Encouraging disruption to enable change

Last week I splurged on my own professional development (something we should all do at least once/year) and attended the CSIA‘s DEMOgala where the theme was “disruptive technologies”.  As business analysts, we have a professional responsibility to be aware of current technology trends and help our businesses carve paths to appropriately execute against these trends.

What is disruption?  Disruption is an event. Disruption occurs when you apply technology to a problem-space and fundamentally change how things are done.  The invention of the printing press was a disruption as was the introduction of the personal computer.  So are web 2.0 technologies and the availability of broadband connections. Disruptions tend to snowball….one disruptive event enabling another and then another, until a traditional way of doing things becomes obsolete.

What disruptions should we be aware of as we near the end of 2008?

New ways of search are emerging: instead of focusing on how to best categorize, filter, and search some specific body of content, companies such as ligit.com and ffwd are conceptualizing an audience-focused model.  Essentially they are integrating user actions, preferences, and selections into the content stream. This concept could fundamentally disrupt our traditional schemes of organization and categorization, breaking content apart in entirely new ways from the bottom-up.

Publishing content online is disrupting our traditional ways of finding authoritative information.  You may think this event is passe, but there are still players, such as Examiner.com, looking to fill voids left by our traditional media in the online space.  It is also clear that we have not yet capped the disruption caused by user-generated content as we have still not fleshed out issues of authority and findability.

The disruptions in green technology are emerging at best.  On the one hand our keynote speaker, Michael Moe, set this up as our current challenge.  But there was little attention given to this topic across the event and the changes in this space are less disruptive and more iterative on the old ways of doing things (recycling, using meeting management systems, etc).  But there are companies like Rally Software that are consistently evaluating and redesigning their way of doing business to reduce their overall carbon impact–they are setting the example that we all need to emulate.  I came to believe that disruptions in this space will come from the ability to measure and track our energy use at a micro-level in every phase of our energy cycles.

Within healthcare, non-profits and for-profits alike are initiating strategic programs, from the  basic installation of broadband to reach rural hospitals (eventually enabling all sorts of resource-sharing and busines process automation) to information exchange and standardization projects to web-enabling some of the oldest, monolithic systems and essentially enabling a business (or should it be public?) intelligence for healthcare.  These projects have a potentially immense value and are a space where we can leverage what we’ve already learned in other industries to transform an industry in dire need of help.

Open source projects continue to multiply upon themselves.  The message to CIOs and CTOs was to assume your development team is using open source code and focus on creating and implementing an appropriate policy for use. In terms of disruptions, open source continues to challenge larger companies, making the basic building blocks of most applications readily and cheaply available, reducing the barriers of entry to small, innovative IT shops and giving us all more time to focus on value-added features and functions.

In the personal finance space, websites like mint.com and rudder.com are making it much easier to build a consolidated personal financial statement and eBillMe is providing consumers with ways to pay online without a credit card or paypal account.  In this financial environment, these companies are thriving and consumers direct increased attention to what they are spending and saving.

This summary represents a smattering of the topics at this conference and of the potential disruptions across our marketplace.  The message clearly is, if you are not creating disruption, then you are at a great risk of being disrupted…in any industry at any time.

As business analysts, especially those of us at an enterprise level, we foster creativity in our organizations through facilitation and questioning.  We help the world’s next disrupters act on their best ideas by carving paths from where our organizations are today to where they can be.  We must fully understand “what is” — our organization’s current capabilities — not to constrain the business but to discover relationships between what we can do and what we want to do.  But we also must systematically explore “what can be”. Although there are never enough hours in the day, take some time each week to dig yourself out of your current work and think about what the future holds for your business and your technologies.  Do some research. Ask some questions.  Think.  Inspire change.

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