Within three to seven years, our industry is going to confront technologic change at a pace never experienced before. Will you be ready? Some of you may be thinking, “No way! Never going to happen to our industry or my business.” You may be thinking, “We've been doing things pretty much the same way for awhile and have been successful!” Kodak thought the same thing—right up to the time they went bankrupt and vanished. The cab companies thought the same thing before Uber emerged.

I was in that “no way” camp before attending a week-long course at Singularity University (SU). SU's mission is to educate, inspire and empower leaders to apply exponential technologies to address humanity's grand challenges. The week at SU was a mind-blowing experience.

During that time, I learned about the 6 D's of the exponential framework: Once something is digitized, it moves to a deceptive phase then onto a disruptive phase and the product or service becomes dematerialized, demonetized and democratized. It happens bit by bit then all at once. We learned about the exponential change occurring in Artificial Intelligence (AI), 3D printing, Big Data, machine-to-machine learning, robotics, solar, the Internet of Everything (IoT), human longevity, Bitcoin, virtual reality, autonomous vehicles, drones and more. Mankind is only 3% into the Information Age and the rest is coming at us in the next 30 years or so. Think about that: 30 doublings is greater than 1 billion and just 10 doublings is greater than 1,000. Now think about anything (Siri, robotics, solar, etc.) being 1,000x better than today in just 10 years. It is crazy what is coming our way and fast!

Is your business ready for this kind of change? Because it’s headed your way whether you like it or not. And it’s up to you to decide whether you want to be a disrupter leading the way or the disrupted being left behind.

Our industry traditionally has been slow to change and most of us do not fund investments into IT aggressively. That is a combination that makes our industry ripe for being disrupted. And I don’t want that to happen to you. So let’s get you ready for what’s coming. At the very least, educate yourself so you’re not blindsided. You can then decide how proactive you want to be in the face of this change.

Consider doing these things to get started:

  1. Look into BuiltWorlds and sign up for their weekly news blog and engage with them. Seek out other information feeds about what is developing in the built tech space. Read Peter Diamandis’ books "Abundance" and "Bold."
  2. Get involved with Kickstarter and crowd-funding campaigns when products or services you can use are featured. Check out Indiegogo.
  3. Get involved with your local business incubator to spend time with start-up entrepreneurs and also become knowledgeable about what they are working on. I was on the board for the Youngstown Business Incubator and became an angel investor for several start-ups.
  4. As CEO, devote some time thinking through how the exponential technologies will impact your business. For example, what happens if someone Uberizes the trades? If your company does reroofing, what happens if robots take over? If solar continues on its exponential path it will be a 1,000x cheaper within 10 years. How will that impact your customers and your business? What happens if you're an HVAC service company and the Internet of Everything bring sensors to every aspect of HVAC with Artificial Intelligence (AI) analyzing the information and routing a tech to be onsite to complete the AI diagnosed scope of work for a RTU? And a drone delivers the parts to the rooftop using just-in-time methods. Companies like Autodesk are already going into virtual reality for designs. What happens if it gets 1,000x better in 10 years? Check out the YouTube video on Microsoft's hologram product—talk about a game changer. How about when 3D printers are integrated into the building process on site? There are apps out for construction, which make the construction site paperless. Have you piloted them yet? These are just some examples to get you thinking about how tech could impact your business.
  5. Identify every business process that is not yet digitized and digitize it. Also, if you do not have a current operating system that communicates with techs and the field via smartphones and smart devices, start looking at them. At Roth, where I was President, we implemented an electronic document management system and GPS tracking years ago and integrated them into our processes, greatly improving how we did business. For example, all of our roofing techs have tablets so in the field they have access to roof designs, outstanding repair quotes, etc., and they update our systems from the field as well as transmit the before and after pictures they take of the repairs they complete.
  6. Spend some time looking at your business in particular and our industry as a whole and think through what could totally change the game. A CEO coach can be helpful with this exercise. Just assume you are starting with a blank sheet. You have a do over to design a business to disrupt our industry like Uber or AirBnB did to theirs. Then consider engaging entrepreneurs to come up with a business plan to do it. It's up to you whether you move forward or not with the plan but it’s much more fun to be the disrupter than the disrupted.

You have probably already concluded that you will need to allocate more funds and talent to your IT and innovation budget. You do not want to be Kodak. Remember, disruption happens bit by bit then all at once. Chose to be the disrupter and start the process by implementing the recommendations above.