Is tech driving disruption, or vice versa?

by Sheetal Vyas Director, PwC United Kingdom

Disrupt or be disrupted is the mantra of today. But what does disruption mean in practical terms for your business? What is driving it? And how should you respond?

The assumption is often that disruption is being driven solely by changes in technology. But the reality is while technology may contribute towards disruption, it will also be our best bet for responding to something far more complicated.

Fundamental global shifts – rapid urbanisation; climate change and resource scarcity; the shift in global economic power; demographic and social change; and technological breakthroughs – are all reshaping societies, industries, economies and behavioural norms worldwide.

It’s the collision between these megatrends which creates not only the risk for the future but also the opportunity for businesses to respond and to show their customers and employees that they are in control, managing and capitalising upon, unwieldy issues that are causing understandable concern and confusion.

Technology, and emerging technology in particular, has a key role to play in this response. At PwC we analysed the business impact and commercial viability of more than 150 technologies and identified what we call the Essential Eight; those technologies that will have the biggest impact during the next five years.

Many of these emerging technologies, including AI and drones, will be vital in tackling some of the challenges presented by the collision of these global megatrends. Emerging tech is already being used to better understand climate change and resource scarcity and to respond to those challenges. Drones and data analysis are helping farmers improve crop yields with intelligent crop management systems, AI and the Internet of Things will be key to smart energy grids and smart city infrastructure. Automation and autonomous vehicles will help respond to the challenges of increasing urbanisation and the pressure that will put on existing transport networks.

In industries such as insurance we are seeing businesses explore the ability of drones to augment the way in which they assess claims or evaluate risk. They are embracing wearables and telematics to provide customers with more personalised health or car insurance. But this isn’t purely a reaction to the availability of these technologies, it is a reaction to social change and evolving consumer demands and expectations. It is also a reaction to the awareness that if they do not respond, their fiercest competitor will.

Addressing the impact of these disruptive trends should be a priority for every organisation today. At PwC we have developed a tool, called Horizon, that maps over 100 disruptors against the five global megatrends. This helps us and our clients assess and understand how specific disruptors may affect their organisation and start planning a response.

Through that kind of understanding organisations can start to plan for both threats and opportunities and develop an understanding of how their fiercest competitor could respond.

However, while technology will inevitably provide solutions to many of the headaches and challenges of disruption, the real answers lie not in deploying an easy checklist of technologies but in understanding the challenges your organisation is trying to solve first - the factors driving disruption and how that disruption will impact your organisation - and then thinking about the role of technology in the best possible response.

You can explore disruption related to autonomous vehicles further at ‘Driverless: Who is in control?’, a free exhibition at the Science Museum in London. PwC is sponsoring the exhibition as part of our focus on promoting the responsible, ethical use of AI in business and society.

If you would like to discuss these issues, or the impact of emerging technology on your industry, then please get in touch with Leo Johnson.

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