 robots will eliminate some of the simpler jobs and be able to perform repetitive tasks at a better rate than humans, without complaining and feeling worthless. This will ensure dramatic savings and increased productivity. If you are looking to harness the power of this technology you could go lower scale and define the needs of your organization and replace at least some of the work with automated systems and responses. If you want to replace technicians you could look into the concept of digital twins, systems that replace both the employee and the gauge with a sensor and algorithm. Call center employees could soon be replaced by conversational systems, the grandsons of Siri or Cortana.
Accounting and Finance- Crowd Funding and Block Chain
Want to get capital and idea validation at the same time? Why not pledge your idea to a crowdsourcing platform. If people believe this is an opportunity, you will receive the funds to make it come to life and a base of potential clients, thus covering the marketing expenses associated to launching a new product. When it comes to payment, you could accept experimental currencies like Bitcoin or similar to avoid bank commissions. The risk is higher than using standard currencies, but due to volatility you could also get rich fast, as these e-currencies are experiencing moments of growth. Other ways to shift the spending of a company is to learn from fast food chains: “clear your own table”: make employees responsible for their benefits like health insurance and pension plans. Give them enough to cover these expenses, but let them handle the problem as they think it best fits their interest.
Always remember that a disruptive technology or idea is just a tool to help you fulfill your vision. As interesting as these might seem, evaluate each of them through a SWOT analysis, just like any other business option and assess if they are in line with your long term strategy. Don’t get seduced by the novelty and the coolness of the available toys and always compare costs to existing practices. Studies show that pioneers are not the ones to benefit most from adopting new ideas; usually the second wave of adopters gathers all the traction power, as the disruptive idea moves into mainstream.