All that Disrupts, is not unpleasant

This statement may sound strange, but is very true when it comes to the fertile fields of technology. Disrupting innovation hits you when least expected, and improves a product or service by either giving a consumer advantage or a cost advantage. Disruptive technologies create new definitions of quality and conventional ways of doing things.


From GSM (Global system for Mobile communications) and Roaming to Mobile VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), from CD’s and DVD’s to downloadable digital media, from telegraphy to telephone to VoIP; there are numerous examples where old technologies have given way to new ones. The replacement of mainframes by desktops is nothing short of a revolution, which is the reason why we are being able to communicate right now.


So, if it is such a good thing, then why is it called a disruptive technology? Apart from the obvious good side for the customers (better, more convenient and cheaper technology), there is a temporary, but a very real disruption for the business players.


Economically speaking, there are changes in the industry where the disruptive technology takes over. Companies experience a slowdown and jobs are lost. There is a glut of the old products in a market (where there are few takers) and inventory becomes unmanageable.


Business wise also, a paradigm shift is needed for changing the way people use technologies for doing their work. New skill sets are needed and the demand for people capable of handling new technologies rises. Social changes take place, and often, the new technology is accepted with protests and reluctance. For example, when Marconi invented a new way to send messages, the Italian Government pooh-poohed the idea as unimportant. Later, this led to the invention of modern telephone. It sometimes becomes difficult to imagine what kind of impact an invention, say the internal combustion engine, conceptually developed in the 13th century, may have centuries down the line.


With the advent of new technologies, the market leaders are often shaken off their places. It is often tough to know when and where the next disruptive technology is going to strike next. This is especially true with the rapid technological advancements of today’s century, and the better-informed and more demanding customers.


Industries are under the danger of going under if they do not retain their flexibility in face of technological disruption. Disruptive technologies have a nasty habit of sneaking up to you soundlessly and then totally changing your world, while you are left scratching your head. Companies cannot always predict what is going to be the next technology, but they can keep themselves open to change. Innovation is another name for change, and innovation is inevitable in businesses.


The most disturbing thing about disruptive technologies from the business point of view is that it affects their long-term plans and initiatives. Also, most disruptions come from the unofficial channels and starfish like networks. So, identifying potential areas of disruptions can help the industry in getting the first mover advantage. Another interesting part is that while the old industries may be uprooted by the storm of disruption, it pays to develop and shift gradually out to new opportunities thrown open by disruptive technologies. So, if you can’t beat them, join them.


For the year 2009, Gartner Inc. has highlighted ten top disruptive technologies, which include virtualization, cloud computing, green IT, Web oriented architecture and Business Intelligence. These technologies (more importantly the ideas behind them) have great potential in the coming year. It has been predicted by IDC that the global slow-down and financial pressures will actually contribute towards the transformation of the Information Technology industry and bring about the adoption of new business models. Since this is going to be a year of changes, all you entrepreneurs can rejoice and take advantage of the opportunity presented. Disruptive technologies are here to stay.


Nidhi Kulkarni



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