Every age has innovations that seem to come from nowhere - innovations that change the game for markets and consumers. Electricity snuffed out the gaslight, while the Model T Ford’s mass-produced horsepower cut short the reign of the real thing.
Such disruptive technologies came about once in a generation, shifting the commercial dead weight, and creating new markets and consumers in those markets. But today’s unrelenting pace of change continually threatens to reformat the modern-day market landscape, especially in the IT channel.
For a great example, look no further than the conjunction of web and browser that transformed information provision and consumption, with a consequent impact on newspapers, television and lifestyles across the world.
Or - perhaps more pertinently for IT channel players - how the advent of perpendicular magnetic recording by stacking magnetic charges vertically, not horizontally, fundamentally increased disk capacities, slashing storage costs, opening the door to free webmail, photo-sharing and social networking for a wide range of consumers and businesses around the world.
More often, disruptive technologies may create a smaller but no less important leap forward. Once-low-profile VMware, for instance, changed the IT world dramatically, erasing the traditional “one server, one application” model and virtualising computer architecture so fewer physical servers were needed.
Of course, disruptive technologies can also bring threats, and although they often do not completely wipe out what they replace, they can demolish particular firms.
Established companies must either seek out disruptive technologies and embrace them, or avoid risk by taking a wait-and-see attitude. More often than not, IT managers in firms that still have good market share will prefer to maintain the status quo by taking the most risk-averse decision, as in the old adage “you don’t get fired for buying IBM or Cisco.”
What’s more, the dominant manufacturers will skew the pitch by downgrading the importance of any technology they do not have, claiming their version lurks just around the corner, or acquiring the competitor themselves. While existing channels remain profitable, providers may become locked into supplying their customers merely with what they want - and what customers tend to want is what they have had before.
Few players have the market knowledge, the in-house technical skills or the resources to undertake the work needed to make informed choices about potential new technologies or trends. And year after year, one technology spawns another, continually changing technological combinations and possibilities.
So how should you proceed if you wish to stir things up? An evaluation framework based on experience, market knowledge and thorough due diligence will enable you to test new products for technical performance and commercial potential. De-clutter the landscape to make better-informed decisions, and then make your choice.
A disruptive technology may promise cost savings, making it likely to prove attractive to the end user. Storage, server, I/O and wireless virtualisation, WAN optimisation and HD videoconferencing are all examples that offer high return on investment based on a two- or three-year US turnaround time. One disruptive technology adoption may also lend itself to another, as with WAN optimisation and HD videoconferencing.
Ones to watch in future include nanotechnology, unified communications (UC) and virtualised storage.
The science of the very small will open up all manner of incredible opportunities. We are already seeing it and are just at the start of a very exciting journey that will massively affect business IT.
When it comes to UC, Microsoft’s purchase of Skype gives it a competitive offering that can cope with Google Voice and Apple’s Facetime in the real-time video and voice comms market.
Meanwhile, data volumes remain a major challenge. Managing and storing a company’s information in a simple, structured way to cut costs and minimise the risk of asset loss will increasingly become a priority - especially if you are talking about applying old systems to a new, virtual world.
The latest thing so easily gets old, and the old may then be discarded. And, while identifying future disruptive technologies remains both a science and an art, it should never be left to chance.
David Galton-Fenzi is group sales and marketing director at Zycko
Nima Green asks what is driving public cloud uptake in Germany
In the wake of yet another lawsuit involving Oracle, we run through 10 of the vendor's biggest court battles
CEO Chuck Robbins says Cisco will use the Catalyst 9000 product range as a template for future launches
Today saw 14 of the UK IT channel's biggest hitters come together to determine the winners of CRN's WiC awards. But what does being a WiC judge actually involve? Doug Woodburn reports