Rethinking Disruption: Who Are You Competing Against?

Michael Frendo of Polycom takes a look at the world of competition. Why your competitors could actually be partners.

6 collaboration
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Few words are more terrifying to enterprise organizations than disruption.

The reasons are obvious. Uber disrupted transportation and left traditional providers in shambles. In lodging and hospitality, Airbnb did much the same. And for on premise technology, the cloud has given way to a virtual onslaught of software-as-service (SaaS) products that continue to devour the bottom line.

In short, disruption kills.

Or does it?

Late last month, Polycom announced a partnership with video and web conferencing service Zoom. The response has been almost universal shock. Industry observers, in particular, have called into question the sanity of partnering with a business that — at least on the surface — seems bent on taking over the very space Polycom depends on to survive.

So, why did we do it? Should analysts consider this one more win for disruption? Are we retreating?

While this might seem like an intramural topic, it’s not. In fact, for any business facing an industry in flux, the real question is: Who or what is your competition?

The innovator’s dilemma

Despite pop-culture acceptance, video conferencing in the workplace has yet to cross Clayton Christensen’s infamous “chasm.” Certainly, video technology exists and is used regularly. However, if market penetration is measured by fully equipped conference and huddle rooms, a mere three percent of those spaces contain the kind of technology required to have a truly collaborative, digital experience.

Why? Two challenges fill the chasm between early adopters to early majority: the first is technological and the second, cultural.

Technologically, full-fledged video systems are notoriously still too difficult to use. Outfitting a single room with the right cameras, speakers, and displays to replicate how people naturally interact requires investment. If done correctly, the end result is an experience that makes contact intimate through small but significant physical cues — e.g., eye contact, facial expressions, hand gestures, and tone of voice. The technology itself becomes invisible — but in general, the process of enabling that experience is anything but invisible.

Culturally, there are generational differences with the comfort level people have with being on camera. For a variety of reasons, many people are still nervous and uncomfortable beneath the spotlight video creates (note how many folks even put tape over the cameras on their PCs and mobiles). Being broadcast on a host of screens throughout multiple locations only intensifies that spotlight.

What does all that have to do with your business? Simple. It’s only by clearly identifying the challenges specific to your industry that you can separate friends from foes.

The real competition

After Polycom announced its partnership with Zoom, a host of voices immediately broadcast their disagreement. As experts in physical space, Polycom creates rooms that inspire collaboration. Zoom does the same in the digital world.

For both us, however — and more importantly for you too — the real competition isn’t some revolutionary alternative; it’s what lies behind the two challenges just mentioned: namely, empty rooms.

If people can’t access and use your solution, it doesn’t stand a chance of spreading. What’s the answer?

Through internal research at Polycom, we’ve found that when personal devices like phones, tablets, and computers are visually connected to in-house endpoints, the overall use of those visually enabled rooms increases from 10 or 20% to 60–80%. More access to visual collaboration equals more use. And more use means greater demands.

In other words, if Zoom wins, Polycom wins. A rising tide indeed lifts all boats.

By rethinking our competition, we’re able to work with Zoom to overcome both the technological and cultural barriers that block wide-spread acceptance. Rather than trying to convince organizations to invest in a network of in-house meeting rooms with the hope that they will be used, the pervasive use of video drives demand for the rooms based on personal devices not the rooms themselves.

Disruption met with disruption.

As with the spread of any new technology, the real challenge is to make getting in easy. Lower the barrier to entry. Reduce friction. If your product really is as wonderful as you think, once someone gets a taste, they won’t want to give it up. On the contrary, quality becomes the new normal and the old ways suddenly feel incomplete and impoverished.

The upside of disruption

In the end, disruption doesn’t destroy businesses, but lack of innovation does. Innovation, however, should not be measured in technological terms alone. Sometimes the best technology wins on its own. More often, it’s the technology with a go-to-market strategy that pulls the early majority in ... one effortless click at a time.

In an attempt to survive the onslaught of a constantly changing industry, many companies do everything they can to survive, including demonizing the very organizations that could help them most.

Instead of viewing disruption as a threat to be endured, view it as an opportunity to be challenged — in your thinking, your product, and ultimately, in the way you do business.

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