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Digital disruption: which industries are affected?

By Jim Hamill - Posted on 28 August 2015

Dr Jim Hamill, class coordinator of the MBA elective Digital Leadership: Strategy and Management, shares examples of industries under threat from digital disruption.

Digital Disruption has been the hot topic of 2015. As with all trending topics, it can be difficult to separate hype from reality.

To help clarify the reality, I’ve listed ten specific examples of industries and sectors that have been or are currently in the process of being disrupted by technology.  We will explore ten more in a future post.

These examples have been developed for an upcoming report, ‘Digital Disruption and Scotland’s Small Business Economy’, which will be published in Autumn by the Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland.

The wide range of sectors covered highlights the fact no industry, company or organisation is immune from this threat.

Travel and Hospitality

We’ve seen the demise of many travel companies and tour operators as more customers carry out their DIY travel plans online. Hundreds of high street locations have closed with thousands of jobs being lost.

The hospitality industry is also facing huge challenges from the growth of Online Travel Agents (OTAs), customer review sites like TripAdvisor, the rise of mobile, the growing importance of social media in consumer decision-making and disruptive start-ups like Airbnb.


Disruptive technologies are threatening to shake the retail industry to its very foundations. The shift of consumer behavior from traditional to digital channels combined with showrooming(using a smartphone to find cheaper prices online compared to in-store), has resulted in many retailers facing declining margins.

Online retail sales are predicted to reach £52.25bn in the UK this year, a 16.2% increase on 2014.


With equipment prices falling dramatically, 3D printers could fundamentally change economies of scale for small manufacturers, allowing them to take on larger on-demand projects they previously didn’t possess the capabilities for.


3D printing is shaking up the construction industry too.  Chinese company, WinSun, recently produced ten basic houses in one day, at an average cost of less than £3,000, using a giant 3D printer and “ink” made from recycled waste.  Although currently at an embryonic stage, the technology could fundamentally alter construction, disintermediating the role of small tradesmen and contractors. Large multinational construction companies are investing huge amounts of money into this area.

 Small Business Funding

The rise in crowdfunding platforms, such as Kickstarter and GoFundMe, is opening up new avenues for small businesses to access funding.  This is helping SMEs overcome the barriers they often face when approaching traditional banking channels for financial support.


The music industry has already been revolutionised by the growth of digital downloads and online streamers.  Apple revealed its new streaming service, Apple Music, at its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC2015), stating “it’s going to change the way you experience music.”  It might even challenge early disruptors like Spotify.

Bookkeeping and Tax Accountancy

This industry isn’t one that springs immediately to mind when discussing digital disruption.  However, new market entrants, like Free Agent, could challenge existing relationships between professional advisers and small businesses. The cloud-based service allows SMEs to manage accounts themselves without the need for a bookkeeper or accountant.


Developed by Monsanto, ‘FieldScripts’, a Big Data and predictive analytics system, informs farmers with great precision which seeds to plant and how to cultivate them. Farmers who have tried the system say it has increased yields by roughly 5% over two years, a feat no other single intervention could match. Based on a database of 50 billion soil observations and 10 trillion weather-simulation points, the system could be the biggest change to traditional agriculture since GM crops.

TV, Cable, Satellite

Streaming services such as NetFlix and Hulu are threatening to disrupt the traditional television distribution market. An increasing number of consumers, particularly millennials, are opting to stream online rather than subscribe to satellite or cable services.


There’s been an undeniable impact on the recruitment industry from the growth of job-focused websites like Linkedin, Indeed and Monster.  LinkedIn brings efficiency and convenience to the recruitment process.  Individuals can make the best parts of their CV visible to a large audience of employers and, correspondingly, businesses can search through a host of fresh talent and connect with potential employees.

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