As we move beyond simple digitization of information to digital business models, technologies such as mobile, social, cloud, and advanced analytics are creating ubiquitous and information-rich systems of engagement, overturning old business models and driving leaders to new levels of efficiency.

The pace of digital disruption is daunting, however, and many firms struggle to understand the impact of emerging technology on their business and which opportunities they should pay attention to now.

Creating a shared enterprise technology vision that leverages emerging technology is a daunting task.

In fact, leaders in charge of IT strategy, planning, or innovation often admit that it’s easy for emerging technology to catch them off guard.

It's a scenario that’s become all too common thanks to today’s emerging technology’s ability to unlock explosions in business evolution that are completely digital and chaotic.

For example, smartphones had been around for years before Apple’s introduction of the iPhone and the Apple App Store totally changed how employees started using personal productivity tools in the workplace.

As a result, CEOs understand that we are in a disruptive period unlike any seen before, which is why they regard technology as the biggest single external factor affecting their company.

The Disruption Game Has Changed
To effectively contribute to digital transformation, it’s important that IT leaders intuitively grasp the nature of today’s disruption.

Past disruption followed a classic pattern: Innovators create a new product or service at a dramatically lower price that competes with existing feature-rich and expensive ones.

Eventually, buyers abandon the leading products for cheaper upstarts that offer most of the features they want. Today is different because of the pace of digital business change. Digital disruptions:

- Happen in the blink of an eye:
The digitization of information leads to business model changes that create new market winners and losers.

Examples include Amazon.com’s disruption of the print media industry, Apple’s disruption of entertainment content delivery via iTunes, and the failing of Research in Motion (RIM) due to both iOS and Android. Compared to other disruptions, these happened almost overnight.

- Center on empowered customers and employees:
As described in Forrester’s new book, Outside In, we are now in the age of the customer and competitive barriers like disruption power and manufacturing strength are being torn down by digital disruption.

The only thing remaining to differentiate your product or service is knowledge of and deep interaction with your customers, employees, and partners in a vibrant ecosystem of collaboration and co-creation.

- Affect every industry:
Think digital disruption does not apply because you are not in leisure entertainment, or business-to-business markets? Think again.

In every industry technology I fueling empowered, customer-driven disruption.

Business Technology Is Evolving: Come Along IT
Years ago the Internet allowed companies to take their business from zero to millions in just over a year. Today, firms can go from zero to billions of dollars in the same amount of time.

By using as-a service technology to offer compelling business services, offloading non-core functions to firms that provide business services and innovating around core competencies, firms are able to operate globally with far less investment than ever before.

And, this mix of technology-fueled business services and the ability to acquire those services from anywhere in the world creates a cauldron of disruption that will melt classic barriers to competition and create many new winners and losers as firms become truly digital.

In fact, there are four technology-fueled key ways that businesses are redefining themselves.

First, they are innovating using cloud and digital-first processes. For example, Tata Communications leveraged a cloud service provider and let go of the notion that bills had to be on paper.

As a result, it was able to innovate around its core IaaS value proposition. Businesses are thinking from the outside-in and engaging with customers in new ways through mobile and analytics.

They’re also redefining how work gets done through mobile, social, and collaboration.

Mobile and advanced collaboration technology such as desktop high-definition video and virtual windows are radically changing firms’ views about where and how work should get done.

And finally, businesses are offering intelligent products and services via sensors, analytics, and social.

Create A Business Technology Vision
To overcome challenges, IT leaders must move from a watch, evaluate, and recommend approach aligned with the glacial annual budgeting process to a proactive business technology partnership.

A co-created vision must anticipate where your firm needs speed, where it needs agility, and where it needs to be protected.

Begin this journey by maintaining a technology watch list. Note that it’s important that the list remain objective and without an agenda, that it asks what your business needs for success right now and that it’s empathetic to the lightning-fast pace of business change.

From there, catalog good business opportunities rather than simply watching the latest and greatest emerging technologies.

Once you’re there, develop a digital business architecture vision that helps link those emerging technology opportunities to closing business gaps and enabling digital business platforms.

All in all, business evolution unlocked by emerging technology can be chaotic. Changes can be gradual or nonexistent for years, followed by almost overnight disruption.

But, IT leaders can make enormous strides building trusted partnerships to help navigate their firm’s chaotic change by getting ahead of tipping points and the subsequent business disruptions.

Brian Hopkins is a principal analyst at Forrester Research