6 Examples of industry disruption and how to prepare for it

Technology is taking over the way we do business, interact with each other, and live our lives. Without really realising it, we have tumbled into this new world, which is accelerating so rapidly and is putting strain on businesses to keep up. Change is happening across all sectors because of technological driven disruption.

“To Disrupt” is defined in the Cambridge Dictionary as:

‘To prevent something, especially a system, process, or event, from continuing as usual or as expected’.

This definition illustrates that disruption is something unexpected, and can be viewed on one hand as ruining the old ways or, on the other, paving the way for the future. You can’t place all business disruptions into the same box as they differ from industry to industry. Furthermore, disruption may not be confined to a single industry, but could spread across multiple industries. Generally speaking, if a company is set in its ways, it becomes difficult to view disruption as a positive change.

Entering the job market in 2017 has its own set of challenges. It is no longer enough to have a singular set of skills. Many technological advancements point to the possibility of many job roles becoming automated. You could argue this to be a form of “disruption” because of innovative technologies.

Businesses are going to become more frequently and increasingly disrupted by innovative technology, which will impact jobs, customers and consumers. Stepping back and evaluating the situation we are in, allows us to take in the bigger picture. This new-age of technology is not only affecting our daily lives through social media and smartphones but also all areas of business. Is it possible for industries, businesses and workers to thrive despite the uncertain disruptions?  

Disruption and innovation are two separate areas. Disruption in industries are when something occurs which prevents a process or system continuing as usual, whereas an innovation is a new idea or method. Therefore, innovations can cause industry disruptions.

Disruption of the taxi industry 

Disruptions caused by technological innovation have become increasingly apparent as we delve deeper into technology as a tool for problem solving. A perfect area to begin is Uber, which revolutionised and significantly disrupted the taxi industry with its efficient pricing algorithms and business model. Uberisation is a term derived from Uber as a way of describing businesses, which utilise a similar, optimised business model. 1-click digital hailing, and geo-aware auto-dispatch has created an on-demand market. An on-demand market is where consumer demand for a product or service is met immediately. These on-demand markets are now growing exponentially, and consumers are being provided with better customer service as their demands are being met at a faster rate. A pre-paid cashless billing system further improves the customer service, as there is less worry about having the right amount of cash or whether the driver has the right amount of change. (Chamorro-Premuzic, 2014) (CSO, 2016)

Uber’s dominant presence in the western world has been a driver for change in other areas of the world. Here in the U.A.E, Uber has a significant presence but also has strong local competition in the form of app based taxi service Careem.   

Disruption of customer service

Digitalising services and products generally ends up disrupting entire industries, as Bitcoin has done to the financial industry, Uber has done to the taxi industry and Netflix has done to the entertainment industry. Making socialising digital through social media sites, such as Facebook, has had a large impact on how businesses communicate with their customers.

In June 2017, there was over 2 billion active users on Facebook alone (Constine, 2017).  Businesses have been drawn to these social media platforms to improve their customer service through instant and direct messaging, enabling them to quickly solve issues or to receive feedback. It is interesting to think how communication from business to consumer will evolve over the next decade considering the customer service shift from in-person or on the phone, to digital. 

Disruption of graphic design

The art of combining images and text to convey a message to a consumer has evolved throughout the years due to several social and technological changes, which has impacted how this artform is executed and presented. 

Graphic designers should consider the future and think about how their industry could be disrupted. Currently, new technology is appearing regularly, leading graphic designers to constantly learn new software and hardware. An example of a future disruption could be Google’s Smart Glass which uses augmented reality. Augmented reality is where a digitally created image is placed on the view of the user’s real world. This could allow for graphics to be designed and placed on real products before printing them out to make sure the graphic works well with the product, or to allow for the client to give the go-ahead to print. This would only cause disruptions, if they offered improvements in service, product, efficiency, productivity, brand image or any other factor, which affects business. These may be overlooked now, but in a few years, could significantly disrupt multiple industries, as improvements in the technology would allow for improvements in graphic design. 

Merely looking at hardware and software components of design would not do this argument justice, there is so much more to it than that. The internet has changed the way we interact with each other, what we know about each other and has also led to other social and communicative disruptions. Additionally, it has increased our access to knowledge as now, if there is something we don’t know, we simply 'google' it. As knowledge is so easily obtainable now, designers have no excuse to be ignorant about new developments within their industry. 

Disruption in the financial industry

Bitcoin is the most valuable currency with one bitcoin now being worth over $4,000 and only being around for less than a decade. After the financial crisis in 2008, an online community decided to create their own currency which was not controlled by the government. However, the use of 'block chains', which is a shared public ledger on which Bitcoin network relies, is now in the process of being implemented in financial sectors across the world. (Bitcoin, Unknown Date)

The U.A.E has put forward a blockchain strategy, which aims to become paperless by 2020. It is said to reduce fraud, money laundering, terrorism activities and operational errors. A recent World Economic Forum report predicts 10% of GDP will be stored in blockchains or similar technology by 2025. As of now, there are still many hurdles to get through before this technology will be used. However, this illustrates how digitalisation can be a disruption in any industry. (Gulf News, 2016)

Disruption in the Entertainment Industry

Many of us have switched from cable to Netflix without much cost and with significantly more convenience, due to on-demand streaming without adverts. This dramatic change happened quickly, with Netflix surpassing major cable providers in terms of subscribers in the first quarter of 2017, according to Statista. This shows that, in the future, cable companies will be outdated, in the same way that video rental shops, such as Blockbuster, seem to have become. Blockbuster itself went out of business at the start of 2014. 


Sources: Netflix, Leichtman Research Group (Richer, 2017)
Accounts for 95% of cable subscribers.

Disruption of Retail

Amazon is among many online retailers, who are making the most of shifts in consumer behaviour, towards convenience, ease of access and lower prices. Drops in price and larger selections of product have played a significant role in the pressure placed on retailers to rethink their strategy. Some have responded by moving away from physical stores to developing an online presence. 

Souq.com, a popular online retailer here in the Middle East, was recently acquired by Amazon, showing Amazon's global influence over this sector. Amazon may be the biggest player in the e-commerce sector but many other up-and-coming online retailers are becoming more apparent. This is mostly in specific sectors, such as the food retailer trolley.ae and fashion retailer Namshi. These online shops will no doubt bring large changes to the way we shop here in the Middle East.  

These changes are only set to accelerate, as we see more technology improving the customer experience when shopping online. Augmented reality and virtual reality will make shopping online easier and more convenient, as the customer will be able to gain a better idea of the product which they are buying. (Edmondson, 2017)

So how can businesses overcome this obstacle?  

Disruption may not only happen to you directly, but it will affect you indirectly, such as altering the way your suppliers do business, and in turn, impacting your company. It is therefore important not only to consider your field/niche/market, but to look at the different areas you rely upon for your business to function and to ask yourself whether they are able to quickly respond to disruptions, and if not, it could be time to look at alternatives.

Preparing for digital-led disruption requires an extensive review of data and the ability to spot trends within the data. Understanding what consumers are gravitating towards in terms of their purchasing habits and their daily habits - i.e. changes in media habits, changes in methods of transport, etc. - allows for a better understanding of the market and what adaptations can be made to prepare for the future.  

Keeping up-to-date with technology through blogs, social media, and other media outlets will develop insight into trends with consumers, industries, and business practices. Using software such as Google Trends allows for an understanding of the direction of consumer habits. Ericsson ConsumerLab (2017) research showed online traffic has shifted away from being predominantly text based to where video traffic formulates 70 percent of total traffic. Understanding trends like this, allows you to change your business strategy to target your consumers more effectively, especially from a marketing perspective.

Change is, and will be, continuous in all fields of business, so it is crucial for the survival of your business, and job, to update and implement strategies continuously, as more efficient, or innovative methods are continuously being developed. The further forward you look, the greater your odds of being the disrupter and not the disrupted.

Digitalisation brings with it something more than innovation; it completely shifts industries in a whole new direction, disrupting our daily lives and the processes of business. This is crucial for us as humans to thrive, as remaining the same would go against our thirst for the best, desire to outperform the norms and evolve into the ultra-intelligent beings that we are able to become.   


Cambridge Dictionary, disrupt definition

Constine, J. (2017) Facebook now has 2 billion monthly users… and responsibility - Tech Crunch

Gulf News (2016) Dubai launches blockchain strategy to become paperless by 2020

Bitcoin (Unknown Date) How does Bitcoin Work - Bitcoin

Edmondson, J. (2017) It’s Not Just Amazon: The Mass Disruption of Retail - Seeking Alpha

Richter, F. (2017) Netflix surpasses major cable providers in the U.S. - Statista

CSO (2016) Taking Uberization to the Field - Disruption is coming for Field Marketing - CSO

Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2014) The Uberisation of Talent: Can the Job Market Really be optimised? - Forbes

Ericsson (2017) Trends 2017: reality time


Written by George Kenaghan

He can't resist a good documentary and a weekend round of golf. George is fresh out of uni and currently interning at Fludium.

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