Summer session explores opportunities, risks of digital disruption

Nearly three-quarters of a century into its existence, Safelite Group has reason to act like a market leader – it is one.

The ubiquitous Columbus-based glass repair and replacement services company has a presence in all 50 states, with the capability to serve about 97 percent of U.S. drivers. Even 70 years after its founding, it’s in growth and acquisition mode.

That doesn’t mean, however, that Safelite isn’t keeping an eye out for disruptors waiting in the wings to turn the business on its ear.

“We’re looking over our shoulder,” said Bruce Millard, the company’s vice president of digital and customer innovation. “We’re asking, ‘Who has the velocity to potentially cause us problems?’”

Millard was one of four speakers at the second of two summer sessions focused on top business challenges and co-hosted by the Center for Operational Excellence along with three other centers housed at Fisher College of Business: The Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the National Center for the Middle Market and The Risk Institute. After surveying the state of the “talent war” in July, the centers brought together industry executives and academic experts to offer a mix of exciting developments, sobering realities and paths forward in the rapidly shifting world of data analytics and digital disruption.

Cisco’s Jeremy Aston

In his kickoff keynote, Jeremy Aston of tech communication giant Cisco shared how much — and how little — has changed in how companies are viewing and preparing for the threat of digital disruption. Cisco’s Global Center for Digital Business Transformation in a 2015 survey of nearly 1,000 executives found 15 percent said digital disruption was already occurring in their respective industries. At the same time, a scant one in 250 of those surveyed said digital trends would have a transformative impact on their industry. Fast-forward to a new survey round this year and the shift is staggering: Half of those surveyed said disruption was ongoing, while nearly one in three foresaw a transformative effect.

“Today, we’re under pressure to transform and perform,” said Aston, senior director of the Go to Market and Offer Monetization Office at Cisco.

One statistic that changed little in the two-year span hints at a gap Cisco’s research has found between companies’ awareness and action. In 2015, a quarter of those surveyed said they were “actively responding” to digital disruption. That number rose to just 31 percent this year.

“That is a dangerous game to play,” Aston said.

Drive Capital’s Mark Kvamme

While the media/entertainment trades and Cisco’s own technology products and services niche are easily most vulnerable to disruption, few – if any – parts of the economy are immune to companies born in today’s digital-first world. Speaker Mark Kvamme, a former Ohio economic development official and partner at venture capital investment firm Drive Capital, shared a dynamic portrait of “born digital” companies in Drive’s investment portfolio. One of them, Columbus-based startup CrossChx, has launched an artificial intelligence-enabled tool for the health-care industry that synthesizes and automates high-volume, repetitive tasks — prior authorizations, appointment reminders — outside the scope of patient care. On the analytics front, Columbus-based FactGem — run by Megan Kvamme — is helping companies translate hordes of data from far-flung sources into actionable intelligence.

All these innovations, Kvamme said, point to an unavoidable truth: “The amount of change we’re going to see in the next five to 10 years is going to spin everybody’s heads.”

A world of opportunity, however, also means a world of risk. Professor Dennis Hirsch, who runs the Program on Data and Governance at Ohio State’s Moritz College of Law, closed out the session with a look at the tricky terrain of data analytics in technology, which already has destroyed some players (student data repository InBloom) and led to serious brand damage for others (Uber).

“Big data is a crystal ball,” Hirsch said, “and that means it can be used for good — and for bad.”

As companies move forward, Hirsch said, it’ll be incumbent upon them to establish processes and guiding values that protect customers and treat them fairly. Technology and its innovative uses for data, in fact, are outrunning the law itself.

“The law hasn’t caught up, and to some extent it never will,” Hirsch said. “We need to be asking, ‘What does it mean to be responsible beyond just compliance?’”

A key tool companies can use as they make decisions on these issues, and the broader world of digital transformation, is a decidedly non-technological notion at heart: process. From a legal and ethical perspective, that means establishing them on the front end to mitigate the risks of leveraging big data. From a business agility standpoint, Aston of Cisco said in opening the day, that means having a perspective that extends beyond the flashy innovation itself.

“We have to make thoughtful decisions,” Aston said, “and we can’t just be focused on technological outcomes. What’s the business outcome you need to drive?”

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