Lexicon Systems, LLC Blog

lex'•i•con: the vocabulary of a branch of knowledge. Thoughts on environment, health & safety (EHS), sustainability and information technology to support them.


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Confronting disruptive innovation article available

Confronting Disruptive InnovationIT departments today must deal with several emerging technologies at once–social networking, mobile/BYOD, cloud and big data/predictive analytics. All of these are disruptive innovations, aka disruptive technologies.

Many organizations encourage disruptive innovation. Take Google for instance. Can you imagine life without Google search, mail, maps, Chrome, earth and other tools? These innovations first appealed to “fringe” markets of “techies” and later moved to the mainstream. simply did not exist just a few years ago, and they have changed the way we live and work.

Other organizations encourage the opposite–sustainable technology that improves the performance of existing products meant for the mainstream. Take Microsoft Office for example. Yes, the interface has changed dramatically over the years and we see new features, but this is a mainstream product with a purpose that changes little.

Read Confronting disruptive innovation to learn more. 

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Must technology be so disruptive?

Disruptive technology describes a new technology that unexpectedly displaces an established technology. In The Innovator’s Dilemma, Clayton Christensen separates technology into two categories: sustaining and disruptive. Sustaining technology relies on incremental improvements to an already established technology. Disruptive technology lacks refinement, often has performance problems because it is new, appeals to a limited audience, and may not yet have a proven practical application.

Photo: Apple

When it comes to software, most businesses adapt better to the incremental changes of sustainable technology. They understand that change happens—software upgrades and patches occur fairly frequently and, in most cases, work goes on with no training and little disruption. However, major software changes can disrupt work, resulting in lost productivity until users are trained on and adopt the new technology.

Two examples of disruptive technology come from Apple and Microsoft. Apple announced its new iPhone last week, sporting a new dock connector. Those who wish to use their old iPhone and iPad chargers and cables need an expensive adapter. Microsoft radically changed its user interface in Windows 8. The Start button is gone. Some PC users I know are hardly adjusted to the big change in interface from Windows XP to Windows Vista and Windows 7.

I understand that disruptive technology—like microwave ovens and cell phones—can be both revolutionary and good. But must it be so disruptive?