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Disruption isn’t a buzzword, it’s a way to beat your competition


“Disruption” is the mantra of our times. With new technology arriving at an incredible pace and consumers setting the rate at which trends develop, it can be tough to get a moment to look around at the market before everything changes again.

The challenges posed by the speed of this disruption in the business world were a central theme at SAP Hybris LIVE: Digital Summit 2017. Carsten Thoma, president of SAP Hybris, denied that it was a buzzword and described the problem in depth during his keynote speech in the New York of the event.

The consumption economy, he said, is forcing both B2B and B2C brands and business to adapt to a brutal pace of change. With digital experiences at the very centre of most consumer interactions, audiences – and especially young audiences – are totally in control when it comes to how businesses engage consumers.

“It’s mind-boggling,” Thoma said, comparing the speed of this disruption to the industrial revolution. “The questions I am being asked when I talk to customers are vastly different than the questions they were asking me even just a few years ago.” Those questions often centre around mobility. Consumers want to be able to access products wherever they are, twenty-four hours a day. Everything is becoming a service, available at the touch of a button on a smartphone.

“There’s no question that the internet of things and the proliferation of smart devices and connected services ensures that we live in a constant state of disruption,” said Tanya van Soest, in an on-demand session attached to the main SAP Hybris LIVE: Digital Summit 2017 event.

Delivering on customers’ rapidly-changing demands can be tough for firms with an established business. But it’s not impossible. A collection of major companies shared their experiences trying to fight the impact of disruption on their market. Carlos Amesquita, Hershey’s Chief Information Officer, quoted the company’s former CEO as saying “Hershey is a knowledge company that happens to make chocolate.” It uses customer data, combined with its depth of knowledge, to figure out how to best sell a product.

Amesquita admitted that changing retail environments are one of the biggest challenges his company faces. “How does the tech revolution translate into impulse buying?” he asked. “If you don’t have checkouts, what happens to impulse buys? And what are the right models, when physical doesn’t exist, to do that? Whoever figures that out will win. It’s a fundamental disruptor.”

Another business best known for its chocolate bars, Mars, actually derives 50 percent of its revenues from services. Asif Beg, the company’s Digital Enterprise Director, said that spending so much time with customers allows the firm to get to know them better. “Servicing is the way to get to the customer,” he said. “This is the next disruptor for us.”

One tip, from Julie Collins, Global Head of Digital at Alcon, which develops sight improvement technology, was to get new products on the market as soon as possible – sometimes even before they would traditionally be considered ready. “A customer can’t react to something that’s locked up inside your company’s four walls,” she said. Quoting  Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘done is better than perfect’ mantra, she added: “We work toward a minimum viable product that’s safe, legal and compliant and then get it to the customer to help them help us improve it. Millennials want to play with things, and that’s a powerful tool.”

Waiting to see what happens is not a viable plan. SAP Hybris Chief Strategy Officer Brian Walker quoted statistics in Munich showing that as disruption begins to occur in a market, businesses see an average drop of 11 percent of topline revenue, and 4 percent in profitability. “We need to embed digital into the very fabric of the services that we design, build and deliver,” he said. “Investing in technology is no longer a simple cost to business – it’s vital to set you apart from the competition.”

The easiest way to do that is to take advantage of cloud computing and microservices. A cloud-based system can allow businesses to act with far greater agility than their competitors stuck on legacy hardware, allowing them to meet emerging customer needs before they begin to disrupt a business. “We are working to help brands transform in the cloud, and over the next few quarters you will see that the complete portfolio, where it makes sense, will be available in the cloud,” Thoma said.

Artificial intelligence and other technologies can also help. SAP Hybris CMO Jamie Anderson, speaking during the Singapore leg of the event, said that AI can be used in every aspect of the customer experience. “There needs to be intelligence behind every channel, which is where things like artificial intelligence and machine learning come in. There has to be a response mechanism and intelligence baked into every channel because customer service and experience is absolutely key.”

So while disruption can appear deadly to established businesses, there are defences available. Adopting an agile, responsive attitude can turn disruption into an opportunity for growth, as competitors fail to keep up. Forging a closer relationship with customers, so you’re the first to hear about new developments, is immensely valuable. And cloud computing, microservices and other technology can deliver the flexibility and intelligence necessary to tackle new problems as they arise.

But get started soon, because those who wait to act will be left behind.

Jack Dyson
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Jack Dyson

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