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Why disruptive technology will change your industry

Ben Obear
January 14, 2015

A disruptive technology is a new breakthrough with the potential to change the world on a global scale. Disruptive innovations like the internet made it possible for you to increase the quality and quantity of your work product while collaborating with customers, colleagues and partners across the world. Because of disruptive technologies like the internet, every business is a global business.

Some industries have yet to be transformed by disruptive innovations, but a number of emerging technologies have the potential to transform markets and create new leading companies in established industries. The disruptive companies of the past focused on low-hanging fruits. This new wave of technical disruption adds technology to existing industries to create new efficiencies and business models.

We'll look at how you should approach the field, which technologies are showing the most promise and what you can do about it in the future.

Embracing change

You can either invest in emerging disruptive technologies to create new business and delivery models or you can watch while other companies consume your market share from the bottom up.

Business as usual won't help you avoid this cycle of technical disruption because the opportunity for a competitors is too large. If your company has trouble innovating, now may be the time for a skunkworks project to explore ways you can utilize these emerging technologies to gain a competitive advantage.

Robotics - Robots become better tools every day, and many have complex decision-making mechanisms stored in their circuits. Many thought that certain tasks were once impractical to automate, but that's changing fast. You've likely heard the most about them when it comes to the medical profession. They're turning delicate procedures like surgery into a much more precise operation, and prosthetic robotic pieces can serve as replacement limbs for amputees.

Robotics have also become pivotal on assembly lines, and continue to save time and effort on practically everything. From cleaning products like Roomba to the new robots who can actually prepare ramen for you, there are few fields that will be left untouched by these machines.

Mobile - When you think of mobile internet, you may think of pulling up a Google browser on your iPhone. However, there's so much more to the mobile world that will take businesses above and beyond what they thought they could do. It has changed and will continue to change deliveries and consumer habits. It's also increased productivity, as now business can be conducted from wherever you are and it has provided remote healthcare options for those who live far from hospitals and local doctors. The demand for mobile will grow the profits for other industries like battery manufacturers and webmasters. Electronics will continue to be scaled down in size while the presence of wireless will be scaled to full cities. It will essentially mean that we're all connected in the years to come.

Knowledge Work - As mentioned, the complex decision making process will see more jobs being done through robots that were once done by people. Even those who do not see their job replaced by an automated process will see more tools that can supplement their own knowledge. Those in education, research, finance and legal professions will start to see more products on the market that can help them perform their job better. This can lead to a reduction of mistakes and poorly planned strategies, and see more accurate work being done in the field.

Internet of Things (IoT) - Every industry can create new products, services and business models by connecting sensors and "things" to the internet. The IoT movement is about connecting everything to the internet and some of the most promising applications are in industrial and automotive automation.

Metromile is a car insurance company that sells per mile car insurance by connecting your car to the internet and and billing you for only the miles you drive. Innovative models like this are now just becoming possible because the infrastructure to capture, send, store and manipulate data from things is accessible to everyday consumers.

How can your company can collect data from sensors and make your business processes more efficient? Does your industry have a way of doing things that could be streamlined or rethought with data from IoT devices?

The Cloud - So many businesses have migrated over to the cloud, and it's caused untold amounts of savings across the board. Not only has cloud technology found ways to maximize server space and employee contribution, but it's also managed to cut down on energy costs as well. It services both customers and employees alike, and it's been a budget saver for those who no longer have to purchase the costly equipment. The software and the security that the cloud offers today will continue to improve, making it harder for thieves to crack and faster for consumers and staff to use.

While Apple's Siri may not have become your newest assistant as predicted, there are people everywhere trying to make an accessible robot that you can speak to freely and get an answer immediately.

Autonomous Vehicles - Uber and Lyft have become all the rage, and they've angered the taxi industry in major ways. However, a new development on the horizon could make self-driving vehicles the new normal. They're already being taken out on the regular highways in California, and they use all kinds of sensors to avoid accidents and other mishaps on the road. Using advanced GPS, they can help cut down on wasted time on the road, and help improve traffic across the US. These new cars will affect transportation and shipping industries too.

Genomics - The discoveries made about the human body have shocked the world for centuries, but the man-made products and analytics that are getting the real traction today may shock you even more. Anything at all related to organic matter, from food production to disease, can be affected by gene sequencing and genomics. By learning the details of DNA, we can take diagnostics to a new level for people. It also opens up the opportunity to start manipulating nature to our advantage, like taking bacteria and turning it into cost-effective fuel and energy.

Big Data - Information has no longer become an isolated effort. Big data is predicted to be worth $50 billion dollars by the end of next year. This change to big data has been taking place for decades now. While people debate about who owns what information and whether or not they should even have it, small and big businesses alike have seen ways to tap into the tremendous power available. Wearable devices have become more affordable over time, which means more information will be transmitted, recorded and stored from people all over the world. The Microelectromechanical Systems used within these devices sense all kinds of data from our bodies and send the update from the physical world into the virtual one. When it comes to storing all this data, the industry has worked to conserve the amount of energy used to do so, as well the overall cost expenditure on keeping big data in one place.

Energy Storage - For the seven billion people on the planet, we consume an awful lot of energy. The concerns for our Earth are real, which is why this particular type of disruptive technology could make it easier to provide energy storage without taxing our resources as much as we currently are. Different types of power from wind to solar are getting more effective updates, with everyone rushing to make the next big-ticket item on the market. Green technology becomes cheaper everyday, and governments and even social pressure continue to provide real incentives to start using it. It can mean your industry will see a real change in the way it powers its many processes from electricity to machinery fuel.

3D Printing - Imagine if you wanted something in your home right now, but you weren't sure where to get it. Instead of driving from store to store or ordering it online, you can just flip a switch on a printer and it actually creates the item for you. While this type of printing hasn't seen a lot of commercial use yet, the implications of it are major. Currently it's only so practical, but it continues to grow everyday and is a billion-dollar industry as it is. We may start to see the market die out completely for smaller products that are easily produced.

Advanced Materials - The testing of materials has gone through a variety of measures over the years, and it's left us with equipment that can withstand intense conditions and continue to function under practically any ordeal. The more we see these types of super materials come out on the market, the more we'll see industries react and change to accommodate these new products. Smart materials in particular have produced self-healing concrete which essentially means that the substance can return back to its original state when disrupted. Certain smart ceramics and crystals actually produce electricity under pressure. Nanomaterials can be applied to other materials, materials that would have once been thought of as nothing out the ordinary, and give them magnetic or conductive qualities not generally associated with them. Nanomaterials reactive nature can be transferred to create products we can't even imagine yet.

Less Disruption to You

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to ensure that your industry is only so disrupted by the new advances on the market today. It will take a good deal of effort on your part though. If you're the leader, then you need to ensure your plans are consistently up-to-date with the major changes that happen. This is not only so you can feel like you have the defensive means to keep your company moving forward, but also so you can actually make full use of what can be done to boost your profits. Your definitions of competition and consumer wants have to be incredibly flexible, because globalization has seen industries and demographics combine and split in ways that seemed like chance for many companies. However, there are clear patterns in disruptive technology, if you're willing to see them. Staying on top of the infrastructure and benefits of what's around you will help mitigate the fear you may have about how you can handle the shifts.

Creating new policies

No employee, manager or CEO wants to spend three months learning an operation or new piece of machinery that they'll eventually have to abandon for a completely different plan. One option is to actually hire consultant companies who will look at your business with an objective eye, and then help you decide on the best ways to implement training and education measures so you stay in front of disruptive technology. Or you can do much of the policy work yourself by creating the right expectations for workers. Workers are understandably frustrated trying to master each new technology change. Managers may see only the benefits of a new piece of software, but in practice it's often met with resistance by employees themselves. Ultimately, workers face the ultimate fear of being replaced by a machine which also doesn't make for a very encouraging atmosphere. Speak to your employees honestly, and let them know which kinds of disruptive technologies will be a part of their lives. Let them know what you intend to do about it, and talk to them about how learning the new procedures will help the company. If you think that you'll be constantly changing over the next few years to keep your industry as modern as possible (which chances are, you'll need to), then your employees should know how it will benefit everyone if they can stay flexible, informed and open to the issues at hand. The more resources you provide them and investment you put into them, the more amenable they'll be.

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Ben Obear
San Francisco