Identifying, Monitoring and Understanding Digital Disruption

Project Description, RECONVERGE v2, 2018/19

Digital disruption is a type of change. It occurs when a new digital technology and its associated business model affects how customers value existing goods and services. Tough often confused with the term disruptive technology (Christensen, 1997, The Innovators Dilemma), digital disruption is more than just invention, the use of a digital technology, or a new breakthrough in software and hardware development to better compete against marketplace rivals. Digital disruption is a powerful force that requires rethinking entire businesses, not just a technology.

Digital disruptors use digital resources in order to offer more value to more people in more contexts. According to McQuivey and Bernoff (2013, Amazon Publishing), authors of the book entitled Digital Disruption: Unleashing the Next Wave of Innovation, digital disruptors depend on very specific tendencies and patterns. In brief, these are:

  1. A tendency to use and create free or nearly free digital tools.
  2. Aggressive exploitation of digital platforms (e.g., the ones provided by companies like Alphabet/Google, Amazon, or Apple, etc.).
  3. A recognition that customers should and must dictate your strategy.
  4. A preference to innovate through rapid, focused pursuit of adjacent consumer benefits, vs. over-engineering offerings like those often done in traditional R&D.
  5. Partnering promiscuously to deliver customers benefits more quickly and at lower costs than existing items in the marketplace.


Assignment Overview:

You will be working with a 20+ year old professional services company headquartered out of Madison, Wisconsin with offices in Atlanta, Georgia called Aurora WDC (see: to support a public portal which provides analyzed data and information, otherwise known as competitive, innovation, market, science and/or technological intelligence (CIMSTI), to various executives who seek to better understand how these digitally disruptive technologies might influence their portfolios of product and services (P&S) offerings they provide to various clients/customers or end consumers. Many of our secondary and post-secondary school student partners organize this either within an existing course/class offering/stream, or as an internship project which can be done for credit within their school district. In the first (2017/18 AY) iteration of the effort, we had high school (New Berlin School District, WI) and university students (James Madison University, VA), formally involved.

In this assignment, students will be introduced to practices and processes designed to help existing organizations across a wide range of industries, geographies and markets develop intelligence (aka, actionable insights) about digital disruption. You will be introduced and learn how to employ a powerful intelligence software platform and reconnaissance engine called FirstLight (see: It helps individuals across any organization to collaborate in the curation of digital disruption data and information from public sources. You will also organize and filter the data so that you can apply a variety of analytic technologies in order to determine the market trajectories of digital disruption and to understand what players are likely to best harness the change and win over customers.

Some of you may also be invited to comprise a team in a live, full-day competition called a competitive simulation or war game. There will be one held on April 26, 2018 on the campus of the University of Wisconsin (Madison) to bring different parties together to determine the future strategies and moves of players seeking to find desirable market opportunities in a digitally disrupted domain. Your efforts on this assignment will constitute a significant portion of the background data and information that will be available to those teams of players, and as such, will be both relevant and applicable to businesses and their executives who seeks to affect or will be affected by digital disruption in their marketplaces.

Learning Aims:

Upon successfully completing this project, students will:

  1. Gain practical understanding of how to use an intelligence software platform to identify, monitor and track forms of digital disruption
  2. Create and utilize a taxonomy to organize and curate data and information open source, public and/or published data and information
  3. Assist business and executives to evaluate emerging technologies and their potential impact on the digital and market transformation of their organizations
  4. Perform content curation (i.e., gathering, organizing, annotating and presenting online content) relevant to the subject matter area of digital disruption
  5. Identify leading indicators of digital disruption from both strong and weak open sources
  6. Analyze the vested interests/market players, driving forces and critical issues which are most important for stakeholders of a given digitally disruptive technology.
  7. Forecast which players will be the “winners and losers” from digital disruption in selected market contexts
  8. Acquire knowledge of intelligence development processes used by entrepreneurial organizations in order to better understand and effectively respond to technological changes affecting their customers, industries, markets and other stakeholders
  9. (Optional): Participate in and/or observe a live exercise called a competitive simulation/war game to understand how data and information gathered about digital disruption can inform executives about potential directions their organizations, products and services should take in the future.

This project, which is deigned to span an entire academic term/semester, requires students to perform the following actions:

  1. Work together with no less than 2 and no more than 5 other classmates in forming a group. Submit your group members’ names and their e-mail addresses to your instructor.
  2. Your instructor will provide your group with instructions about how to access and use the FirstLight
  3. Your group will choose a combination of three items from each of the three columns (labeled X, Y, and Z) in the following table (see Exhibit 1). The table is better known as Aurora WDC’s digital disruption taxonomy. The taxonomy resides in the FirstLight solution and constitutes the range of digital disruption the software is employed for monitoring in this assignment. The resultant XYZ digital disruption combination will be known as your chosen domain. Your team will be the only one working in this domain during the assignment.
  4. You will begin using FirstLight to develop a taxonomy of your chosen domain. Your taxonomy will include the three X,Y & Z variables to start, but will be augmented by your inclusion of key players, emerging and existing products and services, issues or concerns by stakeholders about the progress of development of the digital disruption, and the identification of “leading indicators” — both the sources of them and relevant data.
  5. You will begin collecting, annotating and organizing data and information using FirstLight, and curating it within the solution.
  6. Your instructor will provide you with descriptions of the four deliverables associated with this project. The instructor will also provide you with a weighting for how s/he will assess and mark them.
  1. Source Identification: Your group will develop a table, preferably using PowerPoint, which lists the key sources you have identified for performing monitoring and tracking within your chosen domain. Sources will be listed, classified, and described using a table similar to the one you see attached to this assignment in Exhibit 2. Yu will identify the richest sources in the public/secondary universe, sources from social media (like Facebook, Instagram, Linked and twitter, for example), and from the primary (human) universe (meaning researchers, developers, users, companies, R&D labs, key inventors, etc.). Your output of this task will be loaded into the FistLight portal and simultaneously due and distributed to your instructor approximately 3-4 weeks after you begin the project.
  2. Significance Analysis: Your group will use the data and information you have collected to classify the activity in your chosen domain in terms of its performance. In other words, is the digital disruption you are researching growing quickly, growing slowly, stable, declining slowly, or declining quickly, in significance? Your group’s job will be to determine one of those 5 classifications and to provide the relevant data that underlies your argument. This will be loaded into the FirstLight portal and simultaneously provided to your instructor, and is due approximately 7-8 weeks into the term.
  3. Stakeholder and Key Players Analysis: Your group will use the data and information you have collected to determine which stakeholders have the strongest vested interests in your assigned technology. You will also assess the competitors or “players” in your chosen domain are most likely to a) be a ‘winner’ (i.e., gaining market share and growing a satisfied customer base) in the next phase of digital disruption within your chosen domain, as well as a b) loser (i.e., losing market share and seeing the shrinkage of its customer base). Your goal is to develop and make a compelling argument for both of these classifications, based on your analysis and synthesis of the data you have curated. This deliverable will be due to your instructor approximately 10-11 weeks into the term.
  4. Issues Analysis: Your group will use the data you have curated to determine a set of 3-6 of the most critical issues (i.e., these are the controversies that exist between groups which need to be settled before a technology can become a mainstream offering in products and services) that stakeholders face in seeing the technology developed further and becoming a mainstream offering in various products and services (aka, use cases).
  5. Strategic Analysis (this will be done via way of a wargame – it will be optional for participants in this project): Your group will use a) the prior three deliverables as well as b) the data and information you have continued to collect via your FirstLight portal to recommend a set of actions that will enable one of the “losers” identified in your third deliverable that might enable it to change its trajectory and be one of the winners. Your recommended strategy, to be developed in the form of a PowerPoint slide deck, should include the following: a) the (strategic) goals it should follow and execute; b) the scope of its planned activity in terms of customers, technologies, geographies, and operations; c) the set of resources or level of capabilities it needs to achieve some form of competitive advantage versus rivals; d) the business model it most employ that will enable the strategy to generate the desired results; and e) your recommended set of actions over the next 2-3 years for turning this player’s fortunes around. This will be due around the end of your semester/term.

If you have any questions or concerns about this project, please feel free to contact your instructor (about the assignment and marking aspects) or Aurora WDC’s Chief Learning Officer Dr. Craig Fleisher at (about the use of FirstLight or analysis aspects) and we’ll aim to respond to you in a timely and helpful manner. Thanks so much for your willingness to be involved in this exciting project. We hope that it will give you a new appreciation for, as well as relevant skills, in understanding, monitoring and responding to digital disruption.