Disruptive digital innovations lead to industries and markets experiencing deep systemic transformations. Imagine Uber challenging the way we think mobility, Airbnb transforming housing for tourists or Spotify monopolizing the music streaming industry. The digital and software market is exceptionally well suited to allow disruptive innovations. In this article we want to dig deeper into the concept of disruptive innovation and highlight key characteristics of the software industry that benefit potential disruptors.
Disruptive innovation is a term coined by Clayton Christensen, former professor at Harvard Business School in the 1990s. The understanding of the concept has changed over the years. In The Innovator’s Dilemma (1997) Christensen defined disruptive technologies as cheaper, simpler, smaller and more convenient to use. While it may seem obvious that a product with these characteristics will disrupt a market, it isn’t. The characteristics Christensen mentions apply to a product version that disrupted an incumbent. The product performance has to be steadily improved over time though, until this version is achieved.
In every market, customers can choose between different products. Some customers can be satisfied with very basic levels of performance, others are very demanding and will only be satisfied by high level performance products. Disruptive technologies and innovations usually enter a market at a point where only the least demanding customers consider it acceptable. This group of customers may find the product less expensive and simpler to use. Rapidly the product improves and even the most demanding customers consider the disruptor as more convenient.
The software industry has two unique features that benefit disruptive ideas, the availability and accessibility of resources. To enter the software market, the only physical resource needed is a computer. And since computers are literally at hand today (when we think of smartphones or tablets), everyone could potentially become a disruptor. The rise to relevance of computational based systems lead to and profited from the accessibility of educational resources. Universities and schools offer online courses, educational videos and lectures can be found on video-platforms like YouTube and literature and research papers are mostly free. Software development can be self-taught because of the broad availability of educational resources.
The research and practice on artificial intelligence (AI) is still far away from its peak. AI based solutions are likely to solve digital problems and inconveniences. Software and User Interface (UI) Testing is a prime example of an AI based solution that is going to disrupt the market. Right now, many small and medium-sized companies rely on individuals (software developers or interns) to manually test UIs or software. Not only is this a tedious task, it is expensive and ties developers. Test automation is the solution to this problem. AskYourUI uses a method called Visual Question Answering (VQA) to automate the testing process. A self-learning AI detects visual elements like text fields and images and automatically tests their functionality.
All of Christensen’s criteria for disruptive technologies and innovations apply to most automations of technical processes. Using AI to save time, developer’s energy and creativity and reducing errors is going to transform the software industry.
Generally speaking, no. An example frequently used by Christensen is the disruption of typewriters. Until the 1990s stenographers used classic typewriters for their work. Many stenographers refused to work with computer keyboards because in the 1990s computers weren’t able to keep up with a stenographer’s pace. Over time computers were heavily improved and they quickly passed typewriters. Stenographer’s abilities were still needed, they just switched the technology they were using.
The same thing applies to automated UI testing. Developers can use their creativity where it matters instead of tediously doing repetitive tasks.