The discipline of digital disruption

December 4, 2013



Nowadays, virtually every time I turn around my wife is watching some home improvement show on TV. I must confess that I get glued to the house remodels. After watching quite a few of them, I’ve begun to notice a pattern. Invariably, demolitions unearth unexpected issues that cost extra time and money. Knob and tube wiring, ancient leaks, and termites, oh my. It reminds me of the problems enterprises face as they start swinging the hammer of disruption when pursuing emerging technology.

If you think about it, houses are a lot like enterprises. If you want to tear down a wall to make an enhancement, you better carefully examine the blueprints and devise a plan that ensures success, minimizes costs and reduces risk. The last thing you want to do is rock the stability of your structure by removing a load-bearing wall. Or, in the case of an enterprise, abandon a critical legacy system or disable a critical business process.

Yet, senior executives are barreling into emerging technology implementations without consulting business designers with a bird’s eye view of the organization’s operations. They just know in their gut that a particular technology is going to give them an edge and they want to be the first to the marketplace. They’ve got to have it. So, they rush into digital disruption without gathering enough information about their current operations or predicting the impact across their operating model.

As an enterprise architect, I’ve been helping design businesses for over 20 years, and I can attest that companies haven’t mastered the basics of dealing with the existing daily disruptions that arise. Throwing emerging technology into the mix of disruption is one more complicating factor that many organizations simply aren’t equipped to handle. Companies want technology to disrupt to their advantage, but they don’t have the discipline to avert disaster or misdirection.

The drive to adopt the latest, hottest technology should be coupled with a commitment to clearly identify the change-driven ricochet. Otherwise, demolitions are full of surprises and setbacks. There are important questions that senior executives must ask before introducing the disruption of emerging technology. What business strategy are we trying to enable? To put it more bluntly, are we using the technology or is the technology using us? To go back to the house analogy, imagine a carpenter whose tool is operating out of control and dragging him from crisis to crisis around the house.

There are as many reasons to remodel your house, as there are reasons to embrace a new technology. Maybe you want to accommodate an expanding family or, in your business, to accommodate a growing, changing digital customer base. You must be clear about your motives as well as open to exploring a different direction if research proves your plan is flawed.

Sometimes it’s hard for people inside the organization to take a step back from their ideas and poke holes in them. This is one of the many reasons why I think it’s important for organizations to empower a small cadre of independent creative business designers who have an expansive, objective view of the operating model. Create a buffer around the group so they can effectively evaluate the impact of emerging technology without pressure to pursue a particular course of action due to office politics. Their allegiance is to the best interests of the business.

I always tell clients who are eyeing emerging technology to conduct a simplicity test. Meaning, does the emerging technology make the design of the business more seamless and simple or does it complicate matters? If it’s the latter, maybe you should assess your approach and the reasons behind your decisions to help avoid innovation failure.

The hype surrounding emerging technology can seduce senior executives into focusing myopically on speed and sacrificing quality and security in the process. It’s not a trade off that enterprises need to make. You can have the best of both worlds. It’s simple. Consult the blueprints and the business designers before knocking out a wall.




Chris Curran

Principal and Chief Technologist, PwC US Tel: +1 (214) 754 5055 Email

Vicki Huff Eckert

Global New Business & Innovation Leader Tel: +1 (650) 387 4956 Email

Mark McCaffery

US Technology, Media and Telecommunications (TMT) Leader Tel: +1 (408) 817 4199 Email