Kathy Gibson is at Gartner Symposium in Cape Town – As digital projects move from optimisation to transformation, the ability to disrupt becomes a critical discipline.

Coping with disruption requires the ability to recognise, prioritise, and respond in the right way, says Daryl Plummer, distinguished vice-president analyst at Gartner.

Technology disruption can be a double-edged sword, he points out. It can help to make organisations succeed, but it can be hard to do.

There are a number of disruptions that companies might not see coming – but they need to recognise them, and plan to leverage them.

“If you ignore them you might not have a business for very much longer,” Plummer warns.

He explains that digital disruption is the critical discipline for modern success. It drives fundamental shifts that cannot be ignored.

“These changes are happening everywhere, and across all industries. And digital disruption is changing everything, not just technology.”

Disruption helps companies to reinvent or enter new markets; better leverage technology to bypass barriers to customers; find new funding or revenue; create or extend ecosystems; and reset the game on business models.

“You have to become willful about your intention to be disruptive. You have to be proactive – to make something happen before someone else does it to you.”

There are five ways to do this, Plummer says. They are offensive innovation; defensive competition; serendipity or chance; destruction of anachronistic technology; and self-disruption – what Plummer calls possibly the most important type of disruption.

He adds that future disruption can be measured by its intensity and secondary effects.

CIOs should look outside of their comfort zone to recognise coming disruptions, prioritise their actions, and respond.

He suggests that organisations undertake a regular assumptions challenge to help them identify the disruptions that should be addressed.

The seven disruptions that Gartner believes will impact most organisations, that will have long-term effects, and which should not be ignored, are:

Quantum computing – Quantum computing is making it possible to perform calculations that would take traditional computers months or years to do. For instance, this is leading to better cancer detection, new drug designs and complex pattern identification to drive massive disruption in the pharmaceutical industry. Quantum is also quickly disrupting the security industry among others.

Realtime language translation – There are already products available to translate on the fly. Plummer says this disrupts intercultural language barriers and will affect translators.

Nanotechnology – this involves the manipulation of matter on an atomic, molecular and supramolecular scale. Examples today include self-healing material, smart contact lenses and organic 3D printing. It has the potential to disrupt just about everything, Plummer says, and will affect Internet of Things (IoT) and security applications, while carbon nanotube computers could emerge soon.

Swarm intelligence – this combines the principles of awareness, solidarity, autonomy, expandability and resiliency. This can be used to optimise problem-solving for single point AI systems and complex system interactions.

Human-machine interfaces – this will allow us to build “superabilities”, to do things we couldn’t do before. Applications include CP thought control, brain-computer interfaces and mind link technology. In fact, Plummer says, there is the ability today to pull images directly from the human brain. “This is going to change the world by 2032,” he adds.

Software marketplaces – this is the ability for people to sell software the same way other things are sold. The $450-billion software sales will be available from online portals, on a subscription, as you use, model. This will be driven by the big cloud marketplace companies, says Plummer. The tipping point is cloud maturity, but this will be mature by 2024.

Smartphone disintermediation – This will happen when the smartphone is no longer the centre of the user’s universe – the “post-mobile” world. Today the smartphone activates other devices, but it will become disintermediated as other device manufacturers take control of their own networks and fabrics. Soon everything will become a communication device, says Plummer. This will change over the next five years, and will drive the rise of new markets.

CIOs need to be deliberate disruptors: “Understand disruption recognise it, respond to it,” Plummer says.