The Next Wave of Disruptive Technologies

Drop by drop, tech innovation is happening. New technologies such as the Semantic Web, SOAs and advanced sensors may seem to have little power at first, but over time they will make a big splash.

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Posted on Nov 03, 2006

Almost 100 years ago, a relatively small manufacturer in Dearborn, MI, innovated the making and marketing of automobiles. By employing a moving production line and other mass production techniques, the company was able build low-cost automobiles that were obtainable by the masses. The car was the Model T, the manufacturer was Ford Motor Co. and the rest is, as they say, history. Like a mighty river, Ford and the Model T changed the course of automobile manufacturing, disrupting the competitive status quo in the nascent automotive industry. Today, progressive manufacturers have an opportunity to change the course of their businesses by seizing emerging technologies, much like Henry Ford did when his company introduced the Model T in 1908. But which technologies have potentially game-changing power? This issue of Managing Automation answers that question by focusing on several emerging technologies and how manufacturers can use them to get ahead of the competition. Many of these technologies will disrupt by enabling critical business processes that simply aren't possible today. Emerging auto ID technologies such as RFID, for example, will enable manufacturers to track materials and products in real time all the way through the production chain, and to deliver richer product and product history information to partners, suppliers, customers and even consumers. Along the same lines, innovations like the Semantic Web will let software applications seamlessly communicate on an ad hoc basis, allowing supply chain partners to collaborate in ways they can only dream of today. Other emerging technologies, such as service-oriented architectures, will disrupt by enabling manufacturers to upgrade and adjust their systems at the rapid pace of business change, something that's painfully difficult today. Of course, the list of potentially disruptive technologies detailed in this set of articles is not comprehensive. The pool of disruptive technologies from which manufacturers must draw will be much larger; therefore, manufacturers should also enlist the help of emerging technology brokers -- many of them at leading universities -- that track and nurture new ideas. Examples include the Center for Intelligent Maintenance Systems at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee and the Arizona Technology Enterprises center at Arizona State University. "Even smaller manufacturers can and should keep abreast of emerging technologies that can disrupt their markets," says Navi Radjou, a vice president at Forrester Research Inc. (Cambridge, MA). Why? It's a good bet one of your competitors is even now dreaming up a way to disrupt and dominate your market. If you don't put yourself in a position to spot disruptive technologies first, and embrace them, you may very well find yourself treading water.

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