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What is a Digital Disruptor?

by Chris Curran on August 13, 2013 [email] [twitter]

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In the short time it takes to develop an app, digital disruptors can force well-established companies to change the way they do business. Even worse, they can put them out of business all together.

Who are these digital disruptors? How do they think? What drives them? How do they pull off the coups they do? Business and technology executives would be wise to dive inside the minds of digital disruptors to anticipate threats to their businesses. It’s prudent for businesses to investigate the likelihood of an impending disruption before they’re pushed into a reactive position and pressured to follow the disruptor’s lead.

Meet David Green, a digital disruptor who NPR recently profiled. He is blowing up the idea that medical devices and tests have to cost astronomical amounts of money. He drove down the cost of intraocular lenses that are implanted in the eyes of cataract patients from several hundreds of dollar to $2. He created less expensive tests for diabetes patients. Now, his company’s high-quality hearing aid that just went on the market will sell at a fraction of the cost of those available today. It can be programed by a bluetooth enabled phone.

During the interview, Green said, “My competitive juices get flowing when I start to think about a big $4 billion medical device company and how I’m going to beat them… How I am going to pop my head up out of the reality that we all think we are in that medical stuff costs so much money and how much we can really make it available for.”

Green is armed with an effective business strategy along with a crystal clear purpose that wins hearts and minds. He employs a combination of for-profit and nonprofit business models, minimizes the cost of technology, production and distribution, and gives competitors little option but to lower their prices to meet his new normal. Furthermore, his organizations operate with surpluses that are channeled into growth. As important as his business approach is Green’s dedication to making a difference in the lives of people who suffer. It obviously drives him to push the boundaries as far as they’ll go. He refers to what he does as “empathetic capitalism.”

Green is taking advantage of modern market forces and in the process he is teaching big businesses some important lessons. He is agile, unafraid and driven, which makes him a fierce competitor. Is it possible for corporations to be like a disruptor before they get disrupted?

At PwC, we take clients through the process of designing their fiercest competitor—the competitor who could rise up from anywhere and dramatically disrupt their industry/marketplace. We encourage clients to imagine a company without the restrictions that they face on a daily basis. Freeing them from those mental limitations sparks their imaginations.

After a fiercest competitor design exercise, most executive teams feel a sense of urgency to get to work. They immediately identify areas of the business where they need to push stalled initiatives forward. Second, they explore partnerships with outside firms to increase innovation. Lastly, and most importantly, they devise disruptive business designs that will give them an edge. Then, they are faced with finding the talent to forge ahead.

In the age of digital disruption, companies need to invest in exploration. They should imagine the possibilities of potential disruptive business designs coming down the pike and they should explore the perpetual parade of emerging technologies. Some companies will have two options: they can disrupt or get disrupted.

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