Emerging or Disruptive ? Identify & Differentiate to win in the Digital Age

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We are swamped with technological advances. New technologies are evolving everyday and in some instances, different technologies amalgamate with each other to form a new and more powerful tech. With the pace of technological evolution accelerating exponentially every passing day, we can expect to see entirely new emerging technologies and economies springing up and altering those that already exist.

So what exactly is an “Emerging Technology”?

As indicated above, we can expect to see waves and waves of new technologies coming our way in this age of Digital Tsunami. The key is to understand that some of these new technologies will change industries and others will add to existing economies but…

Not all technologies will be Disruptive

Due to these terms being vaguely used by the “experts” who have suddenly cropped up, there is not much clarity on how to differentiate emerging technologies with disruptive technologies. The two terms (emerging and disruptive) can be confusing at times due to this misuse. In my perspective:

Emerging technologies are the ones that are not yet fully formed but show promise in applications to various areas.

However, note that if you study the historical pattern of many emerging technologies, you will find that many of these technologies never fully develop a final state of being.

Will Emerging Technology always evolve to become “Disruptive”?

One key point to remember before we move further is:

Every Disruptive technology evolves from an Emerging technology but not every Emerging technology becomes Disruptive.

What the above sentence indicates is that, in my view, there are certain criteria that an emerging tech, that nears maturity and is close to or already getting leveraged on Industrial scale, needs to exhibit to be called disruptive. What are those criteria?

  • Magnitude of Transformational impact
  • Speed of induction

Note that, in my opinion, a disruptive technology may not necessarily be extremely complex and/or difficult to implement from a technological point of view. So, further dwelling upon the two criteria mentioned above, a Disruptive technology would:

  • Discard what people don’t like about an existing business model and ramp up on what people do like
  • The pace of ramping up is rapid

Understanding through examples: Supply Chain perspective

In order to understand what is my viewpoint to categorize whether a technology is disruptive or not, allow me to start with a technology that is emerging but in my mind, is not disruptive: Electric cars. They have not been truly disruptive because of the way gas companies and other organizations have been able to slow their progress. In order to be disruptive, there should be, in my mind, speedy bypassing or replacement of outdated way of doing something.

So next, I will go through a few emerging technologies from a Supply Chain perspective and share my evaluation on whether they will be truly disruptive in next 5 years or not. There is actually a framework that I use to evaluate these technologies but explanation of that framework is a comprehensive topic in itself and hence we will skip that in this article.

  • 3D printing: Will not be disruptive, at the current rate of adoption. It can be a game changer but the current adoption rate is painfully slow and frustrating. At this rate, it is even difficult to predict with precision if this technology will eventually get adopted at a mass and industrialized scale. I see big wigs (like GE) leveraging this in pockets of their operations in next 5 years but will NOT be disruptive before 2025.
  • Big data: Is disruptive since every organization is willing to adopt it and go all in to harness the power of Big Data analytics in their Supply Chains. Companies that leverage Big Data analytics in a strategic way in their Supply Chains can create a paradigm shift in the way they operate and the way Supply Chains in their industry operates. Use cases are emerging fast and within the next five years, we will start seeing use cases on end to end Supply Chain applications.
  • Advanced robotics: Unlike 3D printers, Advanced robotics WILL be adopted at Industrial-scale (underway) but the pace of adoption can not be termed Disruptive. Robotics started getting on manufacturing and distribution floors years ago – Advanced forms with more enhanced and flexible functionalities (and with “learning” capabilities) will eventually replace existing equipment but not at a disruptive pace. It will rather be a slow process. Many kinks need to be ironed for successful implementation and integration so will NOT be disruptive before 2025.
  • Internet of things: Combined with Big Data applications and capabilities, IoT will be disruptive. Like Big Data, I expect to see end to end successful use cases within next 5 years.

Above mentioned thoughts are based on my personal analysis and I can’t wait to revisit this post few years from now (2025) to see how my analysis has materialized.

Conclusion

In today’s environment, constant stream of changes are coming to us at a rapid pace. You have not even fully adjusted to a change when another one comes along. Understanding which technology can have a disruptive impact and which may not is extremely critical in this environment. Be strategic about what you can skip and what you can adopt to keep competing effectively, stay relevant and thrive.

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