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Impact of Disruptive Innovations on Existing Business Models

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One factor to consider in the disruptive technology genre is the impact of the new technology (or innovations) on the existing business model.  It seems as if many disruptive innovations are really not “disruptive” in terms of the technological challenges presented, but are disruptive from the standpoint of the resulting business model challenges that don’t get managed properly.  Polaroid’s handling of the digital imaging technology when it was new is a real good example of this (see Case below).  It lends creedence to the premise that promising new technologies can end up falling through the cracks due to the failure of their supporting business models (and companies).  As a result, the necessary business model changes also need to be considered and implemented whenever a  new disruptive technology is being implemented in order to be successful.

Case -> Comparisons of Polaroid’s Film-Based Business Model with Apple’s iTunes Model –

I).   Being a technology driven company at the time, Polaroid was all about the technological challenges presented by the instant photo processing industry at the expense of the marketing challenges involved, thus resulting in its eventual bankruptcy filing.  When digital imaging technology came onto the scene Polaroid was able to deal with it from a technological standpoint, but it could not change its existing film-based business model (i.e., polaroid film sales) over to one based on digital imaging and processing (i.e., with no film involved).  As a result, the arrival of digital imaging technology served as a very disruptive innovation from a business model standpoint for Polaroid as it went from a state of being very profitable to a state of experiencing quickly collapsing revenues over a short period of time.  This was primarily due to Polaroid’s propensity to view the new digital imaging technology as representing a technological challenge only, thus ignoring the key business model challenges presented by this disruptive-innovation change.  The key point here is that the disruptive innovation dilemma not only involves technological challenges, but also represents critical business-model challenges as well if the disruptive innovation is not managed competently.

Note:  In Polaroid’s defense, there were numerous major hurdles involved with the restructuring of its overall business model which consisted of the following -> 1). re-educating its employees; 2). initial lower profitability; 3). current product-line cannibalization; 4). increased management/stakeholder/customer based conflicts; 5). complex organizational changes (i.e., corporate culture issues); and 6). inherent conflicts with its traditional (successful) core competencies. In effect, technology driven firms like Polaroid (and Kodak as well) would be better served if they were to also become driven to defiining the new business model(s) that need to be implemented in order to help propagate their disruptive-innovation based product lines (e.g., like Apple currently does).

II).  Also being a technology driven company, Apple too is driven by the technological challenges presented by the computer and electronics industries. But unlike Polaroid, Apple is also driven by defining the new business models that need to be adopted in order to help propagate its “disruptive innovation” types of products.  Apple’s iTune has basically turned the recording (or record) industry “on its head” in that consumers can now purchase and download individual songs at home instead of having to pay for entire albums of songs bundled onto CDs at record stores.  As a result of this “disruptive” business model, record stores are now a thing of the past as iTunes has revolutionized the music industry at the retail level due to its lower costs, increased conveniences,  and more desirable product selection changes.  As a result, some retail record stores have moved over to the movie/DVD side of the industry, but it is just a matter of time before this extended business model meets its demise too due to the arrival of even more disruptive innovations in the movie industry.  These innovations will primarily be based on new delivery technologies (e.g. better internet streaming methods, et al).

Interested LinkedIn members are invited to join the ”Disruptive Technologies” professional group (URL below):