By Andy Partridge

I commonly hear about disruptive technologies and thought I would have a look into how they apply and add value to the enterprise?

The term ‘disruptive technologies’ was coined by Clayton M. Christensen in the book; Disruptive Technologies: Catching the Wave (1995). He defined a disruptive technology as one that either creates a new market or changes the value of a market while displacing an existing technology. The opposite being a ‘sustaining technology’, one that has small increments of improvements. The consumers have seen some very exciting disruptive technologies of late, most notable is wearable technology like Smartwatch’s, Fitness bands, Google Glass, Myo Gesture control band and the Oculus Rift VR headset to name a few. These new wave of devices are changing the way we interact with technology and our surroundings.

The enterprise has also had its fair share of disruptive technologies of late with Software Defined Network (SDN), Network Function Virtualization (NFV), the full suite of functions as a service (Paas/Saas/Iaas etc) changing the way IT delivers services to its employees and customers. SDN,NFV etc already receive good coverage and will do for a long time to come, the two I find very interesting and not getting as much visibility at the moment are Internet of Things (IoT) and Machine to Machine (M2M).

These two technologies are nearly one and the same; the connection of advanced embedded computing devices, sensors or appliances, over either private of public networks to allow a new level of control and information gathering. The main differences between the two is that M2M has been around for a while and is mainly over private networks. IoT, as the name suggests is internet connected and has a much greater potential to change the way we go about our daily lives, operate our businesses and in fact already do.

The commercial applications for IoT are still in their infancy and I don’t expect to see the technology used to its full potential for years to come. Deploying these new technologies into the business are often the reserve for the risk takers and early adopters as they are high risk with unknown intangible outcomes. Ultimately to be consider viable these technologies need to integrate into the business in such a way that will increase competitive advantage or reduce bottom line costs.

Some concepts of how IoT could achieve this;
– A smarter more connected workplace, enhancing the digital experience – greater interaction with the work place in ways not previously possible, providing a media and content rich environment, increasing productivity and innovation.
– Business process measuring and optimization – workplace activities become quantifiable and tunable increasing productivity and reducing cost.
– Business Intelligence – large amounts of data gathering from all aspects of the business to gain a real world insight allowing the business to grow and adapt rapidly.
– New levels of automation of products and services – increasing efficacy and reducing waste.

These are broad concepts and require the gathering of data from a range of sensors or devices, intelligently interpreting that data and using it appropriately to add value. IoT is already adding value in more specific areas including;

– Fall Detection for the elderly – allowing greater independence for the patient, reducing the carer cost and peace of mind for the family.
– Smart injection tracker for insulin pens – Developed by Vigilant in Switzerland, a small device attached to an insulin pen and connects to phone app allowing diabetic patients to manage their health.
– NFC technology – already common place for ID cards, travel payments, gyms etc.
– Supply chain control – monitoring of the transport and storage conditions of products in the supply chain leading to greater control, visibility and reduce waste.
-Smart Product Management – Used in stock rotation, understanding sales cycles, effective store layouts and to automate restocking.
– Shipment Environment – monitoring of various environmental conditions to preserve products during transit and understand the blockages or inefficacy during transportation.
– Fleet Tracking – location based response, control of routes and understanding fuel cost.
– Golf Course – intelligent watering of golf course reducing water usage.
– City Centers and Public spaces – Reporting lighting issues, Bin usage, footfall and parking information

As with all technologies, IoT is not without its downsides. The amount of sensitive information these devices will produce will be huge and must be stored and processed securely as questions of data protection and privacy will be raised. It’s also worth mentioning IoT will see an explosion of connected devices to the network and it will require supporting technologies like SDN to achieve greater utilization and control over your network.

These disruptive technologies may not fit current business model or clearly align with current organization objectives now but they should not be dismissed. As the technology matures it will bring with it new innovative uses and should be included on the strategic roadmap for consideration within the next 3-5 years or sooner for those early adopters. Keeping pace with technology can be an expensive and risky endeavor, fall too far behind and you lose market position, embrace to early and it could be a big white elephant. Clayton M. Christensen who called it the “technology mudslide hypothesis” in the book The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail. He referenced the disk drive industry, and coping with the relentless onslaught of technology change was akin to trying to climb a mudslide raging down a hill. “You have to constantly scramble to stay where you are, if you stop to catch your breath you get buried.”