Are You Ready for Disruptive Innovation?

Are You Ready for Disruptive Innovation
Are You Ready for Disruptive Innovation?

Disruptive innovation is pervasive. Every organization today is being impacted and every leader needs to be engaged in and well-informed about the digital revolution, its impact on the organization, the risks it presents, as well as the potential advantages it can deliver.

Our recent study of senior executives and board members, conducted worldwide, highlighted a significant change in perspectives on risk.[1] The ability of existing operations to meet performance expectations and competing against “born digital” firms is now rated the number one concern for these leaders. This top risk is followed closely by concerns over the rapid speed of disruptive innovation and resistance to change. This incongruence presents a dilemma across all organizations. It is a natural response to headlines about the emergence of digital companies with a "digital first" strategy and suggests the need for adapting to modern ways of business development.

Not surprisingly, many executives are asking themselves whether they are focusing on and doing enough of the right things to avoid being swept aside in the digital economy. Board members and executives want to know where they stand compared to their peers and competitors and what they need to do to keep pace. Unfortunately, many organizations continue to make the same mistakes.

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Reactive response to disruptive innovation

So how are most executive leadership teams responding to change? There is often too much of a focus on investing in new technology. This often starts with investing heavily in customer-facing technologies (e.g., websites and mobile apps) as the organization looks to place a greater emphasis on digital channels. Many organizations also are embracing the cloud and replacing legacy applications with next-generation software.

However, for many, these initiatives result in a digital “veneer” around the business that looks promising on the outside but fails to address shortcomings at its core. To outsiders, and in some cases to employees, this digital veneer creates an illusion that the business is changing and keeping up with the times. The unfortunate reality is that the change is very superficial. Legacy systems and applications often remain archaic and cumbersome, while manual intervention within business processes continues to be present despite the innovative presentation to customers. Often, insufficient consideration is given to how digital channels, the emergence of new business models and the changing competitive landscape impact the more traditional, analog aspects of the business.

Digitalization Approaches

Digital transformation is a way of thinking

To become a leader in the digital age, it is essential to reinvent the business at its core. Beyond technology and process changes, this means the way people think and act in everything that they do needs to substantially evolve. The people aspects are much more important than the technology. That is not to say that technology is not important, but it should not be the driver nor the destination.

Of course, most organizations are not digital leaders and may never be. Nor do they necessarily need to be. Many are content to be followers, allowing others to be the pioneers and make mistakes on the “bleeding edge.” However, the pace of change is much faster in the digital age, shrinking the half-life of entrenched business models and making it harder to react.

If the organization is to survive as a digital follower, it needs to be agile and able to react very quickly when leaders disrupt. It must recognize the signs of disruption and act on that knowledge in a timely manner. Increasingly, only organizations — and specifically, their people — who think and behave digitally can do this.

The reality is that most large organizations are slow and resistant to change. This is particularly true of established leaders for whom a traditional approach has been successful for an extended period of time — often decades or longer. Many of these organizations are not taking the steps to challenge and disrupt the status quo.

Key attributes of a digital leader

We have conducted extensive research into what it takes to be a leader in the digital age. We have defined five levels of digital maturity:

Digital Maturity Scale

Digital Skeptics: All organizations are digital to some extent, and this includes Digital Skeptics. These organizations tend to react to what is going on around them and are seen by many as laggards.

Digital Beginners: Beginners are embracing change and having success implementing new technologies. Often, digital transformation activities are best characterized as a collection of point solutions.

Digital Followers: Followers know what it takes to succeed in the digital age and have a clear strategy for execution. They make quick decisions and are able to focus attention when needed to deliver change. The strategy, once delivered, will bring transformation to some aspects of the core of the business.

Digital Advanced: Advanced organizations have progressed their digital transformation efforts further, and have transformed the business to the core, where necessary, revisiting business models that may have served them well over the years. There is a recognition that digital is a way of thinking and not just process automation. Advanced organizations are embracing the latest technology to achieve very high levels of automation throughout their business, reducing their cost base significantly and introducing hyperscalability.

Digital Leaders: To Digital Leaders, this all comes naturally. They have all the attributes of an advanced business and have proven repeatedly that they know what it takes to innovate and disrupt, resulting in a brand associated strongly with innovation. Leaders are altering customer experience paradigms and rethinking traditional business models. As a result of this disruption, they are growing fast and stealing market share from the incumbents.

When we look at digital maturity in this way, we find a significant cluster of organizations somewhere between a Digital Beginner and Digital Follower.

Many are much closer to a Digital Beginner than they at first believe they are. As noted previously, there is greater recognition of the risks associated with failure to deliver on transformation activities. However, many organizations are not putting into place the necessary governance to ensure these strategic risks are being managed effectively.

Helping organizations assess their digital maturity

Our Digital Maturity Assessment and supporting application has been designed to enable our clients to assess their digital aptitude and to identify quickly areas requiring attention. We assess 36 core attributes that differentiate Digital Leaders from other organizations along a continuum using the five digital maturity levels.

Key areas of focus in our assessment include:

  • Strategic Planning and Business Model Disruption
  • Risk Management and Compliance
  • Culture and Management
  • Organization and Processes (including areas such as Human Resource Management, Knowledge Management, Innovation & Research)
  • Business Process Automation
  • Go-To-Market Execution (including Customer Experience, Digital Marketing and Cross-Channel Strategy)
  • Technology Competencies (including IT Architecture, Software Development, Third Party Collaboration and Cyber Security)
  • Big Data Analytics (including Data Value Creation, Data Governance and Data Science Team)

Protiviti’s Digital Maturity Assessment methodology combines self-assessment through the application, with interviews and workshops. This allows us to help our clients quickly obtain input from a large, diverse group of individuals and stakeholders. The results are consolidated in dashboard reports that we then validate by working collaboratively with the executive management team.

Digital Maturity Assessment Framework

The dashboard reporting provides executives with a measure of how digital transformation efforts are progressing, at a macro or detailed level, providing an assessment of digital maturity for each of the attributes assessed.

Most executive leadership teams today are facing questions about their digital maturity and whether they are falling behind. Our Digital Maturity Assessment toolkit enables us to provide management with answers to these questions. Our assessment highlights the gaps in the digital capabilities of the organization and guides management on the steps that it needs to take to mature. It also acts as a scorecard so that the organization can measure progress over time.

Executive Overview


Jonathan Wyatt

Managing Director



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Evan Campbell

Managing Director



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Scott Wisniewski​

Managing Director



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Jason Brucker​

Managing Director



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Alix Weikhard​

Managing Director



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Ewen Ferguson

Managing Director



[email protected]

[1] Executive Perspectives on Top Risks for 2018, Protiviti and North Carolina State University’s ERM Initiative. 

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