Most people don’t realize this, but many mature organizations commonly known for selling things like hamburgers, clothing, adhesives or mutual funds have morphed into technology companies that just happen to sell these products and services. But with the fast-changing nature of technology and all-digital competitors chipping away at market share, it’s hard for brick-and-mortar companies to maintain current operations and make the investments needed to create new products and services.

Digital transformation can help companies address this paradox, yet many companies still fear and are paralyzed by “disrupting the business.” What they’re really worried about is not a disruption in the business model so much as the costs associated with business interruptions created by issues that can happen in a transformation, such as lost sales, diminished customer loyalty and a negative effect on the brand.

But it can be done. It has to if they are to remain competitive. So how do you disrupt a business without killing it?

To start, most organizations need to digitally enable themselves before they take any steps to truly transform. This involves digitizing many of their core processes. You’re probably familiar with the term “management by spreadsheet.” Despite the proliferation of enterprise resource planning (ERP), software as a service (SaaS), analytics and other modern system innovations, many organizations still have far too many offline processes that compromise the fidelity of the very enterprise applications they spent millions of dollars and years to implement. What is left is a mix of enterprise-grade and amateur-level capabilities running their business in a patchwork manner. Companies should get rid of those operations that involve manual steps, are paper-based in nature, and/or based on heavy use of a mix of legacy systems and desktop tools such as Excel or Access databases.

But watch out for some common missteps. In the quest to go all-digital, most organizations either opt to implement packaged software or rewrite old systems using new technologies (i.e., Java, .Net, etc.) but still end up with incomplete solutions. And don’t be fooled into thinking that just moving applications to the cloud means you are “going digital.” Think about the attributes of being digital and you will understand that being on the cloud doesn’t accomplish that. For example, just because an application is in the cloud doesn’t mean it will be mobile or social-media-enabled, a few of the hallmarks of being digital. And what about being able to operate in a hybrid environment? How much effort and time does it take to make that happen? Being digital means being quick.  The idea is to not embark on multiyear journey but instead look at multi-month or even multi-week journeys. This is the pace of change for the digital era.

When that foundation has been built, you can begin to add new capabilities that are automated, omnichannel, scalable, easy to integrate and user-centric – in other words, disruptive. Disruptive applications run the risk of interrupting the business only if they take a ton of hours and too much attention away from the business to develop. If the same can be done in a lot shorter time frame, you minimize, if not eliminate, the risk of interrupting the business.

Creating disruptive applications quickly is a role filled by intelligent business platforms. In the next article, we’ll define them in more detail and discuss how they can help companies disrupt the business without interrupting it.