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Disruptive Technologies

New technology is ever advancing & evolving day by day influencing day to day lives of human beings. Academics have categorized new technology into two categories: Sustaining and Disruptive technologies that follow different trajectories and lead to different results.

Sustaining technology is the technology that relies on incremental improvement to an already established technology. Sustaining technologies help leading, or incumbent, organizations make better products or services that can often be sold for better profits to their best customers. They serve existing customers according to the original definition of performance— that is, according to the way the market has historically defined what’s good.

Disruptive technology is fairly a new word and it signifies a technology that displaces an established technology and shakes up the industry or a ground-breaking product that creates a completely new industry. Disruptive technologies, in contrast to Sustaining technologies, do not try to bring better products to existing customers in established markets. Instead, they offer a new definition of what’s good—typically they are simpler, more convenient, and less expensive products that appeal to new or less demanding customers. Over time, they improve enough to intersect with the needs of more demanding customers, thereby transforming a sector.

Here are a few examples of Disruptive technologies:

  • The Personal Computer (PC) displaced the typewriter and forever changed the way we work and communicate.
  • The Windows operating system‘s combination of affordability and a user-friendly interface was instrumental in the rapid development of the personal computing industry in the 1990s. Personal computing disrupted the television industry, as well as a great number of other activities.
  • Email transformed the way we communicating, largely displacing letter-writing and disrupting the postal and greeting card industries.
  • Cell Phones made it possible for people to call us anywhere and disrupted the telecom industry.
  • The laptop computer and mobile computing made a mobile workforce possible and made it possible for people to connect to corporate networks and collaborate from anywhere. In many organizations, laptops replaced desktops.
  • Smartphones largely replaced cell phones and PDAs (Personal Digital Assistant) and, the apps disrupted pocket cameras, MP3 players, calculators and GPS devices, among many other possibilities. For some mobile users, smartphones often replace laptops. Others prefer a tablet.
  • Cloud computing has been a hugely disruptive technology in the business world, displacing many resources that would conventionally have been located in-house or provided as a traditionally hosted service.
  • Social networking has had a major impact on the way we communicate and – especially for personal use – has disrupted telephone, email, instant messaging, and event planning.

Harvard Business School Professor Clayton M. Christensen points out that large corporations are designed to work with Sustaining technologies. They excel at knowing their market, staying close to their customers, and having a mechanism in place to develop existing technology. Conversely, they have trouble capitalizing on the potential efficiencies, cost-savings, or new marketing opportunities created by low-margin Disruptive technologies. Using real-world examples, as outlined above, to illustrate his point, Professor Christensen demonstrates how it is not unusual for a big corporation to dismiss the value of a disruptive technology because it does not reinforce current company goals, only to be blindsided as the technology matures, gains a larger audience and market share, and threatens the status quo.

Professor Christensen believes that the best way for big organizations to harness the potential of disruptive innovations is to set up (or buy) separate “spin-off organizations” that can behave as if they are small and buzzy. Such spin-offs, however, need to have a very different culture from their parents. They need to get excited about small markets, for instance, and they have to have a much higher tolerance of failure.

Content shared by
Mr. V. K Manatunge

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