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Danielle Sheerin

Digital disruption is the new normal

Businesses have always been disrupted.

There has always been the chance that your competitor might develop a new, better, or cheaper product (James Dyson did this with his cyclone vacuum technology and the Dollar Shave Club is currently trying to do this to Gillette with an innovative pricing model).

And in recent years we have increasingly seen many instances where some young upstart has come along and created a new technology that fundamentally alters established business models or disintermediates existing brands from their customers (digital content distribution models such as Lovefilm and Amazon Kindle have contributed to the demise of video stores and record and bookshops and Zopa’s peer-to-peer lending model has removed the need for the bank as middleman).

Recently though it seems like disruption is becoming more pervasive and more and more businesses are feeling the pressure to evolve and adapt their businesses.

But this seems to be a response to a more generalised rise in new technologies rather than because of specific threats from other businesses.

In short, the new digital world is causing something to change in a fundamental way and businesses are now only starting to wake up to this. Increasingly they are asking: What is changing? And what should our response be?

Gartner identified this paradigm in a recent report. They refer to a nexus of forces that characterise the technological world today: social interaction, mobile, the cloud and access to information. According to Gartner, these trends in digital activity ‘combine to empower individuals as they interact with each other and their information through well-designed ubiquitous technology.’

This has a massive impact on how consumers and businesses relate to technology and each other. Moreover, it provides a new voice and power to consumers and this has created higher expectations about how they should be treated by businesses.

What this means is that disruption is now ubiquitous – the new digital world in which we live is itself disrupting businesses. For businesses to survive in this new era, they need to refocus and innovate their customer propositions to meet and exceed these needs.

The trouble is that most businesses are still languishing in the 20th century in operational terms and are systemically ill-equipped to respond.

Big business is characteristically cumbersome and typically falls foul of one or more of the following inhibiting factors:

  • Tied into legacy systems
  • Lacking agility (often characterised by siloed working practices and a lack of collaboration)
  • Lacking trust and operating a culture of control and disempowerment
  • Tied to a core business model or inflexible operating processes
  • Lacking alignment – both internally and with its customer base
  • Either unwilling or unable to listen, learn and respond to what the market is telling it (usually through fear, complacency or not knowing what to do)
  • Taking a ‘wait and see’ mentality

If you recognise this in your own business you will almost certainly miss the opportunities the digital world offers – and worse, you run the risk of being becoming obsolete as the world move on without you.

There are three things you need to do to evolve your business to meet the needs of the new digital world:

  • Change your view of your customers in a fundamental way. Focus on the whole customer experience and operate with transparency and authenticity investing in your servicing for the good of your long term balance sheet.
  • Embrace social technologies. Look for ways to use social to innovate new solutions that deliver on the expectations that the next generation have for digitally enabled businesses.
  • Break down internal silos. Find new ways for information to flow around your business so that you can collaborate effectively both within and without the organisation.

To achieve this, the most important shifts you can make are cultural – businesses need to recognise that it is OK to fail and that if you are you are committed to continuous improvement this will inevitably happen at some point.

Businesses also need to start empowering their staff and extending their leadership, aligning with their staff around a new vision and purpose for their business, as it should be in the 21st century.

(Image courtesy of Vxla)


This post was filed under Digital transformation, Innovation, The future, Working culture and tagged , Comments are currently closed.


  1. Ross

    I’d add a fourth; address the elephant. I’d wager most people working for a big business know what their elephant is, what it smells like, and what really needs to be done to get it to move/shrink/explode.

    Posted 6th September 2013 at 11:16 am | Permalink
  2. What a lovely image. Thankyou Ross.

    Posted 6th September 2013 at 11:50 am | Permalink