What Industries Have Been Least Disrupted by Tech?

on July 28, 2017

There’s a long list of industries that have been disrupted by tech. The internet, broadband, and the PC/smartphone have all had a significant impact on how we communicate, shop, create and consume content, book travel, play games, and so on. But I’ve also been thinking about what industries or consumer experiences have NOT been as significantly affected by tech, at least so far. For example, even though Uber and Lyft have disrupted the taxi business, and cars are practically computers on wheels, it still takes as long or longer to get from A to B by car or plane as it did 20 years ago.

So, what are some other examples of industries that have been least disrupted by tech?

The Health Care System. Technology has contributed to enormous strides in the diagnosis and treatment of disease and illness. But the actual medical care system is not significantly more efficient than it was 10 or 20 years ago. Yes, there are now electronic medical records, and some consumers have access to their health history online. But the process of booking appointments, getting a referral, determining the price of a service, or determining the efficacy of a physician or the quality of a hospital or other treatment facility remains a rather arcane process. Sort of like why mobile payments are not more widespread, this is not a technology problem – it’s an industry problem.

Buying and Building A House. I just went through the process of buying a house for the first time in ten years, and it was interesting how the process of applying for and obtaining a mortgage is still very much an analog affair. Actually, there were more forms than ever to fill out…and the house closing – deed, title, and so on – is a fairly time consuming and paper-driven process. About the only improvement is that one can e-sign some of the documents, or scan and email them to the mortgage broker, which saved some stamps.

Christopher Mims of the Wall Street Journal wrote an interesting column recently on how over the past 60 years, productivity in manufacturing has increased eightfold, yet we haven’t seen the same improvements in the $1 trillion construction industry. There are some compelling startups, such as Katerra, that are starting to address this opportunity.

Transportation. Elaborating a bit on the earlier point, segments of the transportation industry, such as taxis, have been disrupted. And cars have an amazing amount of tech in them and are much better built, thereby requiring fewer repairs and lasting longer. But the process of getting around? Tech hasn’t yet solved traffic. We are potentially at the dawn of a new era, with driverless cars (and trucks), smart cities, the Hyperloop, and so on. And big data has the potential to make public transportation systems more cost effective and efficient. This is a space likely to experience more change in the next 10 years than it has in the past 25.

Government Services. Yes, you can pay a traffic ticket, do your taxes, and renew your driver’s license online. But tech has not yet had a significant impact on the effectiveness of government services, or the consumer experience with the public sector. Sort of like the medical care system, many government processes remain arcane and laborious. Consumers don’t have a good view into the quality or effectiveness of public services or their elected officials. A simple example could be providing consumers a dashboard into how quickly streets are cleared after a snowfall. One promising area has been apps for reporting minor issues like potholes or broken street lamps, and the 311 system, which is starting to collect large amounts of data.

The Judicial System. What, there aren’t handcuffs that can be unlocked by an iPhone? From Perry Mason to L.A. Law to the Good Wife…most aspects of the legal process haven’t changed all that much over the years: how lawyers work, how cases are tried, what happens in a courtroom. It’s almost quaint. I served on a jury for several weeks in 2016, in a courtroom more than 100 years old, and it struck me that the experience of a juror, and the whole process or preparing and presenting a case is essentially unchanged. Sure, briefs are typed on PC, and evidence is catalogued electronically, but it does seem that the legal industry is a major contributor to keeping pen, paper, and three piece suits alive…

I’m sure there are some other good examples, but these are the industries that sprung to mind. So, tech hasn’t disrupted everything…