Events that disrupt business occur every day. While it is impossible to predict exactly where and when these disruptions might happen, scenario planning can help organizations protect revenue streams, increase profitability, and ensure business continuity despite major upheavals.
In Scenario Planning –Part 3 Are you ready for disruptions?, we discussed three examples of companies that were caught flat-footed by disruptive innovation. What could these companies have done with effective scenario planning? In each case, there were early signs:
· Blockbuster— by Netflix and Redbox (Coinstar), now video streaming. Customer dissatisfaction with the inconvenience of having to travel to physical locations, pricing, and late fees - in Blockbuster’s case. New business models (mail and kiosk) addressed customer dissatisfaction with the cost and inconvenience of brick and mortar stores. Video streaming has been coming for over a decade. The primary driver to its arrival as a mainstream competitor was the availability and speed of broadband and wireless. Was anyone at Blockbuster watching this? Was anyone listening to customer dissatisfaction with exorbitant late fees? Perhaps, if Blockbuster management was monitoring its own customer response (complaints) and tracking the scaling of broadband, it could have initiated steps to provide alternatives – either through internal pilots, new products, or acquisitions. Instead, it viewed competition in a traditional manner - as coming from the other brick and mortar video rental companies. When new competitors began to gain steam, Blockbuster’s response was slow and awkward. Clearly they had been totally unprepared and management had not thought through what competitive actions or responses should be taken.
· Encyclopedia Britannica – by the internet providing content online. We could lump many print publishers in this category. In fairness, the inability to decide how to monetize online content has paralyzed many management teams in the publishing business. However, lessons learned in other industries dating back to the transistor radio have taught us that many times disruptions occur first on the fringes or lower end of markets. Wikipedia (the “free encyclopedia”) may have seemed to be a joke to EB executives at first, if they noticed it at all, but the sheer volume of visitors to the Wikipedia site could have been seen as a precursor to today’s online content world.
· Kodak—transition from physical media to digital media. Kodak may be the poster child for the need for effective scenario planning. Kodak actually invented the disruptive technology – digital photography. In Kodak’s case, management clearly did not want digital technology to cannibalize its “golden goose”, the exceptionally profitable film world. So rather than understanding, monitoring, and acting on the drivers of digital photography, Kodak management spent years executing defensive strategies, attempting to protect the existing revenue stream.
Disruptions have occurred in just about every market over time. Mature industries with little change for decades, are now being transformed by technology which is enabling changes to business models, industry economics, and competitive balance. You cannot prevent disruptions from occurring, but you can be aware, prepared, and capable of turning disruptions into opportunities.
Business benefits of scenario planning
As the Boy Scout motto indicates, “Be prepared.” Disruptions are a risk only if businesses aren’t prepared. Effective scenario planning requires senior managers to take a broader view of their roles. By being prepared, companies can avoid the pitfalls of becoming irrelevant through disruptive innovation. Scenario planning benefits include:
· Management preparedness and confidence. By reviewing possible scenarios and the impact on competitive balance, management can “rehearse” the appropriate steps that would be taken in the event a certain scenario begins to occur. Just as an athlete visualizes his or her performance in a certain critical game situation, when potential disruptions occur, management can respond in a calm, confident, thoughtful manner.
· Building an adaptable culture. By developing a flexible approach to planning, companies can build adaptability into the culture. Adaptable teams perform far better than those that are mired in a static approach or limited view of the world.
· Greater customer loyalty and retention. Companies that know where they are headed instill greater confidence in their customers. This confidence often translates into greater loyalty, which protects important revenue streams. In addition, by moving swiftly when disruptions occur, companies can keep their customers from worrying and switching to other vendors. Don’t underestimate the “coolness factor” of being a leader – Apple benefits from a “halo effect” for being on top of latest innovations, being fearless about cannibalizing previous products and models, etc. Customers want to be “seen” using Apple products because Apple is perceived as knowing where they are headed.
· Increased revenues. Companies that are prepared for disruptions can attract more customers. This is because customers want suppliers on whom they can rely on for a steady stream of products and services.
· Reduced costs. Companies become inefficient when they don’t have a roadmap. By establishing confidence and a clear direction based their ability to monitor, predict, and react to, possible disruptions, companies can be more effective and efficient.
· Enhanced employee productivity and retention. A common direction also instills confidence in employees, increasing their productivity and company loyalty.
· Creating new business opportunities. By anticipating market disruptions and technology trends, visionary companies can create and enter new markets to ensure future revenue streams.
¹ Excerpts from Scenario Planning: Are You Ready? By Dave Evans and Rick Hutley, Cisco IBSG Innovations Practice
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