The digital age business disruption and the CDT solutions

By: Utche Okwuosah

“Live sports – traditional TV’s flagship bulwark against digital disruption – appears to be in trouble.” That was Business Insider’s opener to the tale of the dwindling fortunes of television stations that have traditionally used sports to boost and sustain viewership in all seasons. Ubiquitous television on the go is rocking the boat of existence of what we today know as traditional television.

Ok. Just imagine this. In ten years’ time DStv services, as we know them today, would be history, unless they are presently following the trend of the times and smartly pre-empting the new era ravage of digital realities to transmutate their packages to what is today called “app” (application).

Again, imagine the banking services of today, in twenty years’ time, the bricks-and-mortar business would be gone for good and banking and financial transactions would only be done by “apps.”

In ten years’ time, access to taxi services would be more through the “apps” than the way we know them today. The list is endless.

 What would have happened would be that those industries would have been disrupted, hit by the ravages of the disruptive technologies, and only the smart ones would have pre-empted it and joined the trail blazers of disruptors and innovators that dictate the future of their industries and the pace of their growth.

Now, continuing the tale of the new findings of its research on the state of television programming and popularity in the face of the onslaught of new technologies, the Business Insider explains that “the causes behind the decline of live sports viewership are varied and complex. In addition to cyclical issues at play, sports programming is falling prey to the wealth of new content produced by the rise of new media platforms. And as more and more TV viewers cut the cord, live sports content itself is moving off the TV screen and onto other devices.” Exponential software disruption.

Unfortunately, as depicted earlier, the television media is not an isolated victim of this new disruptive reality. A wide range of businesses, and even government services, are all subject to the impact of the disruptive technologies.

Businessdictionary.com describes Disruptive technology as new ways of doing things that disrupt or overturn the traditional business methods and practices. Investopedia presents it as a technology that significantly alters the way that businesses operate. For example, steam engine coming in to disrupt and end the age of sail, and internet emerging to render post office mail redundant. These are the realities of our time and will remain with us for a long time in evolutionary dimensions with hardly controllable frequency of evolving.

Consequently, with product life cycles getting shorter, the pressure to innovate, ideate, design and deliver at the speed of digital evolution, creates its own peculiar concerns – new risks, costs and staying relevant, or remaining in business.

This is where specialist organisations like the Centre for Disruptive Technologies (CDT) come in to partner savvy and willing businesses – private and public – in exploiting and harnessing the power of disruptive technologies to create greater impact and utilise technologies to make life better.

Dr. Sharron L. McPherson
Dr. Sharron L. McPherson

Dr. Sharron L. McPherson, Executive Chair of The Centre for Disruptive Technologies, South Africa was in Accra in March, to attend the Ghana Economic Outlook and Business Summit (EOBS) where she presented a paper on Disruptive Technologies. On a sideline discussion with GB&F she shared the vision of their organisation aimed at enabling African businesses to avail themselves of the growth opportunities in this technological era, and in the coming age, to prosper, create jobs and create wealth to make life better.

Why business? “We focus on business because businesses create jobs, while governments create the enabling environment,” she said. “Since one of our objectives is to facilitate wealth and job creation in Africa in order that the quality of the average African’s life would be improved, we are concerned that businesses do not only thrive but excel. So, we go to them to find out where they are ailing and, with our stakeholders, we get to work finding solutions, services, minimum viable products, training programs that really help in delivering those objectives.”

She averred that the onslaught of disruptive technologies is a reality that must be recognised, acknowledged and addressed. She pointed out that, because of its subtlety and eventual immateriality, it is often not strategically anticipated and consequently disrupts otherwise good businesses into oblivion. This must be pre-empted and not be allowed to bury or make businesses redundant or irrelevant in Africa.

The Investment Banker and Lawyer said that, to better understand the disruptive technologies phenomenon, it was better looked at from the perspective of Peter H. Diamandis, a Greek–American engineer, physician, and entrepreneur best known for being the founder and chairman of the X Prize Foundation, the co-founder and Executive Chairman of Singularity University, of which McPherson was a graduate. He spoke of the six “Ds” of Disruption; the first “D” being that the growth of exponentially growing technologies is “deceptive.”

“For instance,” McPherson begins to explain, “Let’s take the camera that is in a cell phone for instance. For the last 30 years, people have been working on the technology to design smart phones that have cameras. In the 80s, Kodak set up a commission to undertake a study to help them understand disruption. The people who did the study a firm based in New York. At the conclusion of their study, they went back to Kodak and told them that the future was in digital, and so, all the printing works and stuff you got going, you better consider going into digitization because all those stuff’s going to disrupt your company in a big way. But Kodak laughed and said it was never going to happen. But, take a look around today; nobody walks around anymore with Kodak cameras, unless you’re some kind of professional. Today, everybody has cameras in their cellphones and it has become dematerialised.”

So, the big challenge, according to Sharron McPherson, who is also a Social Impact Investor, is that, “whilst this exponentially growing technology, software development, computing, and all the things that go into creating the camera that goes into your phone is happening, the first “D” is that it is “Deceptive.” So, Kodak couldn’t see it happening and, consequently, didn’t believe it was happening.”

The second “D”, McPherson goes on, is that it becomes “Digitised.” Once a technology becomes a series of zeros and ones, well then, the game is on.

“Because, once something becomes digitized, the third “D” steps in, and that’s “Disruption.” So, now, you’re capable of being disrupted.” And so the degradation that culminates in the debilitating disruption goes through becoming “Demonetized”, and then “Dematerializes” because your camera becomes just an intangible “app”. The final stage of the developmental degradation is that your camera now, and finally, becomes, “Democratized” and becomes ubiquitous – cannot be found only in your phone but in your car, wristwatch, your pen, etc. And everybody now has it. What had made the likes of Kodak market leaders few years back has now become drastically diluted leaving Kodak severely disrupted.

“So, disruption is a process whereby existing markets, industries, value chains, through the onslaught of intensive technologies become displaced and, thereby, displace market incumbents and others who are affiliated along those displaced markets and value chains.” The process of disruptive technologies has grown as result of the proliferation of technologies.

This is why the CDT is in a hurry to begin to engage businesses, private and public, and to offer services that would enable them deal with the living phenomenon of disruptive technologies, disruptors, avoiding disruption or even becoming disruptive themselves – becoming innovators.

“We believe in Africa,” McPherson says passionately. And she was emphatic when she said: “We are about Africa.”

To her, it didn’t make sense that Africa would allow all its rich resources to flow out of Africa and end up in Silicon Valley, despite all its endowed human resources – the intelligentsia, academics, innovators, ideators, distinguished business leaders and policy makers. “It doesn’t work, in terms of our notion of development,” she said.

“We are advising corporates, we are working with the government of South Africa. We are talking to people. We are gathering thought leaders, ideators, innovators; and planning our first flagship summit.

“What we want to do is organize speaker salons as a way of beginning to raise awareness of what disruptive technologies are all about and why you should care.”

CDT is interested in helping businesses to understand and know how to avoid being disrupted because of industries or developments that we are not aware of.

“We want to have a Centre in South Africa, West Africa and, maybe in other places where it works,” McPherson expressed.

At the heart of the CDT initiative is localized growth and development. It cares deeply about creating jobs and wealth that make life better for Africans. As such, their focus is on the enterprises (both public and private) that create jobs.

They will link into and access programmes and initiatives of the government, regional bodies as well as pan-African and international initiatives such as the Pan-African Parliament, the African Union, NEPAD, the United Nations and the World Economic Forum Africa.

GB&F

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