Digital Transformation Is Good, But Digital Disruption Is Better

Jason Smith

A quarter-century ago, as the first strands were woven into the World Wide Web, progressive marketers sought out new ways of delivering their messages through the internet, while others were unsure about how it related to their industries.

In the late 90’s and throughout the early years of the new millenium, companies across the globe embraced digital transformation (albeit at different intensities) in order to keep up with consumer demand.

But as we move into 2018, it’s clear to see that, although digital transformation will be an ongoing process, simply making your brand digital is no longer enough to keep brands relevant. To survive and thrive, brands need to disrupt.

Digitally Transforming Is The Least You Can Do

If you’re reading this article, it’s likely that your company already survived the arrival of the digital transformation age. But not every company can say the same.

When digital transformation first became a necessity, brands as large as Blockbuster were knocked off their feet by the likes of Netflix, who embraced digital with more agility. Other household brand names like Toys ‘R’ Us —  a company that took a cavalier approach to digital transformation by entrusting Amazon with their digital presence rather than taking it on themselves — are still paying for their lack of digital seriousness.

On the other hand, companies that spent the last decade shoring up their digital presences with powerful digital experience platforms, user friendly digital workplace solutions, smart social media strategies and robust eCommerce platforms, thrived.  

Such companies computerized their customer data as quickly as they could, stored their company assets in the cloud when it became available and personalized their customer journeys with all the context and data they had to hand. They transformed, digitally.

But are those digital basics enough to lead the pack in 2018 and beyond?

Enter The Age of Digital Disruption

Here’s the thing, mimicking the digital transformation policies of your competitors will keep you in the race, but that’s pretty much all it will do. Meanwhile, tech startups are walking away with large slices of whichever industry they decide to sprout up in.

Take AirBnB, the now world-renowned short-term accommodation startup, as an example. Why did it take an initially cash-strapped startup to provide what, in actuality, should have been the invention of a global hotel chain or travel agency?

It’s simple; those conglomerates were so busy trying to stay relevant in the digital age, they forgot to innovate. As a result, they were disrupted because they failed to disrupt themselves.

Uber, Waze and many other startups have similar stories of disruption, and they all understood that consumers now fully expect digital experiences, to the point where a brand being active on Twitter and delivering personalized shopping recommendations is the nothing new. Instead, consumers are now eager for brands to surprise them, to innovate — to disrupt their own industries.

The Internet of Things: A New Wave Of Disruption

If you thought your brand needed to transform when the internet went mainstream, you’ll be pleased to hear that the Internet of Things (IoT) era is about to change the game yet again.

IoT refers to the concept that more and more devices are now connected via the internet. Now that the developed world has desktops, laptops, smartphones and tablets, tomorrow it will embrace smartwatches, smart cities, artificially intelligent robots and much more.

In fact, Gartner estimates that there will be more than 12 billion IoT devices by 2020, and they’ll go towards the continued disruption of traditional industries, from healthcare to farming to household appliances.

In a the IoT era — which is already here, albeit in its infancy — smart IoT traffic lights will call on artificial intelligence and machine learning to help learn our driving habits and adjust their functions based on what they have learned. Meanwhile, our smart refrigerators will automatically place orders on Amazon a day before our milk sours.

With this device-connecting technology driving new devices like Amazon Echos, thermostats and security cameras, it’s time for another wave of disruptors to emerge, which is why marketers need to familiarize themselves with the world of IoT.

Devices + Data = Disruption

Believe it or not, these futuristic, sensor-riddled and WIFI-enabled devices are only half the story. The truly interesting part is the data.

Cisco’s fourth annual Global Cloud Index study shows that data from IoT devices are set to produce over 400ZB (Zettabytes) per year at the turn of 2018. That number is up from 113.4ZB a year in 2013.

But we aren’t just talking demographical data here. Depending on the IoT device, forward-thinking brands have already begun collecting data on consumer heart rates to the real-time flow of human and vehicular traffic.

With all that data to hand, brands will be able to provide personalized customer experiences beyond anything ever previously delivered. Marketing messages will be even more refined, and CFOs will be presented with ways to trim the fat off of an array of business strategies.

Brands that recognize that emerging IoT devices, paired with the data they can harness, are seeing a whole new set of disruptive opportunities.

Disrupt Yourself, Before Somebody Else Does

To avoid becoming the next Blockbuster or Toys ‘R’ Us, brands must realize the potential of the IoT-powered age of digital disruption. The frank reality is, digital customer experiences on traditional devices like laptops and tablets are no longer progressive — they’re expected.

To innovate, brands need to be mapping broader customer journeys to match the devices being used in the world today, as well as tomorrow. For now, we can point at Amazon Alexa and the Apple iWatch — but tomorrow, who knows what device or channel will take the world by storm.

The bottom line is, as IoT devices continue to emerge, your industry — whether its manufacturing or agricultural — is on the brink of disruption. The only question is, will your company be the disruptor, or the disrupted?

Jason Smith
Chief User Experience Officer
January 15, 2018

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