Making The Headlines

Business Schools 'No Longer Fit For Purpose' In Age Of Digital Disruption

Schools partly to blame for lack of tech management skills

Written by Seb Murray | Making The Headlines | Monday 11th January 2016 11:55:00 GMT

© Henrik5000

© Henrik5000

In the internet age where algorithms, artificial intelligence and digital disruption rule the roost, business schools are “no longer fit for purpose”, according to the former CEO of UUNET, one of the US’ largest internet companies, which was acquired by WorldCom.

A “crisis” is brewing in which senior executives are failing to grasp IT. “Business schools are partly to blame for this complete lack of technology management skills at the most senior levels,” said Pat Chapman-Pincher, who has built, run and chaired a number of tech companies, and who mentors FTSE chief executives.

Writing in the Financial Times on Monday, she said that leaders need to understand technology and disruptive businesses, such as Uber, Airbnb and 3D printers. Yet “few executives are interested in technology or IT”. “Business leaders need help,” she added.

But she suggested that business schools are “no longer useful”. She said: “Analyzing trends of the past 50 years is no longer useful. Course content is outdated. Academics themselves need new mind-sets to look at technology impact in every discipline.”

Business schools must broaden their approach beyond teaching core modules on strategy, finance, and marketing. “There may be optional extras such as leadership, mergers and acquisitions or not-for-profit, but IT has barely had a look-in on a typical MBA program, and technology certainly does not feature as a core,” Pat said.

She said that a new discipline is needed which looks at new and robust strategy processes and the impact of technology on every area of business.

Some business schools have made efforts to bring a greater tech focus to their MBA and executive students. Courses on machine learning and big data are taught at a plethora of top schools, such as HEC Paris, Warwick Business School in the UK and NYU Stern in US.

“There already is a move afoot to start programs and courses in this area,” said Mark Kennedy, director of the KPMG Centre for Business Analytics at Imperial College Business School.

He said the suggestions made in the FT article are “more provocative than descriptive” of the current business education climate.

Other schools have partnered digital leaders such as IBM, KPMG or Accenture to hone their programs, such as California’s Haas School of Business, which created new classes and a lecture series designed to give MBAs the tools required to understand and work with big data.

Jim Hamill, director of digital leadership at Strathclyde Business School, said the suggestion that business schools are not fit for purpose is “an exaggeration”. But he added: “I’ve been saying something very similar for a long time.”

“Business schools have to transform — and quickly,” Jim said. He added that content in MBA programs needs a greater focus on digital technology, although there are exceptions.

But a major stumbling block is the hierarchy in schools, particularly those connected to universities, which makes them “respond quite slowly” to business trends.  

Others have focused on digital transformation more broadly. Examples range from the EMBA in Digital Transformation at DeGroote School in Canada to the UK’s Cambridge Judge Business School, which launched the Digital Business Academy.

“Education now is not about old versus new skills, but about old and new skills — for example both traditional management skills, but also new data science ones,” said Professor Theos Evgeniou, academic director of INSEAD’s data analytics research hub, elab.


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