Nicholas Ismail, Global Head of Brand Journalism, HCL Technologies Ltd.
Nicholas Ismail
Global Head of Brand Journalism
HCL Technologies Ltd.

Professional background: Nick Ismail is the Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCL Technologies. He is responsible for delivering the editorial and content strategy. He previously spent 6 years leading the content for Information Age, a B2B technology publication headquartered in London.

Education: MA (TV Journalism) City University, BA (English Literature) University of Manchester

By Nicholas Ismail, Global Head of Brand Journalism, HCL Technologies Ltd.


Regardless of an organization’s digital ambitions – a new website, app, digital engagement platform that allows a business to drive speed and agility, or a full-blown digital transformation agenda – the need to embrace digital disruption is crucial to delivering value, remaining competitive and meeting emerging customer needs in the information age. 

The move to digital was accelerated during the pandemic for legacy organizations, with employees and workflows thrust into a remote work environment. In the new world of a hybrid work model, the enterprise must embrace digital disruption – the transformation that is driven by digital technologies and new business models.  

This article will explore how organizations can embrace digital disruption to remain competitive, drive value and meet new customer demands. We will discuss how leaders can adopt new business models, align goals with digital transformation ambitions as well as how organizations can create a culture of transformation by bringing everyone on the digital journey. 

Digital disruption 

What is digital disruption? According to the Oxford College of Marketing, digital disruption is the transformation caused by emerging digital technologies and new business models. 

The integration of new technologies and adoption of digital-first, product-centric business models can increase the value of existing operations, while driving the innovation of new products and services. 

Capital One UK embodied this approach in 2016, when the financial organization hired Aline Baeck to the role of head of design for Capital One UK. In a bid to take advantage of digital disruption in the financial services sector, Capital One launched its new fintech start-up accelerator, Capital One Growth Labs, followed with a raft of technical and UX hires.

On the other side of the coin, two infamous examples of organizations failing to embrace digital disruption are Kodak and Blockbuster. 

Kodak and Blockbuster were market leaders in the camera and film rental space, respectively.  

If they had jumped on the digital wave, they would have propelled their physical products or propositions into the future and ensured their continued survival and success. 

However, they failed to adapt, evolve and embrace new technologies that would have ensured they kept up with changing consumer demands. These market leaders, who overlooked their digital and forward-looking disruptors, such as Canon and Netflix, are now bankrupt.  

Speaking at LiveWorx in 2019, Peter Diamandis – founder and executive chairman of XPRIZE foundation – explained that if you fast forward 20 years from 1996, when Kodak was leading their industry, you have phenomena like Instagram, which Facebook acquired for $1 billion: “the Kodak moment”. It’s now worth over $100 billion. 

“This is what happens when you jump on an exponential growth curve. And, we will see this over and over again: old business models disrupted and displaced by newer, more innovative companies,” said Diamandis. 

Read more: Andy Nallappan, VP & CIO, Broadcom, on digital disruption in the semiconductor industry 

Embracing the new 

Transitioning from an old business model to a new one, with digital at its foundation, is a significant challenge for legacy organizations. 

To avoid suffering the same fate as Kodak and Blockbuster, the reality is that businesses don’t have a choice. They must adopt new, forward-looking business models that take advantage of new technologies to engage existing and new customers. 

The question is, how? 

A report from London Business School provides insight into how established market leaders can innovate their business models. 

  1. Adopt an active waiting strategy 

    Incumbent organizations are unlikely to be at the cutting-edge of industry-changing innovation. They rarely lead the charge, and the mantle is often taken up by digital natives looking to disrupt the industry. 

    In recognition of this, organizations should embrace an active waiting strategy; positioning themselves in a situation where they can integrate new technologies and ways of working seamlessly. 

    Practically this involves monitoring new trends and technologies, creating a viable plan to roll these out within the organization and hiring the right people, ahead of the curve, to make the changes a reality.  

    This approach should all be framed within creating a lean and agile operation to ensure any pivot is made quickly and without resistance. 

  2. Invest in innovation 

    Industry leaders should still invest in innovation. This includes R&D, start-ups, accelerator programs and strategic alliances with competitors. This provides a platform to scale up investment in innovation, depending on the importance of the technology or platform to the future of the industry. 

    The report provides the example of R3, a consortium of leading banks established in 2015, that works on blockchain applications for banking. 

  3. Don’t underestimate your position 

    Market leaders should be aware of the challenges that the nimbler and more innovative startups face in their industry. 

    For example, incumbent organizations have unparalleled access to their customers. These relationships are something that startups are unable to circumvent and is a significant barrier to entry. 

    Understanding these barriers to entry and defending them is a key part of supporting existing and fortifying new business models. 

Aligning digital transformation ambitions with business goals 

There are several factors that should be considered when aligning digital transformation ambitions with business goals, as part of an organization’s strategy to embrace digital disruption: 

  • Organizations should not undergo a digital transformation project, just because everyone else is doing it. Every situation is different. Instead, a business should identify its unique challenges and objectives, and work back from there, asking: ‘how will this technology or process help me solve this problem or achieve this objective?’ 

  • Before initiating any digital project, organizations must modernize their infrastructure and application portfolio. Legacy infrastructure will not support digital transformation initiatives.  

    In some scenarios, the legacy estate may be too large, and it makes sense to create a new entity – a start-up within the enterprise. Within this spin off, it’s crucial to foster a start-up mentality; fail, but fail fast, work in an agile way and embrace change. This attitude can then precipitate throughout the organization, as digital becomes embedded into the business’ strategy and way of working. 

Building a culture of transformation 

Digital transformation is not just about technology. A cultural transformation is needed. Employees need to see the value in why processes are changing and understand how to take advantage of them. This needs to be felt across every department within a business.

Leading by example, senior decision-makers should be the champions of any cultural transformation and they must ensure employees are prepared for the shift to digital. In this transition, the IT and business units are more closely aligned to deliver new business models, such as ones that are product-centric. 

Critical to the success of any cultural transformation is to start with small wins, hire or promote the right people, increase visibility into decisions and communicate the changes effectively.  

Without following these steps and ensuring everyone is brought on the digital journey, organizations will struggle with their digital transformation initiatives and end up like the fallen incumbents of the past, who failed to embrace digital disruption.