By RAYMOND DEVADASS
Disruptive technologies and its impact in the workplace is a recent hot topic of discussion at almost every business conference. Without a doubt, it is considerably changing the way businesses operate.
We hear how the digital workforce will take over most of our jobs, and with the advent of artificial intelligence and advancement in machine or cognitive learning, more and more tasks can be automated with technology.
This article seeks to identify what is driving this disruption at work and who are the major disruptors.
Also, in the midst of all these disruptions, how can organisations continue to craft a digital customer experience that will advance their brand and deliver measurable success?
What is disruptive technology?
Simply put, it refers to the effect of digital technologies on a business’ current value proposition and resultant market position.
First coined by Professor Clayton Magleby Christensen, a Harvard Business School Professor in his book The Investors’ Dilemma, he clearly makes the differentiation between the term “disruptive technology” and “sustaining technology” – the latter being any emerging technology solution that provides improvement on an already established technology.
Disruptive technology, on the other hand, is defined as a technology that considerably changes the way we operate our businesses. It is the biggest force in history that has the potential to overturn and reshape markets. It may force companies to alter the way they do business or risk becoming irrelevant or lose market share.
From a workplace design perspective, disruptive technology holds the key to alter the work industry completely.
In a 1969 episode of Tomorrow’s World, James Burke was asked to predict how the future office would look like. He predicted that disruptive technologies would revolutionise communication at work.
For instance, files will be transported round the office on motorised tea-trolleys; messages will be dictated and sent via reel-to-reel tape recorders; and oversized cameras would be used to share documents with colleagues. Slightly off the mark in today’s world but nonetheless, there are some similarities to the devices we rely on now in the work space.
There is a clear recognition that this is a time of Digital Darwinism – a time where technology and consumer behaviour are evolving faster than businesses can naturally adapt to. Brian Solis defines the term as the degree of disruption brought by technology.
Who is driving this disruption?
In the past, disruption at work was driven by the supplier or the service provider, e.g. when the banks began to provide ATMs (automated teller machines), phone banking service, and enabled cashless transactions through the introduction of credit cards and debit cards.
Today, it would seem that the real threat and opportunity in technology’s disruption lies in the evolution of customer and employee behaviour, values, and expectations. Disruption at work is today driven by the customer or consumer – specifically the millennials who expect convenience, accessibility and smarter ways to transact.
And why is that? It boils down to consumer behaviour! Consumers now communicate, engage and share using digital technology. So, if consumer behaviour is evolving as a result of technology, businesses can either compete to get ahead of it, react to it, or get left behind by it.
The rise of tech companies and start-ups
Perhaps the major digital disruptors are tech companies and, more specifically, start-ups.
According to a survey conducted by Efma and Infosysy Finacle in 2015 in the United States, 45% of banks viewed global tech companies as high threat. The same study goes on to state that 41% of banks viewed start-ups as high threats. Interestingly, banks are not seeing their peers in the industry (other banks) as their primary competitors anymore – instead they are beginning to fear tech companies and start-ups.
Another survey conducted by Accenture which covered 1,350 sales and customer executives in over 10 countries found that 66% believe new entrants are providing better customer experience because the incumbents find it difficult to make significant shift in business model because of too many internal road blocks. Only 32% believe they are equipped to deliver the demanded customer experience.
Why are these organisations afraid of start-ups? Perhaps because they are the biggest digital disruptors!
Generally, start-ups are viewed as ‘dangerous’ organisations or persons who can seemingly grow their user bases overnight and are agile enough to convert them into a business model that can threaten the incumbent in multiple markets.
They have a deep sense of purpose and most often do not have a business model yet to monetise their ideas. This makes them a threat to what they used to know about how conventional businesses are run.
Start-ups have low entry barrier and hence are mushrooming. Unlike traditional corporate organisations, they look at ways to solve a problem first, and only then do they begin to think of a business model to monetise the idea. Perhaps most importantly, they are more agile and thrive in an environment where organisations that are slow to embrace change.
Keeping up with the change
Rather than react to change or be disrupted by technology, some proactive companies are investing in digital transformation to adapt and outperform not only their competitors but also tech start-ups.
What happens if an organisation does not keep up with the changing landscape? It dies – it’s that simple!
In the short to medium term, it might suffer loss of profitable activities. In the long run, it will lose its existence just like Kodak.
It will be recalled that Kodak was the ‘Google’ of its day before it died a natural death when digital photography replaced film photography, and smart phones replaced cameras. In a twist of fate, while Kodak dies, its long-time rival company Fujifilm did relatively well.
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What made the difference? Both saw change coming but they responded differently.
Crafting a digital customer experience
McKinsey & Company predicts that digital touch point is increasing 20% each year. Therefore, companies must be motivated to respond to digital disruption in order to retain its competitive edge.
However, the question remains:
What can organisations do to craft a digital customer experience that will advance their brand and deliver measurable success?
To achieve this, companies must re-evaluate and reassess if their current processes and systems allow them the flexibility to provide a seamless digital customer experience. They also have to always remain attentive to the digital ecosystem and know when the industry is ripe for digital disruption and act swiftly.
Every company has to undergo a “digital reinvention” by rethinking its customer relationship management policies and customer experience strategy which can be enhanced mainly by growing the business around the customer’s needs. This includes focusing on simplifying the lives of its customers vis-a-vis embracing customer-centric digital technologies in improving their products or services.
Companies must also focus on growing their business based on the customer’s perspective, and not on an already established business model. This can be achieved by moving away from the traditional business models from “outside-in” and adopt the “inside-out” approach through digital transformation.
Most importantly, we must refrain from embracing new technologies for the sake of technology. Instead, let’s talk about people first!
There are so many new developments in technologies in the areas of cloud, cognitive, mobile and Internet of Things. You can choose to combine the use of these multiple technologies. Every organisation firstly needs to identify if they’re being disrupted at work because of the advent of new technologies or because the millennials, which accounts to 25% of the population, are demanding for a new improved experience. The answer to this must govern the subsequent actions.
To fend off digital disruptors, think of smooth customer experiences beyond just products. Your strategy must be positioned at the centre of your customer needs (pain points) to optimise the customer experience.
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Identify how digital technology can help you solve their pain points in the way your customers expect, and then build an engagement layer above a product or service offering, e.g. fast response time, social media engagement, responsive website, etc.
Finally, start collaborating with business consultants and digital tech companies or start-ups. Perhaps, considering buying any start-up that is related to your market. A good example is Facebook acquiring WhatsApp and Instagram. Work as one organisation, instead of many operational silos.
The time is now not just to respond to disruptive technology, but for today’s businesses to drive the disruption themselves by transforming to digital leaders while embracing digital transformation.
The unstoppable wave of advancement that comes with technology is here to stay. It’s not going to be the survival of the fittest anymore, but rather the survival of the one that adapts well to change – both external (from customers) and internal (from employees).
Quite simply, businesses need to foster a culture within the organisation to embrace change rather than react to change or be threatened by technology.
Raymond is the CEO of Daythree, a regional business service provider in the areas of business and knowledge process, human capital and IT services. He specialises in providing strategic management direction to assist organisations in managing their IT investments for strategic outcomes.
What are your thoughts about disruption in the workplace? To engage with Raymond or to share with us the measures you are taking as business leaders to evolve with disruptive digital transformation, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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