Disruption, while messy, can be a force for positive change when an innovation improves or creates an entirely new way to interact with customers and business partners. For many enterprises, however, the biggest challenge when introducing a major innovation is deploying it without upsetting existing business activities.
Disruptive technologies can often act as a double-edged sword. While they can lead to significant competitive advantage and differentiation, they also present risks during and after adoption. “The key to mitigating risks and ensuring minimal disruption is establishing both a slow and fast approach to adoption,” advises Dana Daher, senior research analyst at IT research firm Info-Tech Research Group. Going slow allows the construction of a solid strategic foundation. “This requires establishing the need for the technology and understanding value generation to your business model,” she notes.
Planning is Key
A first step toward a successful, clean deployment is gaining a granular understanding of the disruptive technology’s data stores, flows, digital processes, and connection points. “It might seem obvious, but there are always new systems being put online that are contingent on other systems and processes,” says Ari Lightman, professor of digital media and marketing at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College of Public Policy and Information Systems. “Without a comprehensive understanding, a new digital disruptive technology might result in inadvertent issues.”
Both customer and employee advocates should be included in the planning process. “If the disruption is being pursued to improve customer or employee experiences, make sure the team has strong advocates from either or both contingents,” suggests Erik Larson, a partner in the technology consulting practice at business advisory firm EY. “If the disruption is being implemented for a different reason, consider if it’s disruptive enough in the first place.”
Introducing new technologies and changing the ways people work simultaneously can strain an organization and exacerbate the stress that each change is creating. “When possible, introduce large changes with smaller or less complicated technology work at first,” Larson recommends. “Essentially, change one thing at a time — process or technology — not both simultaneously.”
A disruptive technology can have a particularly hard impact on end users. “Discuss change, and the human reaction to it, as part of your educational process, acknowledging that it’s hard and everyone at every level of the organization must go through it,” says Tammie Pinkston, director of organizational change management at technology research and advisory firm ISG. “We recently held a client training [program] where individuals used a sticker to show where they were on the change curve, mapping themselves each day with indicators so we could see movement.”
If a disruptive technology will impact multiple departments, all parties should be involved in the rollout process. “One of the reasons it’s important to assess all the different interactions and impacts is to bring in the right expertise and oversight,” Lightman says. This may, for instance, require seeking input and support from HR and security teams. “It’s better to be overly cautious than to have an issue arise later when you didn’t include representation from a department,” he notes.
Still, despite best efforts, it remains possible to overlook some technology stakeholders. Organizations are typically structured along vertical functions, but often collaborate horizontally,” Pinkston says. Therefore, some internal clients may be missed. “Be prepared to react quickly once they’re identified and get them involved in the discussion,” she urges. “Understand how the changes may impact them and how you can support their requirements.”
The most significant factor in the successful deployment of any disruptive technology is obtaining a strong buy-in from executive-level leaders, Daher says. She pointed out that it’s also important to reach out to the team members who will be responsible for implementing the technology as soon as possible. “Without this, your project will face significant barriers to adoption and success,” she warns.
With a strong business use case foundation, and the backing of executive management, implement the disruptive technology with a fast agile approach, Daher advises. “An agile approach is key to a successful deployment as it enables rapid, iterative, and constant testing,” she says.
Larson believes that the best way to avoid disruption headaches is to be proactive, removing delivery risks from the deployment before they become apparent. That’s not always possible, however. “When things do go awry, call it out quickly and assess if the adjustments needed to recover will deliver enough value to continue on,” he says. “If the answer is ‘no’, shut it down.”
Failure doesn’t necessarily mean defeat. “Some of the best lessons companies can learn are from failures that are appropriately celebrated,” Larson observes. “Leaders demonstrating a legitimate appreciation for trying something new, and failing, deliver returns many times over, [since] their teams are more comfortable trying disruptive things.”