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And Now, Time for Real Disruptive Innovation

Disruptive Innovation

Disruptive Innovation

Lately, there’s been a raging debate over Clayton Christensen’s definition of “disruptive innovation,” and whether this is the key to ultimate success in markets. Clayton, author of the ground-breaking book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, says industry-leading firms tend to pursue high-margin revenue-producing business, leaving lower end, less profitable parts of their markets to new, upstart players. For established leaders, there’s often not enough profit in selling to under-served or unserved markets. However, what happens is the upstarts end up gradually moving up the food chain with their new business models, eating gradually into leaders’ positions and either chasing them upstream, or out of business.

The interesting thing is that many of the upstarts do not even intend to take on the market leader in the segment. Christensen cites the classic example of Digital Equipment Corporation in the 1980s, which was unable to make the transition from large, expensive enterprise systems to smaller, PC-based equipment. The PC upstarts in this case did not take on Digital directly – rather they addressed unmet needs in another part of the market.

Christensen wrote and published The Innovator’s Dilemma more than 17 years ago, but his message keeps reverberating across the business world. Lately, Jill Lapore questioned some of thinking that has evolved around disruptive innovation in a recent New Yorker article. “Disruptive innovation is a theory about why businesses fail. It’s not more than that. It doesn’t explain change. It’s not a law of nature,” she writes. Christensen responded with a rebuttal to Lapore’s thesis, noting that “disruption doesn’t happen overnight,” and that “[Disruptive innovation] is not a theory about survivability.”

There is something Lapore points out that both she and Christensen can agree on: “disruption” is being oversold and misinterpreted on a wide scale these days. Every new product that rolls out is now branded as “disruptive.” As stated above, the true essence of disruption is creating new markets where the leaders would not tread.

Data itself can potentially be a source of disruption, as data analytics and information emerge as strategic business assets. While the ability to provide data analysis at real-time speeds, or make new insights possible isn’t disruption in the Christensen sense, we are seeing the rise of new business models built around data and information that could bring new leaders to the forefront. Data analytics can either play a role in supporting this movement, or data itself may be the new product or service disrupting existing markets.

We’ve already been seeing this disruption taking place within the publishing industry, for example – companies or sites providing real-time or near real-time services such as financial updates, weather forecasts and classified advertising have displaced traditional newspapers and other media as information sources.

Employing data analytics as a tool for insights never before available within an industry sector also may be part of disruptive innovation. Tesla Motors, for example, is disruptive to the automotive industry because it manufactures entirely electric cars. But the formula to its success is its employment of massive amounts of data from its array of vehicle in-devices to assure quality and efficiency.

Likewise, data-driven disruption may be occurring in places that may have been difficult to innovate. For example, it’s long been speculated that some of the digital giants, particularly Google, are poised to enter the long-staid insurance industry. If this were to happen, Google would not enter as a typical insurance company with a new web-based spin. Rather, the company would be employing new techniques of data gathering, insight and analysis to offer an entirely new model to consumers – one based on data. As Christopher Hernaes recently related in TechCrunch, Google’s ability to collect and mine data on homes, business and autos give it a unique value proposition n the industry’s value chain.

We’re in an era in which Christensen’s mode of disruptive innovation has become a way of life. Increasingly, it appears that enterprises that are adept and recognizing and acting upon the strategic potential of data may be joining the ranks of the disruptors.

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