All the elements for the printing press existed long before Johannes Gutenberg combined them into one machine. The ink, the paper, the block — they had their individual uses. But making them work in concert? That was innovation.
We are on the verge of another printing press moment, albeit with far more advanced technologies. Artificial intelligence, augmented reality, virtual reality, robotics, 5G, blockchain, and computer visions are world-changing in and of themselves. But combined, these innovative, disruptive technologies will usher in an unprecedented era of digitization.
Despite mounting pressure to transform their processes, 3 in 5 directors consider their companies lagging when it comes to digital transformation, according to the 2020 digital transformation research by Corporate Board Member with PwC. But if the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the urgency of implementing cohesive, interoperable tech systems that enable businesses to be more adaptive. The impact of disruptive technology on business will be profound during this time, provided that CTOs look at the tools available through a combinatorial lens.
The application of disruptive technologies in business is the way to achieve resilience and master what McKinsey describes as a “through-cycle mindset,” one that looks at how to emerge even stronger after a crisis. Growing through the COVID-19 pandemic will require cutting-edge technologies because businesses need to adapt to a changing workplace, pivot on products, and respond to shifting consumer needs — often remotely and at lightning speed. But the impact of disruptive technology on business outcomes will be muted if CTOs treat innovative solutions as individual instruments rather than equal players in the same symphony.
Combine and conquer
The combinatorial approach to the application of disruptive technologies in business can be used to solve a broad range of challenges. For instance, a recent survey found that many enterprises use blockchain and IoT technologies to strengthen their security protocols and enhance trust among users. Other use cases prove just as promising. In manufacturing, the power of 5G enterprise networks has allowed for a stronger realization of robotics, AI, and computer vision to reach Industry 4.0 standards of smart manufacturing. With a well-mapped-out digital strategy, each disruptive technology can reinforce the other to create smart solutions.
There is no standard playbook for harnessing the disruptive technologies of the future. Each company’s needs and implementation barriers will be unique. But every CTO can use these four best practices to get started:
Contextualize your decisions. Look at your company’s vulnerabilities and opportunities, especially in light of the coronavirus crisis. The advantages of disruptive technologies are lost if you’re not using the right tools for the right job, so identify your problems and goals first. Only then should you decide which programs and technical solutions will help you address those best.
Identify potential implementation bottlenecks. Even with the right technology, you can still run into implementation issues. Once you’ve identified the areas of change, ask the team members involved about challenges from past system changes. When my company was considering a visual computer application for one of our clients, one manager told us that it took three years to get a single camera on the floor because of union issues. That isn’t an anomaly.
One of the biggest bottlenecks at companies occurs when leadership doesn’t commit. According to the digital transformation research study referenced above, 84% of companies that have successfully navigated digital transformations have leadership who have mandated the change — not just encouraged it. With leadership’s commitment, the rest of the company will be more motivated to work across silos and find creative solutions to implementation.
Work in phases. Create a road map that includes implementation phases for integrating different forms of disruptive technology. Setting benchmarks will help you maintain executive buy-in, especially during the uncertainty of the pandemic. McKinsey found that while leaders want to see tech solutions to the current crisis, they’re dismayed by the lack of cohesion and progress on current initiatives. A plan keeps everyone focused on the end goals. It should describe which team members are needed at each phase — a critical piece of information for planning and success.
Know what type of tech you’re implementing and why. Here are two examples of disruptive technology in business — one that works and one that gets squandered. The first involves IoT and blockchain, which has become hugely important as a disruptive supply chain technology. My company piloted a blockchain-IoT system for a client that needed to reduce waste in its vaccine supply chain. The World Health Organization estimates the global vaccine waste rate to be upwards of 15% due to temperature control, shipping, and logistic issues.
To overcome those issues, we created a solution using IoT and blockchain network to track the drugs’ journeys in real time. This system is fully automated as a safety monitor, capturing and transmitting vital data such as temperature, humidity, and vibrations. The system can trigger the user to correct the environment if possible. Thanks to this app, no one could say, “I didn’t do it” or “It wasn’t in my transit area” to escape accountability.
But leveraging technology without careful assessment can have an opposite effect. We are aware of many pilots around blockchain that never went into production simply because the key tenets of trust and non-repudiation were not central to the use case. Sequencing is also important. There is not much point in expending effort on using AI to more efficiently resolve discrepancies in a supply chain process if the process is anyway targeted for redesign using blockchain.
The technologies that will disrupt business in 2020 won’t just be the ones that grab headlines. They’ll be the ones that companies use strategically in tandem to build resilience through the coronavirus crisis and beyond.
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