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The business of disruption

Business Disruption Hero 270716

Published: Monday June 13, 2016
By: Faris Yahaya

Seize the moment when new digital tech is aligned with the right market conditions.

AT the forefront of revolution is the disruptive innovators of the digital age. Everything from the Internet to smartphones and the apps we download have changed the way we connect, communicate and consume. The business of disruption has seen the rise of small businesses catering to niche markets, overlooked by bigger companies. The iPhone, Uber, AirBnB – this phenomenon isn’t new. What is relatively new is the mainstream acceptance and a popular pursuit of disruptive business models as the new status quo in success stories.

Undoubtedly, digitalisation has been a great enabler. Just as cellphones have replaced home landlines (and cellphones by more sophisticated smartphones), platforms driven by digital technology are a major catalyst for this transformation. But new technologies alone aren’t usually enough to succeed as a disruptive force. How ripe a market is for a particular disruption often relies on the convergence of multiple factors leading to success.

Take Netflix, for instance. Theirs was a disruptive model – a subscription-based mail order scheme for DVD rental with no return due dates or late fees (the brainchild of founder Marc Randolph who got stuck with US$40 in fines for returning Apollo 13 late). But it wasn’t until the widespread access to faster Internet speeds and its switch from DVD rentals to online streaming services that Netflix became a force to be reckoned with.

In the context of innovation today, do we have these preconditions at hand? I would argue that we do. Anytime, anywhere Internet connectivity. Access to smart devices at increasingly affordable prices. Cohorts of technologists and entrepreneurs equipped with the skills to transfer this knowledge to innovations that solve real world market needs. A new and growing wave of digital native consumers. The ground has never been as ripe for the picking as it is today.

A big part of being primed to seize the moment is preparation. Our response to the gathering digital wave in the mid-90s was to develop a city built upon the foundations of IT and ICT – Cyberjaya.

That was in 1997, the same year the Asian Financial Crisis hit. In spite of the financial storm, Cyberjaya gradually took shape, and later, universities and a slew of tech companies – Dell, HP, IBM and NTT, among many others drawn to the city in part by a range of policy-led incentives – took root, populating a township served by newly built public facilities and transportation infrastructure.

The space exists now. All we need are the people to disrupt. Cyberview has already undergone a metamorphosis to tackle our shifting mandate to that of a Tech Hub enabler. We are now active participants, not just in creating the physical space for this envisioned hive of bright, hungry and creative start-up minds, but a social one too.

Our Living Lab initiative has four key programmes, including our Accelerator programme aimed at nurturing a resurgence of bottom-up innovation. SMEs, cottage industries and geeks in garages who think outside the box provide the ideas. Our Accelerator programme gives people with ideas the tools to take it further – from seed money to advice and mentorship, access to tech and investor communities, as well as the chance to pilot their prototypes in Cyberjaya.

And through this ecosystem, we have seen some success stories, born and raised in Cyberjaya – the fintech startup MoneyMatch, parcel pick-up network coordinator PostCo and, an online marketplace for second-hand cars.

Ideas come from people and all companies should be thinking about that – whether the objective is to survive the next disruptor, or create one.

While Baby Boomers sought security in job stability, Gen X-ers valued the difference they were able to bring to their jobs. In turn, Millennials have bucked the rigidity of the 9 to 5 workday for flexi work hours and a healthy work-life balance they believe contribute to increased productivity.

In today’s environment, disruptive ideas are no longer born from the prestige of titles or a dogged commitment to ascending the corporate ladder. It comes from a place of autonomy, the freedom to think and be creative. It comes from people empowered to approach issues, knowing that results are ultimately what counts; instead of the number of overtime hours you clock in.

Staying mindful of these generational differences and responding to the types of environments they value – where people are given the freedom to explore, where every question and idea is valued – could be key in helping us adapt, shift and respond to this tech-enabled frontier of disruption.

Our role is to help create the conditions where innovation can thrive – nurturing the inquisitive and fearless minds most likely to give rise to the next disruptive idea.