Wednesday, 5 June 2013

What is Digital Disruption? (Part 1)

Digital disruption refers to changes enabled by digital technologies that occur at a pace and magnitude that disrupt established ways of value creation, social interactions, doing business and more generally our thinking.

Digital Disruption can be seen as both a threat and an opportunity:
  • ICT-induced change happens at a pace and scale that impacts on existing business practice in disruptive ways, threatening and invalidating existing business models. 
  • Digital technologies offer new opportunities for the creation of innovate business models for entrepreneurs to compete with established business practices in a wide range of industries. 
Digital Disruption can occur on various levels: 
  1. Disruptions to individual life practices (example: Mobile connectivity disrupts established work-life boundaries) 
  2. Disruptions to work practices (example: Narrating work via microblogging in the workplace changes what counts as (valuable) work)
  3. Disruptions to business practices (example: Workplace social media disrupts the way information travels in the organisation and induces shifts in power relationships) 
  4. Disruptions to industry structures (example: Digitisation of media content and user-generated content disrupts traditional value chains of content production and delivery) 
  5. Disruptions to societal systems (example: Social media participation disrupts traditional practices of public opinion making) 
While the above examples point to profound changes to established business practices, they do not fully illustrate what exactly makes these changes truly disruptive.

Have you came across digital disruption at your business or workplace?

Stay tuned for more discussion on this topic next week.

Author : Associate Professor Kai Riemer
Chair of Discipline of Business Information Systems, University of Sydney Business School
Kai's research covers the areas of Enterprise Social Media, Digital Disruption, Technology Appropriation and Sense-Making, Virtual Work, and the Philosophy of Technology. You can read more at his blog. Also follow Kai on Twitter.


  1. It seems to me that "disruption" is an extremely unfortunate choice of words to describe this phenomenum. It would be less emotive (and therefore better) to use "transformation" - this simply suggest change and is not as inherently challenging. Regrettably, the Dept of Premier and Cabinet in SA seems to have adopted the phrase "digital disruption" as the core to its new ICT strategy. WHilst this article properly suggests the transformation is both good and bad, the strategy implies it will be rammed down the throats of staff. The article also hints at the transformation being largely due to the (generally uncontrolled) advance of social media into the workplace. Clearly the key for both business and the individual is to identify what change is useful, and implement measures to control its impact - to drive change rather than have it thrust upon them. Only if this happens can society make the most of advancements in technology. Those who advocate change for change's sake must learn discernment to maximise the value attained from current technology. Remember, today's social media will be tomorrow's newspapers!

  2. Digital disruption is a term used worldwide, not just by the SA govt.

  3. Why does everyone seem to think that disruption only occurs in digital life?

    Digital is disruption in what was normal life. Change is inevitable, it will always happen. People have always experienced this and the ones who succeed and continue are the ones who accept that it does happen.