Adopt, adapt, become adept—rising up to disruptive tech

Cover art Erka Inciong

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Earlier this month, Chris Buono, managing director of UPS Philippines, met with industry leaders and hopeful innovators to share his insights on leveraging bleeding edge tech to turn a hundred-and-eleven-year-old company into a lean, mean, disrupting machine.

The session, which took place on Oct. 2 at the Manila House in Taguig, continued the Innovation Series–talks on cutting-edge innovations set to disrupt and transform businesses and lifestyles.

Buono, who has led UPS’ operations in the Philippines since 2017, kicked off his talk on new disruptive innovations by explaining that disruptive innovations are in no way new. As a concept, disruptive innovation was first coined in 1995 by Clayton Christensen, a professor at Harvard. Christensen used it to describe how some new entrants tackled industry problems not by taking the big players’ leads, but by developing entirely new business models and processes.

Oftentimes, they failed. But that’s not the point.

“Disruptive technologies tend to develop first in niche areas and normally get overlooked

by mainstream players,” Buono said. “They tend to be unique, sometimes even quirky innovations. They require a certain level of risk and threshold of acceptance before they become widely accepted within an industry.”

Knowing full well that it’s impossible to beat a giant at its own game, smaller firms reinvent the games entirely. When they fail, they’re lean enough to recover. But when they succeed—really succeed—they send the giants to their knees.

It’s for that reason entirely that industry leaders need to take notice of the innovations bubbling around them. It’s a fine line between smooth sailing and stagnation, and that line is drawn by how quickly firms can read the tides and change course.

For UPS, a logistics company, disruption was inevitable. High-asset, fragmented, deeply competitive—everything from the Internet-of-Things to A.I., to blockchain, to even 3D printing find massively lucrative applications in logistics. In order to not only survive, but thrive in that kind of environment, Buono says UPS had to build disruption into their business.

“And [we] do so in three ways: Adopt, adapt, and then become adept,” he said.

UPS handles 19 million packages, transported by nearly 100,000 vehicles, in 220 countries and territories all over the globe. And that’s in one day. To grow their operations to that scale, and sustain them, the firm has to be quick on the draw to take on new models and processes.

In 1924, it was conveyor belts. In 1992, electronic package tracking. In 2015, 3D printing. Today, Buono says artificial intelligence, blockchain, and drones are the next frontier for logistics.

Whereas predictive logistics systems powered by A.I. are helping streamline user experiences and decongest traffic in urban areas, blockchain is completely revolutionizing supply chain management altogether.

“[It] has the potential to increase transparency and efficiency among shippers, carriers, brokers, vendors, consumers, and regulators,” Buono said. “Using blockchain disrupts the notion that supply chains are opaque, costly, and time-consuming, controlled by multiple brokers and vulnerable due to only having a single hub.”

And with drones, UPS is sorting and sending packages more efficiently, and more sustainably.

“Drones can be used for sorting objects in high areas in these facilities and UPS has been exploring drone deliveries in rural areas, where drones can be launched from the roof of a UPS truck,” he said. This system cuts both mileage and emissions necessary to take packages to their final destinations.

For remote and vulnerable areas, this is more than a convenience. According to Buono, UPS is using drones to help isolated and remote communities overcome infrastructural challenges to gain access to essential supplies like medicine and blood.

“These technologies should be seen as tools that would make people more efficient, work safer, and create a better experience for their customers,” Buono said. “Disruption is a continuous process and it does not guarantee success—they can only translate into reality if they meet people where they are.”

When disruptive technologies displace people or create new inefficiencies, they only become obstructions to progress, Buono said. But when they address real-world challenges, they have the potential to improve not just the quality of work, but of lives.

“The power of disruptive technology sparks our collective imagination, drives us to blaze new trails and seek out new solutions, and provides new products, services, and ways of working that would make a difference to the people who need it the most,” he said.