CeBIT 2013: Enabling Digital Disruptors

In years past, technology trade shows like CeBIT or its cousin in the US, CES, have been a place for the introduction of new devices. Whether it was Nokia introducing its comeback phone or Sony pushing 3D displays, computing technology and consumer electronics companies have used these shows to introduce the next big thing.

But what happens when the next big thing isn’t actually a thing but is, instead, the arrival of platforms that enable a more effective marketplace? That’s the shift that’s occurring in the world, thanks to digital disruption. Under digital disruption, companies innovate by using cheap (sometimes free) digital tools and exploiting digital platforms to change products as low-tech as the toothbrush or waterless hand soap. They also use those digital tools to alter the way they make and deliver their products and services, including things as analog as fingernail polish, something I heard about today and will blog more on in coming weeks. As a result, every company is now digital, no matter how physical their processes and outputs.

Digital disruption means that the technology companies that provide these digital tools and platforms have more opportunity than ever. Their devices and systems will be necessary in the lives of every consumer as well as every enterprise. Witness the amazing growth of Amazon Web Services as it enables businesses across the gamut with its cheap access to storage and delivery tools.

That’s why, this year at CeBIT, the focus is less on the next big thing, which may end up being a passing trend in consumer gadgets, and instead is squarely placed on three things: cloud services, mobile experiences, and big data. All three of these trends are enabling technologies, the kinds of enhancements that can be used by companies to go further than before -- in their customer relationships, in their product experiences, and in their innovation process. These enabling technologies are harder to report on in the mainstream press -- how do you showcase a cloud service on the evening news? But these technologies become concrete when you see how they power everything from crowdfunding service Indiegogo, which took the main stage before me at CeBIT Global Congress program today, to Fujitsu's PalmSecure identity verification service, which is being built into the company's tablets and will soon be installed in some Italian banks to verify customers. 

By permitting and even encouraging these kinds of new devices and services to come to market, enabling technologies will, in the end, have a much more profound effect than any trendy new gadget or device alone because they serve as catalysts for many other changes and improvements that even nontech companies will make.

That’s what digital disruption does; it disrupts everyone, not just the tech business. And by smartly focusing on enabling technology, the tech business this year has realized that it will have its biggest impact on the world by enabling the world to disrupt itself.

For more information on my new book, Digital Disruption: Unleashing the Next Wave of Innovation, and how Forrester can help you apply its concepts, visit forrester.com/disruption. To attend a free Webinar about digital disruption, visit this page.